Author: kjbeadling

About kjbeadling

mission-driven entrepreneur, dad, husband, little league coach, teacher, happy warrior, dukie, bay swimmer, composter/recycler, former lawyer, blogger-maybe not in that order.

Time-Hopping

I have become an unabashed devotee of a relatively new iPhone app known as TimeHop. I don’t really get the T-Rex with swim goggles and heart-print boxer shorts brand logo. In fact, I experience mild annoyance with a touch of embarrassment when I daily interact with the app each morning, painfully aware of the TimeHop T-Rex’s resemblance to Barney. I avoided Barney like the plague when my sons fell in his target age demographic. Snobbishly opting for “Mozart for Babies” over the thick-tongued and goofy purple brontosaurus. Well the chicken (pterodactyl?) has come home to roost: My kids despise classical music, and I endure begrudging eye contact with a cartoon dinosaur and his useless swim goggles. In his damned underpants. Every day.

Because I genuinely enjoy perusing the digital images scraped by the app from among the various repositories where my memories lie. At least those memories within the past 10 years. Dutifully date-stamped by the dinosaur, reminding me of this family wedding in New York City during a September 11 weekend, that walk on the beach with my dog whilst chewing through a tricky work situation, or my younger son’s first official soccer practice in which he finally deigned to actually participate, or my elder son’s greenstick-fractured wrist bone from an ill-advised and unsupervised jaunt on the treadmill in our garage.

The images that tickle my belly or leave me staring in awe, I “share” those immediately via text message. I am well aware that my wife is beholden to the almighty billable hour and that she cannot bill “looking at a TimeHop photo my husband sent to me of my son Everett grotesquely twisting one of his front teeth” to any of her clients. So by definition, my “Do You Remember” iMessages are interfering with my wife’s job.

And I have read every word of my older son’s new school’s Parent Handbook. I am fairly certain my TimeHop text messages this morning pinged the iPhone in his pants pocket smack in the middle of Precalculus. This sort of thing likely explains why parents are generally forbidden from communicating with their children in this manner, save for elusively narrow windows of the day that I have yet to figure out. Rationally, this policy makes complete sense to me. It does. But when I get emotionally overwhelmed by a parking lot shot of Max’s first of many travel baseball games after our first of many 5am drives to Stockton, I just can’t help myself. And part of me wants to believe that Max’s Precalculus teacher, upon discovering a pic of my fresh-faced cherub in his new uniform when Max is supposed to be sketching some Euclidean vectors, would smile knowingly and cut Max a break. He might even invite Max to deliver a moving PowerPoint presentation to the entire class regarding my first born’s obviously perfect childhood and father. This is the stuff of which valedictory speeches are made!

Anyhow, today’s trip down memory lane has reached its dead end, as it always does. Marked by the sneering T-Rex, Barney’s cousin, who knows that I will be back again tomorrow. Perhaps by then, at long last, he will have found his pants.

Thanks for reading.

You and Me Against the World.

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I clearly have a lot to learn when it comes to parenting.  Well, a lot to learn when it comes to just about everything. But let’s focus on parenting for now.  Bite-sized pieces.  

When I was a boy, my mom and I adopted a poignant Helen Reddy song as our theme song.  It was called, “You and Me Against the World.”  The song was released in 1975, so I must’ve been about 8 or 9.  That would make my mom something on the order of 29 or 30.  I had a pretty pleasant childhood.  No complaints.  Certainly didn’t harbor any notions of the world being against me, or against me and my mom.  Nor did my mom harbor any such notions, I don’t think.  Instead, our affinity for the song probably had more to do with a short-hand way of affirming our bond.  Of her assuring me that she would always be there for me. No matter what.  By the time our pushbutton car radio gave currency to “You and Me,” my mother had only been a mother for 8 or 9 years.  That is roughly half the amount of time that I have now been a father to my own children.  And I started the parenting thing later in life, so in theory, I should have a pretty decent idea of what’s what.       

But this morning’s walk to the school bus stop revealed yet another parenting failure on my part: No theme song.  As a direct result, my children have been completely deprived of the “I’ve-got-your-back-no-matter-what” sense of security that my mom lyrically guaranteed me as a child.  To my emotionally-neglected sons, the entire world is against them.  As am I, apparently.  

I lump myself in with the rest of the world in opposition to my kids because my 11 year-old told me so.  This morning, maybe in a tiny bit of a rush out of our flat and up the street to the schoolbus (blinking its lights impatiently), Everett absentmindedly neglected to close our garage door.  He pushed the proper keypad buttons in the proper sequence, mind you.  And the garage door, in fact, obligingly started down its path to 100% city living security.  But just as Ev bounded out into the driveway, already onto the next thing, the door bounced right back up again. Leaving our little home completely vulnerable to the sharp-clawed raccoons I read about on the NextDoor app, and to the elderly ladies who crunch recyclable cans underfoot curbside on garbage day.  I can’t have any raccoons pilfering our dog’s gourmet treats we keep in a plastic container on the garage’s workbench.  Not to mention the horrors that would befall my household if the can-crunching lady began crunching cans in my garage.  What would be next? Locusts? Horsemen?    

So with this parade of horribles in mind, I said to Everett, “Hey, careful bud, you didn’t quite close the garage door there.  Your backpack or your heel must have triggered the sensor.  Kind of important to make sure the door closes, you know?” Pretty sure this is exactly what I said to him.  Pretty sure I said it, too, in an intentionally calm, measured tone.  I didn’t want to indicate to Everett the true enormity of this event. The unimaginable catastrophes that would surely transpire due to an open garage door.  

But alas, we have no theme song.  So Everett’s immediate response? “Dad, why are you always against me on everything?!” And then he stormed off up the sidewalk towards the waiting bus.  I follow behind him, more or less speed-walking to keep up.  The thought crossed my mind of humming a few bars of “I Am a Gummy Bear” — perhaps the one song that Everett might associate with his father from my playing it for him once or twice many many years ago.  But there is no real message in there, I quickly concluded, at least not one that would fit this moment. So instead, still walking at a brisk clip on my son’s heels, I try logic.  I even manage to turn the thing totally around, a little impressed with myself, such quick thinking on the spot and on my feet: “Ev, I’m actually not against you on anything. I’m trying to help you out.  This is called ‘parenting.'” My explanation — perfectly rational, probably 100% factually accurate, too — was a remarkably poor substitute for Helen Reddy. No doubt Everett climbed the school bus steps feeling totally alone.  Abandoned.  Theme song-less. 

So now I will spend the next several hours scouring the Internet for an age-appropriate, non-explicit, secular, non-mysogynistic, non-materialistic, not-about-gummy bears song that I can use to make my son believe that I am a good father.  I do have his back, of course. I just don’t have a theme song.  Yet. 

Thanks for reading. 

 

And then there were three….

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We’re down to three sentient beings under our roof on a regular, expected basis.  Well, four, if you count the dog.  So let’s go with four.  Our fifth (fourth, if you for some reason don’t count the dog), now resides 2,584 miles away from our roof.  As a seeker of the bright side and maker of soothing lists, I have, predictably, begun to compile a number of consequences of this attrition that slot into the “positive” column —

Example: Our younger son, Everett, now picks up the slack in the household chores department.  And he does so happily.  No he doesn’t.  Actually, he disappears into some unknown hiding spots in our home when he rightly senses that a handed-down task is coming his way.  Fortunately for us, the Santa Claus jig is up with respect to Everett, or else he certainly would have found our top-secret Christmas presents hiding spots whilst burrowing under the turf in our backyard.  Or wherever the hell he is hiding instead of setting the dinner table.  And by “setting,” I mean putting forks and knives on either side of the place settings, set roughly 7 steps away from the kitchen’s silverware drawer.  And now he has just 3 settings to set, what with our 4th lying idle. 

Another example: Last night, my wife Hilary gave Ev “a lesson” in how to roll our bins curbside for the morning Recology visit. I realize now that the way I worded that last sentence may conjure up images of hickory switches and welts on butts.  Not the case.  Rather, young Everett was supposedly indoctrinated into the business of Green, Black and Blue Bins 101. And the truth is, the bins did somehow magically end up neatly aligned out front, ready for pickup. But I’m not as confident that our elder son’s least favorite aspect of this particular chore was wholly handed over to his younger brother.  The part where you have to scamper all over the house, collecting yucky stuff from an endless array of little trash cans, sticky little recycling bins or wet paper bags.  Or nightmare-inducing compost bags threatening to burst at any moment.  Who am I kidding on this last point; I alone shoulder the bomb squad outfit for the compost transfer.  My children are not ready for that horror. But Ev is certainly capable, apparently, of lining up the bins on a Monday night.  The militaristic set up out there last night, though, with all 3 bins so perfect.  I’m not buying it.  I’d bet everything currently stuffed into our kitchen compost can that Hilary “taught” Everett how to line up the bins outside.  And Everett merely “learned.”  I.e., she did the dirty work, and he watched.  How very Tom Sawyer of him.  

Another example: The standing requirement that one of sentient beings number 1-4 must occasionally walk sentient being number 5.  When Max bore this responsibility, the dog, miraculously, never seemed to do anything.  This defeated the purpose, with the predictable result of unreasonably early bedside whimpering (Wailea, not Max) the following morning.  I suspect that Max’s habit of effectively sprinting around our block leash-in-hand proved an insurmountable hurdle for a dog interested in peeing.  It remains to be seen whether Everett will have the patience for a sniff of every bush, and the mental fortitude required when Lea takes care of business in the middle of the street while a MUNI bus rapidly approaches.  For now, it appears that I am pretty much the only Beadling family member managing the bushes and buses in the afternoons.  You might say I’m “teaching” Everett the ropes here. 

So you see, there are so many positives flowing from sending your child off to boarding school.  Why didn’t we think of this sooner? Well, I’ve gotta run now. I have a number of Everett’s chores to attend to.

Thanks for reading.  

Lists at 4 in the Morning

I make lists. People with brains that work like mine make lists. Constantly. Lists upon lists. Lists of lists. A trusted technique to manage the whirlwind of jointed and disjointed thoughts and notions swirling about my head. Well, not actually about my head. Rather, within my head. The former would represent a whole ‘nother thing (no disrespect intended to those actually struggling with myriad actual thoughts regarding their own actual cabezas).

In my case, especially in sensory-overloaded times or moments in my life, the compulsive list-making is soothing. Allows me to impose some sense of order or organization on what otherwise feels disordered or disorganized. To take a moment to ensure I am processing current events so as to maximize the value of the important ones. And equally important, to recognize the unimportant ones, and discard those. To be able to articulate, at least to myself, that there is some logical and positive and hopeful thread connecting all of it. A rational narrative unfolding step-by-step. Building through some meaningful highlights, or lowlights, even. I like to think the lowlights are actually just highlights that require a little extra effort to pull reluctantly out of the shadows. Sometimes yanked by the wrist. Sometimes coaxed over the passage of time.

For some reason, this morning I find myself compiling a “Fall Stuff” list. Usually I am far more specific with my titles (e.g., “Karaoke Songs,” “Groceries,” “Vet Visit Deliverables,” etc.). The uncharacteristic ambiguity here suggests I am wrestling with something. I know what it is, of course: Dropping my eldest off at boarding school on the east coast. It’s not a lunar mission. Or the Peace Corps in a far off third world country. Or cancer. It’s just a major stretch of the rubber band that connects us. The rubber band has deliberately been stretched before, to be sure. Over greater distances by an order of magnitude. Or tested via long-running arguments over messy bedrooms or unwashed dishes. But this gap is yawning. I can’t see the other side. Not sure there even is an other side. Just an elastic pulled nearly to transparency.

Knowing what troubles me, what wakes me at 4am two nights in a row on one coast and then the other, doesn’t make it any easier.

That’s where the ham-handedly named “Fall Stuff” list come to my rescue. A stream-of-consciousness, meandering recitation of things I love about this particular season. Of things I want to do. People I want to share oxygen with. Places I want to go. Things to look forward to. I’d like to visit Yosemite again. Gasp at the grandeur of Half Dome with my wife and younger son and maybe my dog if she’s up for the trip. Start envisioning the shape (as in, the venue and participants) of our Thanksgiving table this year. Also, I’d like to reconvene the hodgepodge group of friends with whom I swim in the Bay — not frequently enough of late. I’m looking forward to watching my younger son’s new travel baseball team’s machinations. Silently from the stands of the brand-spanking new field. And not as silently, stealing away for an hour while catching up with a buddy at a brewpub nearby. I’d like to successfully navigate the labyrinthian process for reserving overnight camping spots on Mount Tam.

Much of it wishful thinking. Not gonna happen. Mindful yet not mindful. In the moment yet not in the moment. But the list serves a purpose, to be sure — savoring moments yet to come, or maybe yet to come.

And to help me appreciate in hindsight the good parts of recent moments that seem, at the time, mostly, to just plain old suck. Like the photo at the top of this post, taken just last week during a father-sons surf session. Max and Everett were at each other’s throats. Soiling what should have been a beautiful experience (our last for some time) with heated accusations of who snaked whom. Vitriol that has no place on a beach after riding salty waves for free. And triggering a regrettably epic string of profanities from their dad during the car ride back home. Fortunately for me, the cursing dad had also managed to capture a lasting image worth keeping while standing on the sand. Preserving the good stuff and discarding the ultimately unimportant stuff.

These mental gymnastics and manic list-making? Seems to work for me. A device to help me swallow the rubberband-stretching moment tomorrow that’s sure to stick in my throat just a little bit. In the meantime, I’m back to my list.

Thanks for reading.

The Important Stuff of Surfing

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It’s easy to malign surfing. A seemingly whimsical endeavor evoking images of far-off sandy beaches, warm sunshine in tropical destinations, seas teeming with leaping dolphins, and an enviable apparent disregard for what’s going on in the “real world.” An irresponsible undertaking. Polar opposite of a structured, land-based existence — the only one that truly matters.  An exercise in frivolity. What’s the point?

I’m glad you asked. 

I consider myself a surfer, though my skills in the water are meager.  I believe the skills part may actually be of secondary importance. And the perceived whimsy has, more or less, nothing to do with it. Rather, I reckon it’s a classroom out there. And I’d like to think that introducing my own sons to surfing has delivered up a host of genuinely important, substantive, life lessons. Vital, timeless stuff to be handed down from one generation to the next.

First, there is the commitment and suffering part.  You must shoulder (or armpit, or head-balance) your own board for the schlep from the car to the beach. Sure, it’s heavy, and your arms ache, and it’s not easy to sprint past the breakwall when a wave at high tide is about to slap you and your board against it.  But that ache with a touch of suffering marks your investment in this. Anything lastingly worthwhile requires some tolerance for suffering. Embrace it.

Second, slow down, breath, and take it all in. No matter where you actually are, this is the place to be.  How lucky are we to be striding out into this water?  Straddling a board in the flat of a channel.  Feeling the sea undulate beneath you.  Smelling the mix of saltwater, seaweed, organic decay from the receding tide, surf wax and neoprene. Absorb what your eyes see — the divebombing pelicans, curious seals, and the landscape sliding by as the tide and current have their way with you. Inhale.  Listen to the waves’ roll and delivery to the land. Hear the seagulls squabbling for the darting sardines. Inhale. Exhale. Slow down. And take it all in. 

Third, face your fears. Feel the tickle of anxiety and nervousness and uncertainty as a wave rolls up behind you, suddenly much more menacing than it appeared from shore.  Know that you are not even close to being in charge out here. Face that fear.  Welcome it, even.  It means that you are alive. Alive in a way where the deluge of Instagram updates, goofy Snapchat lenses, and group text threads fades into the background. Alive in a way where the only moment that matters is this moment. Fear is your friend here. 

Fourth, be humble. Observe the conditions, and the actions of other surfers out there, as you stand on the shore, so as to keep your own role low-profile and studied. Take pleasure in the earlier-arriving surfers’ pleasure. Understand that you are about to slide into territory that doesn’t really belong to you.  Be humble, whether you bob in endless lulls, get spun and pounded under a wave, or manage to stand up and glide for what seems like an eternity. It’s not about you out here, and that is a good thing. 

Fifth, don’t be greedy.  Leave something in the reserve tank to fuel your post-surf obligations.  If you can’t muster the strength to reach up and around your shoulders to unzip your wetsuit back on the beach, well, you probably stayed out too long.  I’ve been there.  Maybe you unwisely ignored the unfavorable current, in the throes of your gluttony for more waves, and spent your reserves fighting back across the channel. Know when it’s time to go.  There will always be more down the road and on the horizon (at least I hope so). And on this note, don’t forget you’ll need to wrap your leash tightly around the fins and cart your own gear back to the car once again. This time with tired shoulders, cramping hands, ear canals stuffed with sand, and saltwater in your belly.  The session’s not done ’til we’re back in the car, locked and loaded.  And remember it’s your job today to hose down the wetsuits at home in the backyard.  So pace yourself out there, and save a little extra for after. 

Finally, experience real fulfillment and gratitude. All of the above ingredients, mixed properly, will produce an overwhelming sense of well-being and satisfaction. A new collection of memories, just forged, swims in the head. A well-earned, deep physical fatigue sets in. The bloodstream seemingly spiked a bit from the saltwater immersion. Give in to the exhaustion.  Go ahead, son, fall asleep suddenly in the backseat. Mid-conversation. The hint of a satisfied smile playing across your face.  I’ll grip the wheel for the winding ride home along the coast, grateful for this singular experience.  Marking the occasion in my mind.  Hoping you’ll pass these same lessons along to your own children. After all, this is important stuff. 

On that note, it’s just about time to strap some boards on the roof rack, fill up some old milk jugs with warm water, and saddle up.  Class is in session. 

Thanks for reading. 

 

It Apologizes (My Path of Totality)

At last night’s family dinner table, something apparently rarer than the total solar eclipse occurred: I apologized. Said I was “sorry” to my entire family. It was an off-the-cuff confession. Sincere, but not intended as a conversation stopper. I figured my flash of genuine contrition would be politely acknowledged and accepted, and we would all simply move along to the next order of business. Instead, I got stiff-legged cardigan-vested yuppie walking into a biker bar with the “zeeeeerrrriiiiiip” of the needle pulled off the vinyl record.

I have been a little extra cranky of late, you see. An expected but still unpleasant side effect of this Whole30 “diet” that reduces its adherents to The Great Santini, more or less. I arguably lean Santinian by default, too, if you believe my son Everett’s claim that I generally possess only two emotions: Angry and asleep. So if my mood swings swing beyond their already sizable parabola such that even I notice something is amiss, well then, something must really be amiss. So I owned it. Stepped into the breach with aplomb…

And was unceremoniously shoved over the cliff.

My wife Hilary has trained our children to respond to an earnest “I’m sorry” with an equally earnest “That’s OK.” It is a beautiful thing and it works. And I was counting on that ingrained behavior in that moment.

Instead, Everett waited a beat to leverage the pregnant pause. Then cooly observed, “Hmmm. It apologizes.”

You see, he got me twice: Once on simply pointing out that I am, apparently, insufficiently remorseful in general. And then again by calling attention to my sub-human, recent behavior. On par with other inanimate objects in our house. The car. A lamp. The TV. The toilet in the guest bathroom. And way beneath our dog, mind you — none of us would ever call her an “it.”

So there I was. Slump-shouldered. Empty-lunged. Forced toothless smile put up to give me time to process what had just happened. Trying to come up with a chuckle. Hoping someone would rise to my rescue to tell me what the hell Everett was trying to say. Alas, I sat unrescued. And it got me thinking.

Even above and beyond my hunger-driven antics, it occurs to me, I have plenty for which I should apologize: I frequently force my sons to eat Brussels sprouts, beets and bok choy. Sometimes all on the same dinner plate during the same dinner. I often drag one or both boys to some seemingly unpleasant physical chore: Pulling on a tight wetsuit and reluctant booties to surf, say. Or pumping up knobby tires for a brief mountain bike ride perfectly calibrated to reduce the odds of lactic acid to 0%. (Actually, I am the designated tire-pumper, so there is no cause for complaint in this instance.) Holding the dog’s leash for a millisecond during a hike while Hilary or I corral dog poop in a dog poop bag. And for sure I should apologize for not pulling Everett off the mound mid-inning when he requested an intervention during a poor Little League pitching outing.

If I think about it, I probably should apologize for just about everything. All of it. The totality, you might say. Yes, Everett, it most certainly does apologize. Though not nearly enough, historically. And I’m sorry about that. Fortunately for us, tonight will bring some new culinary horrors involving shaved carrots and sweet potatoes, I’m thinking. Wednesday looks perfect for a long bike ride on sore butts to the ballpark and back home again. And Friday? On Friday, we surf (with still-damp wetsuits and booties). So rest assured, my boy, there will be many more dinner table apologies to come.

Thanks for reading.

Bok Choy Bad Boy

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I sautéed up some bok choy for my family’s dinner the other night.  In fact, I fried up and doled out that nutritionally-dense Chinese cabbage on two consecutive nights.  Two nights in a row. One after the other.  I talk Bok Choy.  I talk Bok Choy real good, apparently.

How did it come to this?

I did not spring from back-to-back sautéed bok choy stock.  When I was born, my parents and I were living in a trailer park in Central New York. (Yes, I said “Central.”  To me, the “Upstate”  moniker requires a considerable jaunt north along I-81, preferably in a blizzard and under whiteout conditions.)   Growing up in Syracuse, my parents insisted that we eat healthy, but I don’t recall any gourmet shopping trips to any particularly ethnic locales around town.  I’m not sure there were any ethnic locales.  Unless one considers Irish pubs and Italian pizzerias as qualifiers.  And there was nothing exotic about the powdered milk we frugally stockpiled, my boyhood friends’ mumbled complaints to the contrary notwithstanding.  High school introduced me to the wonders of Hungry Man dinners.  I gladly overlooked the always-frozen centers of the turkey portion in order to make my way to the gooey peach cobbler.  At least I think it was peach cobbler. 

In undergrad, one of my freshman roommates, David, arguably enlightened me regarding high cuisine, I suppose. He brought a plug-in hot pot tastefully emblazoned with the words, “Le Pot Chaud.”  (It’s French, you see?) Though in retrospect, the hot pot sparked when introduced to the electrical outlet, dimmed our lights as if an atomic bomb had just hit the power grid, and seemed to churn out only Oodles of Noodles.  Not to mention, the Oodles of Noodles never made it to the fully-cooked state.  Al dente, at best.  (Italian, see?)

In law school, one of my first dates with my future wife (maybe even our actual first date) brought out my inner Julia Child. But the homemade meal was hardly coq au vin (French again, but most assuredly not included in my starving student vernacular).  Instead, I made…catfish. And I think I cooked it in a beat up toaster oven purchased at a garage sale.  And I had a helluva time peeling the dried-out fish from the “well-seasoned” aluminum foil tray with a rarely washed plastic spatula prone to (minor) incidents of melting before my fresh faced date arrived. Honestly, it’s a miracle that a second date ever happened.  In fact, there’s a decent chance that I’ll be served with divorce papers tonight, once my wife reads this paragraph and relives the traumatic episode. Bottomfeeders:  The fish and the cook. 

So how is it that I now prance around a spice rack making mental notes about the need to replace the cumin with an organic strain? And swap out coconut aminos for soy sauce?  Coconut. Aminos.  What?  Wasn’t that the stuff that triggered the steroid era in Major League Baseball? And why am I now finding myself buying only a certain kind of salt mix — insisting on the kind with shreds of fennel in a small brown bag with a red javelina drawn on the outside?

Perhaps more to the point, why do I feel the need to counterbalance all this with odd, Delta Force poses struck next to a 7-foot Star Wars villain? Hey, I can still be a bad man. Someone not to be trifled with.  A guy who won’t tolerate sustained eye contact on the street.  A dude in cahoots with some heavy intergalactic muscle, too, evidently. I can be both, right?

Well, that’s enough existential angst for now.  I’ve gotta run and plan my dinner recipe for tonight. These red peppers aren’t going to stuff themselves.

Thanks for reading.  

I (Allegedly) Cheated on my Wife.

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That's the gist of it this morning.  I don't feel like I cheated, though I have been roundly accused of same.  I have yet to admit the cheat.  The incriminating evidence is inconclusive, at best.  And there is no money in the budget for a forensic examination. So any alleged cheating will very likely remain unproven beyond a reasonable doubt for the foreseeable future.  

And yet, the suspicion lingers in the air.  

To be clear, the current dispute centers not around any sort of romantic liaison.  No.  Something far more serious, threatening the very underpinnings of our 25-year relationship:  Food.  My wife Hilary and I recently took the plunge on a new "diet." I put the word "diet" in quotes because it's not really a diet.  I italicized the word "diet" just now because I want to make sure you read the word "diet" with the intended emphasis and intonation.  This Whole30 thing is, to my mind, not a "diet" or a diet.  It's more about reprogramming your body over the course of 30 days by ruthlessly and mercilessly stripping away all the foods that you have come to love over the course of your entire life.  No cheese.  No pasta.  No Doritos. No croissants or Dunkin Donuts.  No cream in your coffee.  No hoppy beers.  No beers of any hoppiness, for that matter. No rice.  Etcetera, etcetera.  No etcetera, I bet, if I looked that up on the verboten list.  It's a rather spartan existence, the goal of which is ultimately to determine which foods are good for your particular body, and which are not.  And oh by the way, if one consumes a forbidden item along the way, even accidentally, one starts all over again. On Day One.  Back to zero. Thirty more days in solitary. 

Sounds simple enough, and it is if one follows the rules.  Still, without a doubt, it is a long slog.  Objectively, it totally sucks.

I committed to this same month-long program a year ago, and our kids are likely still scarred for life, dragged along for the tortuous ride as they were.  Riced cauliflower induces nightmares without fail.  The boys scratch their eyes out at the sight of sweet potato hash.  I am fairly convinced that my eldest has programmed our Alexa device to automatically dial Child Services if I paw at the insides of a spaghetti squash with a fork. And "zoodles" (deliberately in quotes rather than italics here) is a word that may not be spoken aloud within my sons' earshot.

Despite these atrocities visited upon my family at this time last year, the other day my wife rather casually offered to join me on a second belly-crawling trip through the desert.  We started about a week ago.  Turns out this thing is much easier when accompanied by another glutton for punishment.  ("Glutton" is of course exactly the wrong word here.  No gluttony involved, believe you me.)  We have both been doing great.  Keeping on the straight and narrow.  True believers.  Yes, evenings on the family room couch stir up painful yearnings, frequently spoken aloud, for just one Oreo or a single handful of Fritos.  But these yearnings are not acted upon.  

At least not intentionally acted upon. 

And now we arrive at the crux of it. Yesterday, I may (or may not) have cheated.  Apparently, whilst trying to stuff a commando Whole30-compliant grocery trip into the ten remaining minutes before a pediatrician appointment, I may (or may not) have committed a serious and unforgivable error. The familiar, oblong almond milk bottle I grabbed by the neck and shoved in my bag somehow lists "cane sugar" among the typed ingredients.  According to the Whole30 Gospel, this may as well be marked by a skull and crossbones. A screaming alarm should have sounded on Aisle One at Cal-Mart the moment my fingers made contact with the bottle. I should have been tackled by a cadre of jumpsuit-wearing security guards. With my wrists ziptied behind my back, my panicked pleas — " The font size is too damned small! I was in a hurry! The condensation on the bottle obscured that particular item on the list!" — fall on deaf ears. It doesn't matter; this is a strict liability crime.  Either you did it or you didn't. 

There is no question that the offending and totally illegal item ended up in my family's refrigerator.  Those two little terrifying words — canesugar — quietly and patiently ticking away like a time bomb. The question, the only question that matters, is whether or not I poured some of this radioactive material into my afternoon coffee.  I simply cannot recall, what with the whole coffee thing being such a rote and mindless daily task.  Frankly, if it were mischievously hidden in a container marked "Half 'n Half," I would numbly pour rat poison into my coffee.  And drink it without incident.  Probably do the same thing again the next day.

But again, my actual intention doesn't matter here.  There is no gray area.  Either I drank the cheating almond milk or I did not drink the cheating almond milk.  The former — my wife's favored theory — means I have to start all over again.  So I'm sticking with the latter.  But I don't know how much longer I can withstand this withering cross-examination from my Doritos-deprived partner. Wish me luck. 

And thanks for reading. 

 

 

 

16: Keep On Casting.

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Our first moment together: Sixteen years ago tonight (at 7:51 pm), I caught your slippery little 7.8-pound body with mine own hands, after several hours in totally uncharted territory.  I was terrified.  Shell-shocked from what goes down in these delivery rooms and what had just gone down in this delivery room. How have human beings done this sort of thing for tens of thousands of years?  I was also elated. The enormity of the moment was not lost on me. “Maxwell, we are so happy to meet you,” I croaked, choking back the new father tears streaking down my new father cheeks.  Your future moments — the coming night when I lay next to your bassinet confirming every new breath, and the coming years with everything else — spun through my mind.  All completely unknowable, more or less.  Cast the line out and see what happens. 

I’m still casting. 

How is it possible that you are now 16?  I am terrified all over again.  Not at the memory of changing, give or take, 6,000 soiled diapers.  Rather, at the prospect of not remembering in detail every single moment since the day you were born.  And the prospect of your many moments yet to come.  Increasingly, your moments are just that — your moments.  Not mine.  The fishing rod is planted firmly in your palms.  Not in mine. 

This summer you spent weeks in the Alaskan backcountry wilderness.  Stuffing and re-stuffing your wet and odiferous gear into your heavy backpack.  Mixing up lumpy fried rice and biscuits by campfire cooking stove.  Practicing drills to fjord streams and flummox grizzly bears. Rallying your fellow hikers during a frightening cold snap. Finding out more about who you are and who you might become.  Even today, I could not pinpoint on a map where your legs carried you.  These are your moments, not mine.  

In less than a month, you’ll head off to boarding school.  The once slippery 8-pounder now moving through your days in the general direction of adulthood.  Out of my sight, out of my hearing, beyond my touch. A distance further than I am capable of casting, in fact.  I’ve visited the campus, talked to the coaches, devoured the website and Instagram feeds.  We’ll set up a regular FaceTime schedule, to be promptly ignored.  You’ll likely text with curt requests for this unnecessary thing or that unnecessary thing.  So most of those texted requests, too,  will be promptly ignored. And your little brother may or may not set up shop in your newly-vacant bedroom at home (we have considerable work still to do with him and this whole fishing metaphor). 

And strangely, I’m OK with all of this.  You should be too. Your mom and I will, of course, always be here for you. Nothing could every change that.  Nothing.  And hopefully, we have helped shape you enough along the way such that you are pointed, more or less, in the right direction.  We’ll keep shaping, too; we are nowhere near done on that front. But for the most part, we are reduced to supporting roles.  Supporting roles in the moments that you experience.  You cast.  We watch.  No one can know what the future holds.  What lies just below the surface of White Pond’s still waters.  Every throw of your line opens up new moments. Your moments.  Just know that I’ve still got a small fishing net around here somewhere, just in case you need a little help hauling in. 

Happy 16th Birthday, son. 

And thanks for reading. 

Ride of the Valkyries

My father-in-law and I are locked in an unspoken battle. A battle for control of the kitchen's ambient aura. He, evidently, prefers library-like silence. I, evidently, need music. Any music, really. Audible, if only faintly, in every room. If I walk into a room completely devoid of music, I stop abruptly, bolt upright, ramrod straight, and recognize immediately that something is amiss. No music. I can't hear any music. Must. Have. Music.

On the counter of my father-in-law's kitchen there lies a clock radio. Early ancestor of the shouldered boom box and of the more recent, omnipresent Bluetooth portable speakers. Every summer I recruit the clock radio into the service of addressing my inability to tolerate a quiet room. I know the clock radio wants only to blink the time in blue green digits. Probably it has forgotten any other features. Likely no music has seeped from its speaker holes since I commandeered its control center a full year ago. Someone has slid the volume bar to zero, which always triggers a brief bout of confusion on my part. For a moment, I wonder in panic if perhaps, at long last, the music playing components have fried or fizzled. But I know my opponent's mind by now. I suspect the volume-to-zero saboteur silently (of course) hopes I will leave it at that, and not fiddle with the clock radio again this summer. I am finally defeated after years of waging kitchen counter clock radio battles, he figures.

Hardly.

Instead, I call to mind the "Apocalypse Now" scene of Robert Duvall's character storming a beach with a squadron of helicopters. blaring Wagner's best-known opera piece. The radio dial is more or less always stuck on a local classical music station. So the odds are pretty good that this particular, fright-inducing composition will blare suddenly and distortedly when I accidentally slide the volume bar all the way to eleven. I stomp across the beach with my Civil War era cavalry hat and yellowed ascot. Claiming the kitchen and its environs as my own. The battle decided in my favor, once and for all.

Until I return from a day at the beach or a trip to Dunkin Donuts to find the clock radio inexplicably mute. All evidence of my recent victory gone, as if I had never actually been victorious in the first place. The kitchen has apparently not been captured and secured, after all.

It is of course possible that I am imagining this musical war in my own mind. The wiring or radio tubes or whatever could just be shorting out. A carpenter ant could be raising his or her little family in the radio's innards, for all I know. But I don't think so. I think there is a real conflagration at play for several years now. Writing this sentence, I can hear nothing from the kitchen downstairs, though I am certain I depressed the "on" button less than an hour ago. My father-in-law may have won this battle. But I am resolved to win the war.

Thanks for reading.