Monthly Archives: May 2019

Kids and Their Grandmothers: Another Road Trip – Day 1

Dedicated to Annie DeLisle for reasons known to her.

Well here we are again! And by “we” I mean “me” sitting in a hotel room in a strange place, laptop on hand, pictures uploading to the cloud, bizarre canned cocktail nearby, cataloging the day’s memories, and reminiscing about the past – both years past and hours…

By the way, wasn’t it swell of me to start this post with a relatively short paragraph containing just two sentences, the second one ridiculously long and ending with an ellipses? Thought so.

By “here we go again” I mean to say that the very thing that was the catalyst to this blog and the forthcoming book(s) is now underway yet again. All the way back in the summer of 2008 and with a six week-old boy in tow because it would have been kind of wrong to leave him home alone, my darling wife and I set out to take the road trip we had talked about taking since we were dating. Six weeks later we returned to our apartment in Northern New Jersey, the boy now a man doubled in age. For 48 days we criss-crossed the continent reaching the far point of the Vegas Strip. I was a brand new dad and had fancied myself a pro at fatherhood. It’s hard to blame me since I had the best role model. My old man always did not only what was best for us but also made use of what he was good at while doing it. As a result I know every cerebral dirty joke every told. What I was good at (in my mind) was writing. So at the end of day one I found myself in a hotel room in Northern Virginia, playing with a happy infant boy, adoring my life, and reaching for my laptop so I could “pen a few lines to remember the day”.

Those lines exceeded 2500 words.

The next night I wrote another few thousand. And the night after that I did the same. I shared them with my wife who suggested I post them to Facebook where soon enough I had attracted a small army of “fans”. Long story short, I kind of forgot to stop writing. And every time we’ve taken a road trip since I’ve realized what is the bread and butter of this blog – road trips.

So tonight I present to you Day 1 of a new adventure on the asphalt ribbons of America.

Let’s start with the title. Every good story needs an apt title. The purpose of this trip for us is to visit my mother in New Jersey. And since we love my wife’s mother as well and she and my mom are great friends we asked her to come with us. So we’ll have one grandmother on the trip, another on the other side, and a whole lot of fun in between.

Best Mother-in-law ever!

The day began shortly before 3AM when I sprang from my bed, dropped to my knees in prayer, grabbed a cup of hot, black coffee, and hit the shower. My loving wife had stayed up most of the night getting the house ready to be abandoned for a month and packing the car. She insisted I get the rest since I’d be driving. It’s a guy thing. It’s literally the least I can do. I imagine myself in days of old, my family in the back of a coach and me on the bench up front driving the horses. I also imagine horses don’t scare me.

Typical Thursday morning at 5AM, Buc-ee’s
Yes, it’s a beaver.

A trip with us is like a trip to the DMV only not terrible or disgusting. However it does take all day to go a few inches. I was going to compare it to trench warfare but I thought it was too soon. Our first stop came just thirty minutes later as we pulled into Buc-ee’s. Click the link to look it up. It is pure Texas and pure awesome. I think we accidentally spent a hundred bucks there. Well, not me. I bought a black coffee and did 25 pushups in the parking lot. Off we go…

Every do push-ups on asphalt?

About two hours later, driving into the rising sun, we crossed the border into the Pelican State (Louisiana) at Shreveport. The kids and my wife slept soundly this whole time. My Mother-in-law Wilma remained awake long enough for the two of us to discover we were both halfway through a rosary (individually) and so we joined forces. Then she crashed. And I drove. Alone. For hours. Don’t feel bad. I got to count all the pine trees in East Texas along the way.

Perhaps it was the excitement of the rushing and mighty Big River but all my passengers seemed to awaken right before we crossed the Mississippi. After a bathroom break and photo op we stopped for lunch at a Cracker Barrel in Vicksburg. I got excited as we pulled off the highway. There, right next to the restaurant, was what looked to all the world like an outlet mall. They do come in handy on road trips for all the articles you suddenly remember forgetting to pack once you’re just out the door. Only this one was different. For starters it was only two strips of stores. And 98% of those were closed. As in, didn’t exist anymore. It was sadder than when my dog died in high school. Thank God for chicken fried steak.

Big River

As we barreled across Mississippi I decided it was time to indoctrinate the offspring by forcing them to listen to playing some selections my older sister made us listen to on road trips when I was their age. Linda Ronstadt, Boz Scaggs… I’m sorry. I almost drove off the road. Let’s listen to silence, kids! Silence sounds good.

Finally we crossed into Alabama where the stars fell. Not sure if that’s a tourist slogan or if a radiological waste site is actually contributing to the ethereal glow. It is a beautiful place. Here’s where it got really fun for me as a dad. When I was 12 my older brother had just graduated from West Point. Yes, that one. He set out on a trip to Birmingham to visit a friend from the Academy who had left two years earlier and was graduating from Auburn and he took me along for company. I remember the trip well and not just because my brother decided to make the 1000 mile return drive straight through but because our hosts took me to the Statue of Vulcan. Someone from Birmingham once visited New York Harbor and decided the Statue of Liberty would be nice overlooking their city. Instead they got Vulcan. Birminghamanians are proud of their city’s industrial roots so entrenched in the iron industry. In fact they’re known as “the Pittsburgh of the South” even though that city’s lifeblood was steel. Came up with that one all by themselves. Their history of segregation? Not so proud of that one. But they deal with that in several other really neat monuments. Hey, nobody’s perfect. Vulcan is really cool too. Perched on a very tall pedestal resembling a lighthouse, the deity looks out over Birmingham with an anvil at his side and an arrow in his raised hand. He’s even wearing a nifty apron round his waist. Unfortunately that apron was cut for a transparently smaller man. From the rear and shining on the Homewood neighborhood with the brilliance of a large celestial object is the exposed backside of a well-sculpted dude. God? Demi-god? It’s his butt. I remembered all of this and simply had to take my kids for the experience. Both kids laughed heartily when they saw it. Then we went to the top. My daughter even climbed the ten flights of stairs with me (had to get my workout in) and gleefully stepped out onto the viewing platform at the base of the Statue. Before freezing in terror.

I love Art Deco.
Seemed like the thing to do.
Note the abject fear in her eyes.
Perfect pose.

The platform was an open steel grid. Boy was that scary. I had to be brave so she wouldn’t cry. Inside I had three heart attacks. Not figuratively either. Ten stories up and a clear view of the ground below. Maybe this wasn’t such a brilliant plan after all.

Nonetheless we got our pictures and drove on. On our way to the hotel just north of town God must have known I hadn’t closed my exercise ring on my watch. An old woman sat in an old car in the middle of a busy street. She had broken down. My wife said “She needs help.” Good observation. I pulled over, jumped out, and like roaches scattering in a kitchen but in reverse two other people and I ran toward her car, dodging traffic, and pushed her a block to a safe spot.

They seem to enjoy this.

Finally in the hotel I “did the Dad thing”, even though I was beat, and jumped in the pool with my children. My wife went for food. Krystal’s. Never had ‘em? I’ll tell you more tomorrow. Wilma? She stayed in the room to pray. I needed it – the prayers that is. Later I closed out the day with a Walmart run. I forgot to pack my jumprope. It’s my daily cardio. I start every day with 30 minutes of high intensity jump rope before breakfast and vacation doesn’t change that. How else do you think I can do all this? Prayer? Oh, yeah that too. Made five trips back to the car for forgotten items, and finally cracked open a drink (if you can call it that) with my mother-in-law.

Alabama what now?

Which brings us to the present. Seems we have some 30 days ahead of us and many more adventures in store. I can’t promise more bareassed statues of Roman gods but I can promise lots of love and plenty of fun and a most thankful heart from this dad of two future saints.

Ready to join me? Let’s go.

All’s Well That Ends Well – AKA: This Means War

Dear son,

I don’t usually address you directly in my blog. But astute readers will note that you form part of my target audience of two. I started writing this blog many years ago when you were just six weeks old as a way to document our travels together. Over the past eleven years it has morphed into something of a “Notebook” wherein I document our life together. Recently you have discovered my writings and begged me to read them to you every day. I have certainly loved sharing so many memories with you and I greatly appreciate your love not only for what I wrote but for me.

Of course, I love you and your sister more than anything. That’s why I’m going to tell you this little story by way of offering some fatherly advice.

Six months ago I started working in education once again. After a one year hiatus I was given a chance to return not only to the classroom I love so much but to school administration – something I always believed I could be good at. And once again God has provided a magnificent setting for me. The school is awesome! The kids are awesome! The principal is awesome! The third season of Dallas is awesome but that’s another story.

The school year ended last week on a high note. I got to call out awards at the award ceremony. I got to shake hands with each of the graduates at the graduation. I met with the other high school teachers this morning to discuss our plans for next year. And I did what I love best about being a teacher at this time of year. I walked out the door for some well-earned vacation time.

You also know that since recovering from my second spinal fusion a few years ago I’ve been making a very strong effort to get in the best shape possible for a man of my age. Here again, the school comes in handy. There is a small but adequate weight room in the basement. Tonight I went over to lift weights with a friend who’s kids also go to the school. I left feeling pumped – literally and in spirit. What could possible go wrong? I mean, Kim Jong Un could launch a missile at Hawaii but these things are always likely when, as Sam from Wendover says, “you give a two year-old a Minecraft server”.

Well… Here’s what “went wrong”. Seems some of our students had some free time on their hands and spotted me leaving the school. They followed me home. The unloaded a roll of toilet paper on my car and our neighbor’s crepe myrtle tree. I inadvertently scared them off when I went to close the garage door your grandmother had accidentally left open a few minutes earlier.

When you came outside with me and asked what all of this meant I explained the common (and most lame) high school prank known as “teepee-ing”. Your response was classic.

But I thought your students liked you?

They do, son. They’re just teenage boys. We can’t fault them. The frontal lobes of their brains haven’t finished forming yet. At this stage of the game they have room up there for all of three simultaneous thoughts and two of them involve food. What they do not think about are consequences. As in, Daddy is Irish. The Irish don’t forget things. We invented the phrase “Revenge is a dish best served cold.” What’s that, son? Shush now. Yes, I know the Bible says “Vengeance is Mine, sayeth the Lord,” but this isn’t really vengeance sayeth Daddy. It’s more of an issue of justice, which is a virtue. Stop looking at me like that. How else can I be expected to help form them into fine and productive men for God? Even if that formation might take place years from now when they least expect it. Hey, education is a lifelong endeavor.

So my advice to you is this. Don’t ever do something so stupid. I’ve mastered the long game and your parents like me, I mean, you know what? This will be settled. War is hell, Irene. War is hell. What’s that? Who’s Irene? Son, don’t you know your memes? I can see there’s a lot of advice Daddy hasn’t dispensed yet. But I’m glad YOU are on my side.

PS: This is all part of the fun of what I do and who I am. No harm, no foul, as they say. The boys were just having some fun (albeit not thought out ahead of time since cameras were involved) and I truly bear them no ill will. In fact, they’re my students. I love them. See you in September, boys…

Stars, Oil, and Me

Today I am enjoying many blessings. My niece and her husband have brought their two beautiful boys to visit. On that note I am reminded of what I told my students years ago when my oldest nephew and his wife brought their first son into the world. “Kids, my first great-nephew was just born!” “You’re a great-uncle?” they asked.

“I’m the best.”

We have taken the whole family to the Science Museum where there is some kind of celebration called “Star Wars Day” taking place. Joy. Lots of little kids constructing light sabers while their parents run around in costume living out some kinds of George Lucas fantasy. I just suggested that my wife affix some cinnamon rolls to her scalp. She was not amused. I am not a Star Wars fan as you could probably tell. Nonetheless I am mildly amused at the display from many of these parents. Whatever… You do what you have to do as a parent to amuse your kids. If you happen to be able to engage your own psychoses at the same time then all the better.

Thinking to self: why do these science museums not have a bar? Looks like someone missed a great profit opportunity.

Head ‘em up and mooooove ‘em out.

This being Texas there is a wing dedicated to the oil shale. It’s next to the “Death of Dinosaurs” room. The former is a gloriously well-lighted and large room featuring many happy motifs of the Lone Star State. It inspires great pride. The latter is a bleak 4’X4′ closet. It is black as there are no lights. Inside a few bones are thrown on the floor. They look rather like the remnants of a rack of ribs. Dinosaurs, if they ever existed, were terrible people. Therefore God smited them and gave us oil. God is good.

Next up is the IMAX theater. Five toddlers just stumbled out the exit door with parents in tow. All of them – parents and children – are vomiting profusely and struggling to walk. The feature? “An Aerial Drone Tour of Fort Worth”. I believe the drone’s operator was a child. On amphetamines.

Note to self: Must check this film after lunch.

On to the planetarium. The show this afternoon is called “The Stars at Night: the Texas Night Sky”. One patron who was exiting the previous show was heard to say “I didn’t know the other states received no starlight at nighttime.” Another was heard to say “I had heard there were other states.”

I do believe I will rustle up the herd and head on out. We’re fixin’ to get ourselves somethin’ to eat now.

Who knew science (and Texas) could be so entertaining?

More to come…