First Blood

firstblood

Dear Blue,

 

It’s amazing how much being a parent can change your perspective on the world. I’m not talking here about the silly, sentimental fluff that ends up written in flowery cursive inside a Hallmark card. No, I mean it literally changes how you see the world.

 

This requires a brief mention of rule #1 in parenting. Rule #1 is simple.

 

Keep your kid alive.

 

To that end, adhering to rule #1 means that when you go into any environment- any environment at all- you are checking for sharp corners, hard surfaces, hot metal, rampaging children, turtles, and any other potential threats to said offspring existence. The world becomes a different sort of place when we take you out into it.

 

We are pretty good at following rule #1. Exhibit A: Hey, you’re still here! However, I will note that between the two of us, your mother is infinitely better at making sure this rule is followed than I am. To compare it to The Matrix, she is Neo. She is stopping bullets in mid air, learning kung fu in a millisecond and basically straight up killing at this whole mom thing. She sees the world in little bits of code that no one else (except other mothers of young, fearless boys) can see.

 

Me? I’m Lawrence Fishburn-ish. Which means that I’m not that bad, but I’m not Neo.

 

And Not Neo was asked to take you, once again, to the turtle pond while Neo stayed home to study for her upcoming exam. We slathered some sunscreen on your vampire white, unburned skin, packed some milk and water for the road and put you in the stroller for the short walk to the mall. Rule #1 was going to be followed.

 

When we arrived, you spent a grand total of a minute at the turtle pond. You pointed at them, grunted as if to say, “Yup. Those are indeed turtles”, and then you turned to the far more interesting attraction on a Sunday afternoon. The playground. The playground next door was teeming with children, more densely packed than a subway train in India. Most of the kids were twice your size. There was running. There was leaping. There was climbing.

 

There were about a thousand ways it was a bad idea for you to go there, so naturally, you took my hand and dragged me straight there. I tried to convince you the turtle pond was more entertaining, but you knew better. Besides, there were balloons on the playground. How could you resist?

 

So we did a few white-knuckled laps around the playground. For you, it was a blast. For me, it was Final Destination on rubber padding.

 

You can only imagine my sigh of relief when you decided to leave the playground for a bed of flowers encircling a nearby tree. It was quiet, peaceful, and Awwww! Look at that. You just reached down, literally, to stop and smell the roses.

 

I did as well, and as we both bent down you lost your balance, fell forward, and before I could pull you back, you charged headlong into the flowers and scraped against a row of thorns. You cried, more startled than anything else, and after a quick check, I deemed you alive and we went back to exploring. A minute later, I noticed the scratches on your knee opening up into angry red welts. My first thought was, naturally, “Oh my god. Your mother is going to kill me.”

 

We walked back to the apartment with the quickness. Your mother did not kill me but she was very angry. She was also a bit relieved, I think, because it was me, not her, that drew first blood.

 

No parent wants to be the first to let their child get injured. If it were possible, I think all parents would prefer it that their child be brave, bold and absolutely untouched. That’s the ideal, and like all ideals, it’s not at all realistic. Reality is not a matter of if. It’s a matter of when, and for you, when came at 13 months and 16 days. It was a sad, pitiful thing, Blue, seeing your pristine, unblemished knee transformed forever. And it was my fault. And it will be my fault. Forever.

 

And it was caused by A FLOWER BED.

 

Sorry man. That’s on me.

 

-Dad

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Courage By Accident

courage

 

Dear Blue,

 

We walked to the mall yesterday to see the turtle pond. As I’m fond of telling your mother, when you and I are here at the house alone, we party hard. You love the turtle pond. It’s this semi-circular concrete slab filled about two feet high with scummy pond water and a whole pride of red-eared sliders. (I made that up. I googled the name for a group of turtles. It’s a nest. Boring. So I’m sticking with my original selection. A pride of turtles sounds AWESOME.)

 

When we arrived, I let you out of the stroller, and walked you over to the edge of the pond. You squatted down and attempted to stick your hand in the scummy water. I stopped you because I think you’re just fine disease-free. So your hand hovered over the water as turtles began to slowly flock toward your little nubs. They slowly circled, and then one huge slider, clearly the alpha of the group, swam towards your outstretched finger. A puppy might have tried to lick you. A cat might have tried to nuzzle you. But this was a turtle, and turtles don’t lick or nuzzle. They bite.

 

So let’s check the parenting checklist. Packed a snack for the trip? Check. Brought a change of diapers? Check. Avoided disease-ridden water? Check. No open wounds caused by feral shelled reptiles? Check, but only by the slimmest of margins.

 

Blue, I tell you this because I think you have a lot of me in you. You’re an explorer. That’s a good thing, and I want you to explore. I encourage it at every opportunity, and I write about this topic often because I think the choice to explore builds courage, and courage is what we want all children to have. Courageous children become successful adults.

 

It’s important to know the kind of courage you have, though. And you are very much like me. Not necessarily courageous, but accidently courageous. Like me, you just want to explore. Not to be brave, but to be curious. Inevitably, it gets you in spots that might look you’re being brave, but it’s not bravery that lead you to that spot. It’s that combination of curiosity and ignorance that gets you there instead.

 

Sometimes bravery works backwards like this. Let me give you an example. About a decade ago, I went snowboarding with some friends. It was my first time going snowboarding, and I was understandably nervous. I told my friends this, to which they replied, “It’s not that bad.”

 

So, “not that bad” meant skipping the bunny hills and going straight to the peak. I kept thinking to myself this is not so bad even as I inexplicably ended up on a ski lift by myself. There, I was able to contemplate every single way in which this was going to be EXACTLY that bad as rose above the tree line into the night sky, the alpine wind whistling past me.

 

It wasn’t pretty, but I did make it back down to the lodge in one piece. It was scary. Terrifying, even. But what choice did I have? Stay up at the top and get frostbite?

 

Conventional thinking would say that going down the hill was brave. It wasn’t. It was just the natural consequence of the decision I made to go up on that ski lift. What goes up must come down. Going up was the brave thing, even if it was done halfway out of ignorance. I’ll tell you what, though. It was a beautiful experience, and I relished every second of it. Still do.

 

So do the same, Blue. Explore. You’ll be surprised by how you come across courage by accident. And sometimes necessity.

 

-Dad

 

 

The Black Friday Miracle

blackfriday

Dear Blue,

 

I feel sorry for Thanksgiving. It’s a stepchild holiday, caught smack in between the juggernaut consumer holidays of Halloween and Christmas. It’s the holiday that is always in the back of the family photo, forgotten behind Aunt Easter’s ugly sweater and Uncle 4th of July’s crazy long Kentucky waterfall gloriously cascading over his shoulders. Mostly, Thanksgiving garners the favor it does not on its own merits but on its place in the holiday timeline. It marks the halfway point of the holiday season…

 

And just one day after that is Black Friday. If a race starts with a pistol, then Black Friday is a Howitzer, laser focused on igniting consumers in a blaze of spending that won’t end until 11:59:59 on December 24, Christmas Eve.

 

As a family, we enjoy Black Friday. It’s a long established family tradition. Your grandfather maps out strategies for door buster plundering like he’s General Patton planning his assault on Europe.

 

Your mother and I, we do the bulk of our holiday shopping every year during Black Friday. This year was no different, except for the obvious fact that you were present for this one. Because you were present, we did not do any midnight raids or anything similarly crazy. We went on Friday afternoon, and in our tiny window between your afternoon nap and bedtime routine, we managed to get about half of our Christmas shopping done.

 

And we got American Hustle on Blu-Ray for $6. Score.

 

Giddy on savings, we left the store and drove home, ready to start dinner. Then, the unthinkable happened.

 

“Uh Mike…where is the backpack?” your mother asked.

 

The backpack is your diaper bag, Blue. It has your shoes, your blankets, your hats, you diaper changing pad, your bottles and I left it all in the shopping cart back at Target.

 

Generally speaking, I was overdue for my DuhMike moment. I average about one per year, and thus far, I had managed to avoid the moment for entirety of 2014. Past DuhMike moments (in case you’re wondering what qualifies) include missing a flight by an entire day, putting a pair of pants into a washing machine…with an ipod in them, and getting my car stuck on a fire hydrant. The fact that I had lasted an entire year without one of these moments while sleep deprived and exhausted was a minor miracle.

 

We drove back in a flash. I looked in the cart and it was gone. I asked a man in an SUV nearby if he saw anything. “No,” was the answer.

 

Curse words, my response.

 

I checked in the store and it wasn’t there either. They told me to check back in a bit to see if it has shown up. Then they took my number to call in case the backpack arrived. Two hours passed and we got nothing. Through all of this, we started going through the different stages of grief. By the third hour, we were moving through acceptance. It sounds silly to be this ate up over a backpack, but it wasn’t just any backpack. It was YOUR backpack, and I lost it. I felt terrible.

 

Feeling this way, I decided to give Target one last try. I went back to the store and again get the same response. The backpack had not arrived in the store. Dejected, I Charlie Brown sadwalked to the back of the store, resigned to begin the long process of replacing your lost things. I started with Tommy Tippee bibs.

 

As I was walking back to the front of the store to pay, my phone buzzed.

 

“Hey, this is Target Guest Services. Were you just looking for a pink and black packpack?”

 

“Yeah, the one with the baby stuff?”

 

“Yeah dude. It’s here.”

 

What the what?

 

I made my beeline to the front, doing that weird walk run that is somewhere between a powerwalk and a pee walk. Sure enough, it was your backpack. And it was back in our possession! How was this possible? Was it just floating around in the parking lot for two hours? Did no one notice it? Did the guest services people just miss it?

 

Unfortunately, we’ll never know.

 

Here’s my theory:

 

I keep going back to the man in the SUV. We’ll call him Roland. Roland was there when we left, there when we got back and he had a kid in the backseat. We were in a section of the parking lot that was not heavily trafficked so it was doubtful someone would have picked up a cart from the corral where I left it.

 

Unless they saw me leave the backpack there, which Roland did. He takes the pack, then lies about it and hightails it out of there when his wife is done shopping. At home, he tells her about the backpack he found. His wife, Ethel, tells him that she thought his days with sticky fingers are long gone, and that she’s disappointed with him.

 

This triggers a huge outburst from Roland because he’s stressed out about finances, particularly after Ethel just bought a $1000 worth of Christmas gifts from Target. In his mind, he has to steal because how else can they get by? Not on his The two of them trade bitter resentful comment after bitter resentful comment for close to an hour and a half. During this time, their 2 year old kid, Tom Bo, decides to go check out the backpack Roland picked up from Target and begins to rummage through the contents.

 

The fight continues. Ethel and Roland graduate from verbal jabs at each other over each other’s actions at Target and go straight to throwing marital haymakers. You know, the kinds of things you say you can never, ever take back and shake a marriage right down to its foundation.

 

So marriage in shambles and divorce lurking nearby, Roland takes a deep breath, sighs, and says, “Fine. I’ll take the bag back.”

 

Before he does, Tom Bo drops a block into the backpack, which we find later that night. It is this block that was the key to the whole story, because we had blocks just like it. In fact, we thought it was one of our blocks until we counted them up. We had all 12 of them, which meant this block, the 13th block, came from somewhere else.

 

It came from Tom Bo. And even though he didn’t get to keep the rest of the baby stuff, Tom Bo did get to keep his parents together.

 

Or that’s our story anyway. Regardless, it was a miracle that pack ended up back with us.

 

-Dad