The Best Day of a Second Grader's Life

» I have long since realized that parenting involves more than a proverbial annual pilgrimage to Disneyland. But I still harbor the notion .. that a father/son day with my boy at the Happiest Place on Earth would be a blast. A total blast!

Baloo & Mogli | Jungle BookBack before the Bug was born, I used to visit Disneyland every year on my birthday .. to celebrate it the happiest way I knew.

My b-day falls in January. Mid-week you have the whole place pretty much to yourself. Short lines. Minimal waits. "That was awesome! Let's do it again!"

Yes, I have been there during the summer break .. on the weekend, no less. No fun. Two hours in every line. A mass of sweaty bodies baking in the sweltering sun. (Never again.)

No, I have not been to Disneyland with the Bug, but I *did* spend some time with him this weekend. If you are a regular here, then you know about some of the too-adorable things that he has said and done.

Now, certainly these parenting vignettes are always nice. Yes, very nice. Precious, even. But sometimes I feel like I actually need them. Because they breathe new life into me (.. often when I need it most).

Case in point, this weekend, the Bug says (.. to his girlfriend, they're both 8) » "Isnt this the best day of your life?"

» What Constitutes the Best Day of your Life?

There we were .. sitting in a yogurt shop. The girl's grampa was there, too. The kids had just finished their yogurt and were starting on the candy. (Must be 50 different jars there. Easy.)

And gramps says to his granddaughter, "You're gonna get me in trouble with all that candy." She got way more than the Bug, and she's sharing her sugar-coated strips of sour ribbon. Generously.

And I say to the Bug, "Oh, we have a few good get-dad-in-trouble stories, don't we?"

And I told gramps and his granddaughter the story about how, one summer day, while we were down at the Newport Pier .. two girls were driving around in a Red Bull car .. with a big red bull mounted on the roof.

As we were locking our bikes there near the pier, the pretty girls called out, "Would you like some Red Bull?"

"Can we, dad?" the Bug asked. "Okay," I said. "Just one."

These bikini-clad girls were driving around on a scorching summer day, handing out samples of ice cold Red Bull. People were flocking from all around, soon surrounding their Bullmobile.

Red Bull canThe Bug walked over and the driver handed him a can, a small can, the 4 ouncer. His eyes were lit up as he walked back.

» "We won't tell mom."

He got me in trouble with that. So it surprised me when, it wasnt many weeks until he asked again.

This time we were standing in line at a store check-out ..

.. beside a mini-fridge, stocked with both the 4- and 8-ounce cans. "Can we get some Red Bull, dad?"

I looked down at him. "Don't you remember?" I asked, warily, "what happened the last time I gave you Red Bull?"

"We won't tell mom," he says.

I paused to study his face. "You'll get me in trouble."

"No I won't," he said, rather convincingly.

"Okay. One of the little cans. We'll split it." So he opened the case and grabbed one. (I admit I'm easy.)

I checked the time on my cell. This was an hour or two before he was scheduled to go back to his mom. (We normally spent 2½ days together.)

[ I must admit, as I calculated the t-minus number, I could see the risk. Something seemed say, "Dude, you are asking for trouble." =) ]

We sat outside on one of the benches. I popped the top and handed him the icy can. He took a sip and passed it back. A few more passes and it was empty. Less than a minute. We were riding our bikes that time also, so any energy had a physical outlet.

••• today's entry continues here below •••

I can't really say if I felt anything. But I was certainly feeling good. I mean, I always feel good when he's around (.. something I noticed long before I learned what Dostoevsky said).

His mom came and picked him up. No problem. Twenty minutes later, I got a screaming phone call, "Did you give him Red Bull?!" [ Her head actually came out of the phone .. and started yelling at me. I struggled to close the lid, but her head way in the way. ]

And here is where the Bug told those of us seated there at the yogurt shop .. the story of how he went home .. and was "jumping back and forth on the couch." (All eyes were fixed on him.) Too cute.

Pooh & Tigger & the Hundred Acre gang"Did she really take you to the hospital?" grandpa asked.

» Getting Dad in Trouble

People coming into the yogurt shop overhead him tell that part of the story .. about how he "got dad in trouble."

"That's a good story," one guy said, walking by with a smile and a filled cup.

Then the girl told a similar story .. about how she "got grandpa in trouble" .. after he hid a bag of candy in his trunk. (All eyes shifted to her as she told her story.)

Certainly they were getting attention, focused attention. Adult attention.

Anyway, this is the CONTEXT .. in which the Bug said (.. to the little girl seated beside him) "Isnt this the best day of your life?"

Is that because they like the attention? the sugar? being together? Or do they really enjoy getting their elders in trouble?

Nana says it makes them feel like they're okay. If dad or Gramps can get in trouble .. who am I to be little Miss Perfect? (.. particularly if they happen to have a perfectionist for a parent .. where everything needs to be just-so .. for them to feel okay.)

Pooh & Piglet looking for butterflies» No More Red Bull

"The best day of their lives," I repeated to gramps, aware of the irony at our expense, ".. all sugared up, while talking about how they got their dad and and their grandpa in trouble. Does it get any better?"

.. which made them laugh even more.

They had already played together most of the afternoon. They played games together at the library. They ran around together at the park .. seeing who can swing the highest, jump the farthest, spin the fastest, and climb the quickest.

Then tacos for lunch. And later, a big cup of yogurt for a final treat before saying goodbye with a hug. [ There is healing in a Second Grader's hug. Powerful stuff. ]

[ I was also able to give him a little money so he could buy a new Skylanders Giant.

And of course we stopped by the coffee shop .. where I scored a bag of Sulawesi (Indonesia). So it was like ol' times .. the times before he started school. ]

They look like brother and sister. But when people ask, they both turn to each other and say, "No waay! Eeeww!"

At the yogurt shop, the girl got a piece of paper to write down the Bug's phone number. When grandpa told her that he already had it, the girl didnt care. She wanted his number for herself. "And here's my number," she said. (She has her own phone.)

[ She has an older sister, who just started to drive. So I think she may be learning boy-tricks from her older sibling. I have never met the older sister, who I hear is now living with a different grandparent. But grandpa tells me that she is getting good grades. ]

Yes, I'm surprised that he said, "the best day of your life." Certainly makes you think .. about parenting and things. Not what I would have imagined as "the best day" of a second grader's life.

He doesnt ask me about Red Bull any more. =) He tells mom everything .. usually within 20 minutes. (That's how long it takes for my phone to ring.)

The one time that I did say, "I'm going to tell you this, but don't tell your mother" .. he told her (.. within 20 minutes). So I must assume that everything I say or do will get back.

Pooh & Christopher Robin holding hands» Parenting & Discipline

Discipline is one of those things that parents sometime talk about .. both with other parents, and even with non-parents.

Back before I became a parent, I used to be an expert on the subject .. or at least, that's what I thought.

But you don't really know until you find yourself there in the middle of Parentville, USA. Wing and a prayer. Do your best and hope for the best.

The Bug is a good kid and rarely needs discipline. When time-with-your-son becomes exceedingly precious, discipline drops in priority .. to ony those times when absolutely necessary. And then it is handled with the utmost respect, in a way that honors their little lives .. their still-developing little lives.

That's my approach. Never in anger, or when physically tired. I have never failed to see positive results using this technique.

There was a period however, where he was feeling his oats, so to speak (.. which I normally try to encourage). Except he wasnt being very respectful.

I feel like I was patient, and I like to see him become his own person, yes .. but I finally said (something like) » "Listen, no matter how you treat me, I will always be there for you. I'll always love you. And there's nothing you can do to change that.

But you should know .. that I have gone to great lengths to stay in your life. You already know a little about these things. I'm just saying .. that sometimes I think I deserve a little more respect."

Count Olaf & Crew | A Series of Unfortunate EventsHe got it. I never had to say another thing. (And that was quite some time ago.)

Regarding the subject of discipline, I have found only one certainty » kids need love more than discipline. In other words, the more love they get, the less discipline they need.

In algebra, that would be called » "an inversely proportional relationship." Represented symbolically by » 1/x (.. for all you Geek dads). More-of-one becomes less-of-the-other. In mathematically beautiful proportions.

And kindness never hurts. Actions, of course, are most important. Actions that suggest or reveal or betray » "I love you this «.-.-.-.-.-.-.» much!"

One of the first bits of Dad Advice I ever gave .. was » "Actions speak louder than words." In other words, you can tell more about a person by what they DO .. rather than by what-they-say. [ The best vantage point from which to discern questions regarding authenticity vs hypocrisy. ]

It bothers me when I see little kids being unappreciated, or worse. It is certainly easy to see why God did not give me the Gift-of-Vaporization.

In other words, I am not his boss .. no, I'm his dad. Anybody can be the boss of a kid. That takes no advanced mathematics or the quantum theory of love, I assure you. (Everybody knows somebody that proves my point. A plethora exists. )

Goethe ( 'gur-tuh ) said » "Love does not dominate, it cultivates." Is that not intuitively obvious?

It is a curious thing, is it not? .. that the parent who repeatedly "reminds" their child of his or her shortcomings (.. criticisms, both real and imagined) .. is somehow disappointed .. when they observed THE VERY THING that they have for so long been proclaiming over their child.

It is indeed a sad thing (for the child) when they are a victim of bad (criticizing, complaining, impossible-to-please) parents. If you research it out, you will find that it is the parent who is projecting their own inner inadequacies on their child.

Sure, they think they are helping .. but they are really just fucking-up their kids.

» Grandpa's and the Things they Teach Their Grand-Kids

Which reminds me. When I was a little guy myself. I had just learned how to light matches .. from Gramps. (Who else?)


Mom's dad, Henry. My mom was 19 when I was born. "Oh, honey, we made a lot of mistakes with you."

"Uh, ya don't say, mom. I could have told you that." 

Mom made up for it later on. Impressive closing effort. Finished in style.

I know two guys who had horrible (alcoholic) moms. One of them has gotten on far better than the other. But he worked at it very hard. For many years. Most impressive.

Having a bad mom is devastating. Because of the proximity, the duration, and the position. The three combine to fuck up little heads like little else .. that I have been personally exposed to.

I'm not saying that you can't rally and surmount the impossible like a ninja on a double espresso. I'm just saying that you got a lot further to go.

I am naturally interested in people who had shitty moms. "How did you do it? How did you survive? How come you're not neurotic?"

I always look to see if I can identify any similarities, any patterns. (Validated paths.) The main point seems to be » there are no shortcuts.

And I am most interested in people who, themselves, had shitty parents, but somehow managed to turn it around .. to become good parents themselves.

Because they have to throw out the old model, which is not an easy thing to do.

That it why I have so much respect for the Dog. It is only one of the reasons, but a very big one. And certainly the most defining.

Takes strong therapy to dress the wounds inflicted by the toxic mom.


It was early. Very early. Dad had already left for work. Mom was still sound asleep. What to do?

Ah, I spy some matches! .. there on the stove (.. used to light a pilot on our gas stove). So I strike one against the coarse sand-paper strip. Kluh-CHOOW! Very, very cool .. especially when you're just little guy.

But I soon have to blow it out .. cuz the flame is chasing my little fingers. So I look around for some thing that will let me keep the magic going a little longer.

We kept a garbage can in the hallway between the kitchen and the door to outside .. which just so happened to be brimming with yesterday's newspaper.

Gramps showed me how to touch the match to a piece of paper .. and how the fire would transfer over. That was a very cool trick, too.

So that's what I did. But the fire grew so fast that I couldnt put it out. "Um, better get mom."

» "Mom, the garbage pail is on fire."

Beside her bed I say (rather quietly). "Mom." Nothing. No stir. A little louder, with a musical inflection. "Mooom." Nada. Dead to the world.

"Mooooom .. the garbage pail is on fire."

Dude, there was a 3- or 4-sec delay. Maybe five, cuz I was getting ready to say it again, but louder .. when the covers shot straight up in the air. (Just like they do in the cartoons.)

That's how long it must take for the electrical signals received by the still-asleep eardrums .. and make their way .. to the brain. The coconut.

Like a pro wrestler, mom spun around and said, "What?" .. eyes bugged out, but yet unable to focus. She is merely looking in my general direction. 'I should right to the point,' I think.

"The garbage pail is on fire," I say, rather informatively.

Dude, she tears off like a campus streaker for the kitchen .. which is way at the other end of the house .. butt naked. [ Yeah, I probably need therapy for that. =) ]

By now the flames are half way to the ceiling. What a siGHt! Roaring! Literally. Very impressive, if I do say so myself. Mom certainly thought so.

Mom grabs the teapot off the stove [ quick thinking. "why didnt I think of that?" ] and pours it on the fire. But it aint enough. So she refilled it at the kitchen sink. The second time did it. Smoke starts. Another dousing kills the smoke.

A few minutes later, while mom was sitting on the toilet, and after I told her what happened, she asked, "Where did you learn how to light matches?"

"Gramps showed me." =)

She dropped her head down in her hands there on her knees (now wearing a robe, at least) and said, "Oh honey, please don't do that any more."

"Okay," I said. "I'm kinda hungry, mom. Do we have anything to eat?"

[ Might be a good place here .. to mention that mom made clear, in many little ways .. that the #1 quality she prized most highly in finding a mate .. was » intelligence.

She seemed willing to overlook a shortcoming here or there .. long as he met her key criteria.

I remember her telling me, long before I really knew what exactly she was talking about, "Oh my God, honey. I was sooo in love with your father .. that I couldnt concentrate in class. Promise me you won't get serious with a girl before you finish your education." =)

Mom was big into education. Lots of trips to the library we made. ]

» "You got me in trouble with your mother."

Next time I saw Gramps, he called out (at his house), "Come here, I wanna show you this new fishing pole I just got."

He took me aside, squated down to my level, looked both ways and shook his finger at me. Half-whispering and half-shouting, he said, "You got me in trouble with your mother!"

He made a phone out of his fingers and said, "She called me up and chewed me out!"

We were laughing. He thought it was too funny.

This was before my brother came along, who was born when I was 5. So I must've been 3 or 4. I remember being eye-level with the bed, and having to look up at mom, slightly .. when I told her the garbage pail was on fire.

The brown-plastic pail had started to melt. That partially-melted plastic served as a reminder .. for many years.

Mom died before the Bug was born. (Dad, too.) Before my brother's kids were born, too.

» My Most Favorite Person Ever

Here is where Gramps [.. who was my favorite person in the whole world .. the man from whom I received the most tangible emotional support ] connects to the Bug. Because Gramps had a way .. of letting you know that ALTHO he was not happy with something you might've done ( .. the fishing story is coming up) ..

.. he DID NOT HOLD IT AGAINST you. Something he demonstrated by being able to laugh about it. This is a very simple thing / concept / idea .. but in ways, for me, it goes beyond words .. which uh, naturally makes me way to go SEE WHAT IT IS .. that goes beyond words. Deep.

Because THIS IS PART (.. a big part) of what makes Gramps my favorite person in the whole world, ever. Tho not the biggest part, he was nevertheless the BEST part. My favorite part.

Sure he gave me 25% of my genes. The Bug gets 12.5% of Gramps. That doesnt seem like much, but from me he is getting all (100%) off Gramps' emotional legacy. And I would have to say, despite everything, all things considered, he is doing okay. And maybe more than okay.

Because .. beyond those 25% of my genes .. he gave me the MOST IMPORTANT part [ .. what you might call personality?, social? emotional? ]. The part that has endured .. when the other parts have let me down, maybe even represent obstacles or challanges.

He not only gave me the juice of life .. but somehow my Emergency Backup Generators [EBG]. Which leads me to believe he himself somehow got EBGs during his own live .. from perhaps someone else. Tho I can't recall him ever talking about such things.

But his example certainly affected the way I handle / treat / respond to the Bug. Yes, the Bug is easy to love, but parenting is hard. Very hard. If you hear anyone say otherwise, look at their kids. D.e.m.a.n.d.i.n.g is the word that comes to mind. Specially the emotional component ..

Dec 14, 2012 | Newtown, Connecticut.. which seems vital, especially when you consider the consequences of deficiencies in that area.

Gramps had two girls (.. mom, and 'Nana,' who lived upstairs). No boys. He was Mr. Outdoorsy. Hunting, fishing, camping, shooting. All his life.

So when each of his two daughters had a boy first, he was thanking his stars. =)

I could tell he loved me. No guesswork required there. Intuitively obvious. And that I was a part of the reason why he loved life. Powerful stuff. Powerful ideas. The power of love.

[ I could tell mom loved me, too. But mom had limits. Dad had more limits. Way more. But that didnt stop him from trying. =) ]

Gramps took my cousin and I fishing .. to secret fishing holes, such as the Pomperaug, which empties into the Housatonic at Newtown (.. which includes Sandy Hook).

And sometimes (more than once) we tangled the spool of fishing line SO BADLY that Gramps lost his cool. "I don't know why I take you kids," he would bark at us. "I spend ALL my times untangling your lines. Look at this rat's nest!" =)

But he was a miracle-worker with tangled spool lines. He just wanted to fish, not detangle spools. But we were pretty small. Four? Five? Six? Trout fishing.

On the way home we would stop at "the Crossroads" hot dog stand .. a little shack out in the middle of nowhere. They had the best foot-long hotdogs and we were always famished.

We usually fell asleep on the way home. It would always be dark. If you go with Gramps, you're in the duration. No going home early cuz you're tired. You always slept good after a day with Gramps.

» Elephants Never Forget

I've always had a good memory. Too good, some might say. I remember the look on my folks' face .. when I would relate stories to them. "You remember that?" they asked. That's when they started to watch what they said around me. =)

My brother, who went to Yale, and is now a surgeon, once told me, "I remember pretty much everything I hear." [ He graduated at or near the top of his Medical school class. ] Some might consider such memory more of a curse than a blessing.

The earliest thing I remember was when dad asked me to throw away his boots .. into the garbage cans behind the garage.

Mom had stuck them in the oven .. to dry them .. when dad came home with wet boots on a snowy/slushy day. Apparently she forgot about them. They were burnt .. like an overcooked pot roast. "You remember that?!"

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This page contains a single entry by Rad published on February 13, 2013 2:13 AM.

Dostoevsky, Aaron Swartz & the Broken Butterfly of Tomorrow - Part 4/4 was the previous entry in this blog.

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