The Intruder

For centuries, men have pushed the boundaries of exploration and discovery.  But no such discovery exists like that of a man entering his wife’s well-established, clockwork-run, mommy world.

Now that summer is in full swing and I’ve hung up my teacher cape until August, I find myself navigating my wife’s SAHM (Stay at Home Mom) waters every now and then.  For her, the only difference summer brings is the addition of another full-time cruise activity director running the eternal cruise ship, the S.S Sahm.  For the most part, I join this already sailing ship with ease…but there are the occasional port stops that are foreign and foreboding.  This was one such stop.

Every Monday at the Southshore Library is Toddler StoryTime.  SAHM’s run to this oasis like a fish flapping to a puddle.  It offers a break from the heat and 30 minutes of free child entertainment.  Always up for a new adventure, I joined the family during this well-established routine.  Yarei and the kids went in first as I returned my “Kung Fu at Home” video.  However, going in “unaccompanied” was a mistake.  Inside the classroom were about 30 members of the SAHM Tribe and their offspring doing what appeared to be a conga line around the perimeter of the room.  It reminded me of a tribal dance the Lost Boys would have done with their moms… if they had any.   A large screen featured ‘Nick the Music Man’ and his dancing fairy companion singing some sort of train song.  I quickly noticed all eyes on me – the only man entering, and interrupting, the room after Choo Choo line started.  One does not simply interrupt “Choo Choo line,” I learned.

I quickly and apologetically found a seat outside the inner circle where moms nestled and contained their little minions during story time.  I sat behind a mom, her toddler and her stroller, trying to blend in like a peacock in a hen house.  The mom looked over her shoulder at me suspiciously, then pretended to grab something from her stroller and pulled it in closer.  I tried to communicate with my eyes, “I’m not unaccompanied!  My SAHM is right there!”  But it didn’t matter…I was an outsider and would be treated as such.  It probably didn’t help that I was wearing my Stranger Things fan shirt and luchador mask.  My son told me the day’s theme was Lucha Libre Lunes. He’ll pay for that later.

I shook off the shivers and desperately tried to make eye contact with my little tribe, hoping for some type of tribal pass to appease the natives.  Unfortunately, they were too engrossed in a rousing rhyme of ‘Row Row Row Your Boat.’

Aren’t they wondering where I am?  Don’t they see the distress flares?

Finally, the rowboats threw in their anchors, and I started to move toward my tribe, apologizing as I squeezed past Vigilante-Mom.  She eyed me up and down and pulled her daughter in closer.

This must be how Spider-Man feels when the media portrays him as a menace. 

But just as I broke past the outer ring, the Chief Librarian, Princess Lottabook, shouted, “Let us now begin the Minion Dance!!”

Blood-curdling war cries erupted from both children and mothers alike.  The music started pumping.  Arms and bodies began flailing everywhere like those inflatable air dancers you see on the side of the road.  I dodged, ducked and jumped over swinging appendages and baby carriers.  It was like a nightclub rave…at 10am…for moms and toddlers…in a library.  During that moment, my intrusive presence became invisible as moms flashed back to their non-children days.  Only the occasional spit up from body-worn babies overcome by mom’s gyrations stopped the manic mothers.   I crawled through like a commando under barbed wire and reached my people in the inner circle just as the song ended.

The high now faded, my cloaking device deactivated and I was fully exposed in the inner circle.  It was ok, though, because I belonged to my own SAHM subgroup.  Princess Lottabook gave me an approving nod, but others from the tribal council still looked at me warily.

Did he just witness the Minion Dance? This was supposed to be a safe group!  

I wanted to say that their secret was safe with me.  That I wouldn’t tell anyone about this place and they could even blindfold me on the way out.  It wouldn’t matter…

Just then Princess Lottabook addressed the council one last time.

“Friends, our time together has come to a close.  As is our timeless tradition, passed down from generation to generation, we will gather up our tribal toys and say goodbye as we sing the song of our ancestors…Let it Go!”

Mothers gathered toddlers and inserted babies into body pouches as they picked up crayons and scissors.  In complete synchronicity, they sang the song, swaying back and forth between craft stations.

Don’t let them in, don’t let them see,

Be the good girl you always have to be!

The SAHMs twirled with outstretched arms, flinging imaginary ice blasts from their fingers.  Suddenly, a mom threw me a frigid look, as if to say, “What you have seen here was not meant for you.  Be warned.”  I gathered up a glue stick, swooshed my imaginary cape at her and countered back:

“The cold never bothered me anyway!”

See you next week, ladies.

Lessons from the Jacuzzi

It was 40 degrees in the Blue Ridge mountains, so a dip in the porch jacuzzi seemed like a good shock to our spring break cabin adventure. My in-laws established this annual tradition which I’ve come to love.  Partly because of the change of scenery from the Florida flatlands, but also because I get loads of alone time to explore my inner Daniel Boone.

Earlier that day my wife and kids were being entertained by “Bio and Bia”. I noticed this golden opportunity and casually mumbled, “I’m going to look into a thing I saw downstairs.  Nothing interesting.  Carry on.” I slipped silently down the stairs to the basement without arousing suspicion.   Alone at last with my book, the frigid mountain air, and a jacuzzi.  Life didn’t get much better than this.

I stripped down to my shorts, brazenly shook my fist at the icy 40-degree breeze, and jumped into the steamy, bubbling jacuzzi.  In the distance, a lone wolf howled in solidarity and a chipmunk scampered up the jacuzzi and gave me a high five.  I pulled out A Beginner’s Guide to Rugged Mountain Life and soaked in this rare oasis of solitude.  The combination of crisp mountain air and hot, fizzy water was both invigorating and relaxing. On this lonely mountain top, Eden was a wrap around porch and the tree of life was a jacuzzi.

Suddenly, my effervescent meditation was abruptly popped when my four-year-old burst through the door yelling, “I FOUND YOU!!” and immediately slammed the door shut.  I screeched like a wounded animal and my Beginner’s Guide fumbled from one hand to the other, barely escaping a hot, watery grave. “PAPI!! IT’S C-COOOLD!” he yelled through the window. Confusion and fascination were written across his face as he saw this magical, boiling mini-pool on the edge of a forest.

At that point, I had a choice.  I could dismiss him back to the rest of the tribe and continue with my effervescent Eden experience, or I could embrace the interruption and invite him to join in.  I wish I could say I always embrace the interruption, but alas… I’ve chosen the TV or the phone over the child many times.   This time, however…I made a lasting choice.

“Wanna come in?” I asked.  His eyes widened as he reconciled taking his clothes off in freezing weather, then jumping in water.  “SI!!!!!” It didn’t take him long.  Donning his spiderman tighty-whities, he cautiously stepped into the jacuzzi, beaming with excitement.  “Papi! It’s cold up here…but it’s hot down here!” he pointed out.

We dove underwater and explored the aquatic caverns of the Mariana Trench.  Hot lava jet streams threatened our deep sea diver suits and spewed bubbles around us.  Strange formations that resembled steps rose for miles to the surface.  A giant oarfish swam gracefully between us.   Suddenly, from the distant beyond, we heard a mermaid call, distorted by the lava jets and millions of gallons of water above us. We regulated our suits and rose to the surface and found my wife,  wearing a jacket instead of a sea-shell bra, informing us that dinner was ready. Our adventure ended, but a special memory had been created.

I don’t know what it’s like to have children grow up and become more independent…but I’ve seen Toy Story 3, so I know how this will eventually play out.  For that reason, my prayer is that I will see these “interruptions” as unique opportunities to win the heart of my children. One day, there will be other contestants in the battle for their heart.  Some will be good, some will be bad.  My role is to guard their heart while they’re under my care, so when they depart, they will understand who they are and whose they are.

Parenting isn’t always a jacuzzi adventure,  but it is a series of decisions that form the building blocks of our children.  I have built up the blocks, only to topple them later on.  I’ve taken relational moments and squandered them on fruitless activities.  This is where God’s grace steps in and allows our parenting victories to eclipse the failures… when relaxing jacuzzi escapes become wondrous, memorable explorations of Atlantis.

 

 

A Saturday Morning Suburban Symphony

Lawnmowers hum
Car repairs clang
Morning birds chirp
Garbage trucks grind and groan

An elderly woman power walks in hot pink leotards while sweating to the oldies.  She tunes the suburban symphony orchestra with the vigorous pumping of her hot pink weights.  A squirrel scurries alongside her, pauses, and waves. She tips her oversized sun hat in response and continues pumping away. All along the sidewalk, the row of homes flowed in synch with the Saturday morning Symphony… all except one.

From inside that home came the plea of a four-year-old. “PAPI! I WANNA HEAR ‘RHYTHM IS GONNA GET YOU’ AND ‘CONGA’!” His 2-year-old backup dancer squealed in agreement. Pride filled that father’s heart as he queued up the two requests on his phone, plugged it into the speaker system, and opened the garage door for the whole neighborhood to hear.

A munchkin duet performed on the garage stage and warned the hot-pink golden girl, “You know it, the Rhythm is gonna get ya!” and other unintelligible threats. All restraints were loosed, however, once Conga blared from the speakers.   The musical minions took their tour to the mean sidewalks of Summerfield and launched their own Saturday Symphony.  They flung musical notes from their fingers as they marched down the sidewalk singing, “If you want to, do the conga, you’ve got to listen to the BEAT!”

And the lawnmower lambada’d

And the car repairs conga’d

And the morning birds mambo’d

And the Garbage trucks Jived and Wailed

Princess Unicorn

My wife and I have an unspoken agreement. I will gladly watch the kids while she goes grocery shopping, as long as I am allowed to express my parental creativity as I see fit during her absence.

Instructions: Remove her hair from her face when she's eating, otherwise, she'll eat her hair.

 

Creative interpretation:

princess-unicorn

“Princess Unicorn: Her Horn Can Pierce The Sky…and the grapes.” 

DadVenture

DadVenture /dad-vÊn-cher/: (noun) A father-inspired activity, typically of epic proportions in his mind, which usually results in a different outcome than expected. 

 

Summer is in full swing and this mean time for DadVentures.  Last week Yarei cashed in on a much deserved mother’s day massage, and I took advantage of this window to exercise my DadVenture planning powers.  Usually these events involve great dreams of adventure and grandeur with some sort of high-flying trapeze finish… until I realize the limited capacity and tolerance of 1 and 3 year olds.  But a dad can dream… and dream I did.

Our destination: Little Manatee River state park.  Atmospheric conditions: 90+ with high humidity.  Mission: Survival…along with some nature surveillance.

Upon arrival at our wilderness base camp, I briefed my troops on the day’s mission.

“Estan listos para la aventura?!” I yelled with the enthusiasm of a brand new camp counselor.

“SIIII!!” Came the munchkin chorus in the back seat.

We got out of the car and started down the paved, unbeaten path into nowhere land.  We stopped at a sign with strange markings, which I quickly deciphered for the troops.

“These are animals we may see in the wild.”  I pointed at the different snakes and birds pictured in the markings.  Ooo’s and ahh’s followed.

“It’s like Wild Kratts, papi!” shouted Elias, showing his sister some sample creatures he had already spied.

explorers

And so our trek began along a winding path covered with Florida vegetation, mysterious bird sounds, insects, heat and humidity.  Lots of heat and humidity.  The thick wetland foliage gave brief spots of relief from the blistering sun, but these were sparse and we often found ourselves at the mercy of teasing cloud coverage.

Elias grabbed a random stick to use in the event trouble found us, and Selah took over navigation by leaving a trail of cheezits in case we got lost. I donned my safari hat and blazed the trail… for about 10 minutes.

“Papi.. i’m hot.”  Complained Elias.

“Yes, yes… the jungle tests those who would enter it.  We must go forth!”  I yelled as I waved mosquitoes from my face.

“Pero papi… i’m hungry!!”

Blasted… I left the snacks back in the explorer mobile!

(For those with DadVenture experience, a common trait is omission of small details that the motherly type usually remember, such as rations, hygiene equipment, recreational items, and other minutiae that are irrelevant in the world of wilderness exploration and conquest).

“It’s ok, this is a short unexplored trail. We’ll be back at the van soon.” I assured my security officer.

“No papi… I want my snacks!”  Apparently the jungle was pushing him harder than any other explorer had ever endured.

I squatted to his eye level.

“Elias.  There is terrain to explore and creatures to be discovered!” I waved my hand for emphasis, then smacked a few mosquitoes off my neck.  But it was no use.  His shoulders drooped and I could see the weight of the wilderness crashing upon him.  I had to act quickly to maintain troop morale.

“Guess what!  The rest of this path is a mirage… it actually ends here!  There’s nothing more to explore!”

“YAAYYY!” came the chorus of mini troops.  Deep inside, my own mini-explorer was also secretly cheering at the thought of leaving this wretched, mosquito-infested humidity tunnel.

I carried Elias on my shoulders, pushed Selah’s tricycle and hacked my way back through the vines and primeval forest heat , defeated and downtrodden by the elements.  And like a marooned castaway who sees a boat on the horizon, the children yelled with delight when they saw the van emerge from behind the thick moss and myrtle oak. But nature gave me one last hope to redeem our adventure:  in the distance, a shaded picnic table.

“Look Elias! We can have our snacks at the table and keep looking for creatures!”

“Papi, I have better idea.  Let’s eat in the van.  We can look out the window,” Elias countered.

“But you can see more if you’re outside!” I protested like a tour guide who’s about to lose a big tip.

“No papi… it’s better in the van..with the air on.”

We loaded into the van and Elias settled happily into his explorer car seat with his snacks on his lap and the ac on his face.

“You see papi! It’s better in the car.  You need to listen to me.”

And so concluded a day of exploration, conquest and defiance of nature with air conditioning.

DadVenture

Sibling Torment

“If necessity is the mother of invention… then boredom is the mother of sibling torment.”  Suburban Luchador. 

rope tie 1rope tie2rope tie3rope tie4

(don’t worry…as soon as I captured the moment for posterity, I rescued the princess from the bonds of slime.  This is why it’s great having your own kids…’cause you just can’t do this with someone else’s.) 

    What creative torment have your kids come up with to combat boredom?  Comment below!

Suburban Baller

I’ve never earned much street cred from my basketball skills.  In fact, if my high school athletic career were to be featured as an inspirational movie, my character would be played by Charlie Brown (read First At Bat for the screenplay).

Back in my mean, cul-de-sac barrio in Valrico, Florida, kids would gather around a freestanding driveway basketball hoop and imitate the tongue wagging, gravity-defying moves of Michael Jordan.   To really dominate the driveway, however, you not only had to have the moves, but also the mouth.  Trash-talkin’, self glorification and verbal jabs were the bandages that covered missed layups, airballs, and other damages to our fragile adolescent self esteem.  My Reebok Pumps must have had a hole in them in the 90s, because no matter how much I pumped those things, I couldn’t even land a lay up.  Even my best “double pump phantom pass” shot usually ended up sailing over the hoop and slamming onto the homeowner’s car, setting off the alarm and scattering the NBA Jammers like cockroaches when the lights come on.  My comebacks to these fails consisted of “yeah…well… your mom couldn’t have made it either!” followed by a dagger to the heart: “… and get a life, ya spaz!”  The basketball court just wasn’t my domain…unless of course the game was HORSE, in which case Reebok Pumps were useless.

Twenty-five years later, I found myself in a new basketball challenge.  The mean streets of my suburban Valrico barrio were gone, replaced by a 3 year-old bounce house birthday party.  I was playing with my son in a bounce house that included a basketball hoop in the corner and we were accompanied by two other dad friends: Pablo (AKA Pablito del Barrio) and Aaron (AKA Air N, a title from his mean Cleveland streetball days). Like it often happens when dads gather in a bounce house, things started to fly that maybe shouldn’t.  Children were being tossed at alarming heights as grown men crashed into floor, meanwhile cringing mothers walked by wondering where the wives were.  Aaron, not satisfied with sending the children into orbit, had the genius idea of doing slam dunks into the hoop.  I enhanced the idea by adding an “alley-oop” touch to the challenge, along with slow-mo video footage to chronicle our amazing feats.  What resulted was the realization that I severely underestimated my basketball skills… and my barrio was lucky I didn’t unleash my full potential, because there would have been a lot of crushed NBA dreams when they saw me fly.

(unfortunately for Air N, his game is going to need a lot of pumping to regain its Cleveland streetball stature).