Generation B for Blame: Waiting on the World to Change

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A Millennial friend of mine whose empathetic perspective I admire and never tire of recently posted this:

“Hi, millennials! We don’t like being judged and having older generations throwing their crap at us. So idea: Let’s not do that to future younger generations. Break the cycle. Next idea: Stop blaming older generations for our current problems. Yeah, maybe they messed things up, but hey we’re gonna mess stuff up, too. And I know I certainly don’t want to be judged and blamed by future generations for the election of that monster we call Trump. Because you know that very well could be our legacy, right? RIGHT?”

As an (older) dad of a Gen Z eleven-year-old girl, having essentially skipped a generation, (god, I hope that “Z” classification doesn’t mean she’ll be the last generation on the planet!) I feel generational blame rather keenly.  And so I offer my perspective to that of my friend, and for her friends.

Every generation
Blames the one before,
And all of their frustrations
Come beating on your door.
-Mike & the Mechanics

Those that came of age in the 60’s and 70’s are the worst critics of those who came of age in the 00’s and 10’s, but their reasons may surprise you.

The ’60/’70 Gen, the children of the post-WWII generation were the “hippies and radicals” that would ruin society.  Judged more by the length of their hair and their music than their race or economic background, they were not just criticized by their elder generation, they were reviled and even hated–blamed for the destruction of all that they and their parents worked for.  It was far more than disapproval, it was war.  And it was ugly.  And think of the WWII Generation, they literally just saved the world and now these damn kids are going to ruin it!

Trump is most compared now to Nixon and for good reason.  For Gen ’60/’70, they killed Kennedy (their Obama) and gave them Nixon.  The parallels from then to now are truly astounding, and it looks for all the world that we haven’t gone anywhere.

Gen ’60/’70 fought, rebelled, and even died for their convictions for a free society and for open loving.  They accomplished quite a lot (more than they give themselves credit for), but not all.

They imagined a future for their children; a bright, caring, peaceful, (hairy) and loving future.  Those children are Gen ’00/’10, our Millennials.  I want you to know that you, my millennial friends, are their golden children.  The special ones who would live the beautiful lives that they dreamed for you.  (Unfortunately, they told you that a little too often.)

When they blame you, it’s not because they see you as failures, it’s because they saw you as their hope, one they blithely embraced and never stopped to doubt.  They look at you and say, “Why aren’t you living that life we wanted for you, what’s wrong with you?!”

You can’t be blamed for the life you have any more than they can be blamed for reaching too high for you.  The world is a tough place.

When your elders criticize you, [minus the perennial assholes of every generation] it is not the criticism of hate and derision that they once endured. No, and you must realize this; it is the criticism reserved for those we love and cherish and want the best for.  It isn’t right, but it’s human.

At the bottom of their anger and disappointment, is the fear that THEY have failed YOU.

Maybe the world still has Trumps and Nixons, maybe we still hate and kill each other.  But, what I wish I could tell your critical elders is that they did NOT fail their golden children.  Boomers, though they didn’t inherit the perfect world you promised to bring them, you did bring to the earth and rear a generation who believe in equality, who value peace, and who trust in love, just the way you hoped they would.  You persevered, and so will they.  Ease up.

I also harbor a hope that you, millennials, can reconsider your pre-contempt and distrust of your elders, who like you, took a naive shot at utopia and missed.  You are SO MUCH more alike than not.  I wish you could see yourselves from my eyes.  Anyone who is really paying attention knows, you already have what is most important.

And when the time comes, take my friend’s advice and cut the Gen Z a break.

PROTEST: Millennials find their purpose and define an era

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Strange how our values become galvanized when threatened.

So, we’ve somehow managed to elect the poster child of hapless, self-serving, demagoguery who has relit the old fire sticks of hatred, intolerance, and isolationism (as if they ever really went out).

So, we take to the streets and we protest.

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The Flower Power movement was birthed in Berkeley, California in the late 1960’s as means of symbolic protest against the Vietnam War. Beatnik writer Allen Ginsberg, promoted the use of “masses of flowers” to hand to policemen, press, politicians and spectators to civilly fight violence with peace.

Today reminds me SO MUCH of the nineteen sixties.  I remember the images of race riots, bloodied faces, nightsticks, state funerals of fallen leaders, Buddhist monks lighting themselves on fire.  Death by gun violence then was two points higher per 100,000 than it is today.  I was a few years too young (to my eternal gratitude), but the nation’s young were being forced from their homes, shoveled into boot camps and used as cannon fodder to fight an unjust war.

So, they took to the streets.

In 1967 they protested against violence and the war in Vietnam.

In 2017 they will protest against hatred and intolerance.

Flower 7.jpgWhen we were kids, whining was not tolerated in my family.  If my siblings or I cried too much about something that made us unhappy, we would hear that infamous question, “You want something to cry about? I’ll GIVE you something to cry about!” which was followed by a few swift smacks.  It was meant to force us to consider whining as a poor strategy, but it always made me think, “Great, now I have TWO things to cry about!”  Whining, you see, is complaint without action, and my parents couldn’t stand it.

The often-maligned Millennial, accused of laziness and whining, a generation coddled then forgotten, suddenly feels that sharp slap and the taste of iron in their mouths.

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Photograph by Jay L. Clendenin / LA Times 

Now it’s different, now it’s personal.  A once lost generation has found its purpose.

For someone like me, it is so deeply painful to watch innocence come of age in an ugly world, but it is equally inspiring.  What will they forge in their crucible?  What outcomes will they gain–for all of us.

Of all the images my young mind retained in that era, the most powerful and transformative one was the image of a flower stuck down the barrel of a gun.  It takes some balls to face down an adrenalin-bathed military guard with a bayonetted rifle pointed at your head and approach with nothing but a flower.  The symbology was perfect, “Make Love not War”, and the insight extraordinary in its time–You can’t fight violence with violence.  The message of Love did an end run around the mind of violence and spoke directly to the heart of peace.

flower 2 (1).jpgThe protests mattered, and we eventually won.

I’ve been stricken lately with how much the protesters today against ‘he who must not be named’ look like the protestors from 50 years ago.  They are just as brave, just as determined, and just as full of purpose.  There is a laser focus to their intention that reveals a beauty in them that has lain dormant until now.  Adversity reveals true mettle.

I hope they continue to know that you can’t fight hate with hate.

And we’re going to need more flowers.

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PART VI: Father/Daughter Stories–Lemonade

making-lemonadeMy daughter Madi loves nature. She loves learning all about animals, plants, and insects, and since she’s fascinated by it, she retains every detail of what she learns. We live in the Finger Lakes, in a region that is rife with nature camps, some of them surprisingly hard-core for the age they serve, sending kids foraging and shelter building, learning survival as they learn about nature.

She’ll often come back with “Did you know” stories about nature, most of them I pretend not to know, a few I actually have no clue about. During a Spring break, she went on a survival camp. As she returned, peeling off layer upon layer of wet muddy clothes, she talked excitedly about the adventure.

“And we built a shelter, and collected wood, and built a fire…”

“But, the counselors actually built the fire right?”

“Yeah…, sort of.”

(Parental wince)

“And we heated up our water over the fire and made tea!”

“Cool!”

“No, it was hot tea.”

“I get it. So you foraged for stuff to make the tea from nature? What did you find, chamomile, rose hips?”

“We made Hemlock Tea.”

“Guh… What?   Hemlock! That’s deadly poison! You couldn’t have made Hemlock tea.”

Yet, she was sure. It was Hemlock, they made it from the bark they peeled off the tree. Visions of my daughter lying next to Socrates flashed into view. I considered calling 911, but googled first instead. Yes, there is the Hemlock tree and the Hemlock plant. The plant is poisonous; presumably the tree is tasty. Lesson learned.

A few weeks later we encountered something festering on our front walk, and Madi, now an expert in all things natural, stopped to investigate.

“Oooo Daddy look!”

“Yes I see, don’t touch them please honey they’re maggots. Something died and they can carry disease.”

“No, they’re not … mag… what did you say?”

“Maggots, they’re maggots.”

“No Daddy they’re not, they’re fly larvae. I know because we collected them at camp.”

“You didn’t make tea out of them I hope.”

“Daddy!”

She went into a short dissertation on the stages of insect life.

“Okay, to you they are fly larvae, to me they are maggots, and they are disgusting.”

A short while later, as I was making her lunch, I found her walking around the house with a small plastic bowl full of said “larvae.” I reminded her that I had asked her not to touch them, let alone bring them into the house, and she explained how she deferred the request for good reason. She planned to sell them.IMG_1954 Madi had recently worked out that if she had money of her own, daddy was less particular about what stuff she bought, so she was all about finding ways to make it. I had suggested that she could earn an allowance by doing more chores around the house, but she declined, citing that she would rather make her money doing what she wanted to do. I found it difficult to argue that point since I had made a pretty good living in the arts, not doing what my parents would have called “real work”, so I let it go.

Her plan was to create a roadside stand to sell her fly larvae, and was gathering supplies for a sign and searching for an adequate table to put by the curb. She set the price at 25 cents per larva, and had already counted the squirmy little things to calculate her max profit.

“Sweetie, you can’t set up a stand to sell maggots.”

“Fly larvae. Why not?”

“Because nobody is going to buy mag… fly larva. You have to sell something that people will want to buy, in order to make money. What reason would they have to buy fly larvae?”

I felt a teaching moment coming on; I silently dared her to contradict that one.

“Frogs daddy, people feed them to their fish tank frogs, remember? We saw them at the pet store.”

Touché child of mine. Yes, we had indeed learned that at the last trip to the pet store to replace tropical fish that died of perfectly natural causes. This kid can’t be right all day!

“Yes, but look at your market demographic and point of sale location. Okay, advertising and overhead costs are low, your supply factor is reasonable, at least in the short term, and your mark-up is excellent, but you can’t reach your customer base.”

“huh?”

“How many people do you think will walk by our house who have fish tank frogs??

She began counting her larvae as if that would give her the required number.

“Look, if they don’t have fish tank frogs then they won’t need to buy fly larvae for them, right? Why don’t you do what most kids do and set up a lemonade stand? We can go to the store, by some lemons and make a pitcher. You’ll see, there are a lot more people who would buy a glass of lemonade from a cute little girl than would buy a 25-cent maggot.“

“They’ll be here.” She said with a knowing look.

She had been right a lot that day so far, so what did I know? I helped her make her sign, got her a tray table, and insisted at least that she eat her lunch while she sold.

Sales were grim, as in none; lunch was cold. She valiantly held up her sign on our quiet, country road getting more and more despondent. I took a few photos, because I wanted something to remind me that my kid was an iconoclast. She was no cliché, cookie-cutter kid from some Norman Rockwell culture; my kid had the courage and vision to sell maggots on a deserted road! How can you not love that!?

IMG_1955 One man actually walked by her stand. Her eyes lit up as she made her pitch. The fellow looked at me cautiously, and I’m certain I caught him glance around for a hidden camera. I just returned a look of, “Don’t look at me dude, I’m just a Dad along for the ride.” He left without a purchase. (Heartless bastard.)

When she finally gave up, she carried in her stuff, grumbling to herself.

“…stupid people.. stupid fly larvae… stupid stupid fish tank frogs… shoulda sold lemonade instead.”

“What was that Madi?!”

“Nothin’”

“Listen my sweet pea, everybody has days like this. Sometimes you make a good plan, but it doesn’t turn out the way you expect. Sometimes you want one thing that’s sweet, but you get something sour instead. Sometimes, life hands you a lemon.”IMG_1957

“Yeah, I guess.”

“So what do you think you should do when life hands you a lemon?”

She stopped. Her eyes rolled a bit in her head as she worked the problem. Her lower lip that had been turned out in a pout rolled inward as she gummed it, thinking. Then she smiled.

“Make lemonade?”

“THAT’S my girl!!”

PART V: Father/Daughter Stories–Magic

I know that there are some things a father just cannot give a daughter (this haunts me), but of the things that I can, one of the most important to me is to inspire a sense of Magic. Acquainting Madi with Santa, the Easter Bunny, the tooth Fairy, leprechauns, sprites, and a host of others has been a huge delight for me. I know a time will come when these particular characters will begin to fade, and I am not concerned. In fact, I am dauntless. I will bear their torches straight through Middle School if I have to.

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To me, Magic isn’t a trick. Magic isn’t a Disney princess. Magic isn’t a frivolous childish thing. A sense of Magic is a willingness to consider the unseen, an innate knowledge that something doesn’t have to be actual in order to be real. If we lose this willingness as we grow up, we lose our ability to recognize beauty. We will never notice the gossamer threads that hold our existence together and give it meaning; the invisible, unknowable things like chance, truth, trust, and love. It doesn’t matter if there is anything at the bottom of Loch Ness; that same quality of openness allows us to believe in ourselves, to imagine our own potential, and consider our own possibilities as real.

Granting this gift to a child takes good slight-of-hand and some fast thinking, but that’s the fun of it. As Daddy moments go, this was one of my best ever:

It was a rainy Sterling Renaissance Festival day. I don’t mind a rainy day in general, but a rainy day at Sterling is absolutely my least favorite kind of day. Some people like it, but to me it is nature taking a piss on my show, making it unnaturally long, cold and uncomfortable, and giving me hours of dullness punctuated with having to make decisions that are always the lesser of a variety of evils.

Madi’s Mom was dropping her off to me at the Festival on this day, and it was to be one of the first chances I had to just take her around the Faire myself. Since I had the option (and not the will) I did not get into costume that day. I wore my yellow raincoat as my sole source of comfort. Before we opened, I wandered bleakly through the Remembrance Shoppe, which is the place we keep all the decidedly un-renaissance souvenirs, trinkets and treats, thinking about my kid and the day we might have if it wasn’t raining.

It was Pirate Weekend, and before long Madi and I were sitting on wet benches at the Merchants Bend Stage listening to Empty Hats play delightful Celtic music. There were the usual dedicated fans, seasons pass holders mostly, and many dressed as pirates. Madi was four and not yet versed in the sanctity of a live stage performance, so she was busy chatting up the pirates in the second row, who also seemed inured to the sanctity of live performance and the indignant glances from the band. I noticed. I did my best, what the hell, it was raining.

I suppose that both parties could be forgiven, because for the pirates, Madi was impeccably cute, and for Madi, the pirates had gold coins. Those big plastic shinny gold doubloons were being passed about and Madi just had to have one. A kindly pirate gave her a few, and I used the exchange to settle her back onto her wet bench to listen to the show. It didn’t last long.

Madi Coin_08_1177cNext, she was all on about getting herself some candy. For some reason I will never know, she was insistent on me buying her a lollypop, not just any run of the mill sucker mind you, she wanted one of those big multi-colored ones made of the rolled candy set in a spiral. The old fashioned kind that are the size of a tea saucer. I kept telling her that it was too early for candy and that renaissance festivals did not sell that kind of candy, in fact they didn’t sell candy at all. She was desperate for it, kept whining on about it and was starting to make a scene, so after putting up the good fight, I caved.

In truth, I was dumbfounded at the very specific request. I was thrilled. I could not believe my luck. I had a daddy moment in the making that would never be forgotten. I told her that if she really wanted a big lollypop, I would have to make one by Magic.

“Really?? By magic?”

“Yup, but it’s not easy, and it’s going to cost you that gold doubloon.”

This was a no brainer for her, and she thrust the coin in my face and said, “Do it Daddy!” I took the coin, hefted it, rolled it through my fingers and told her it would take an incantation, then expMadi Coin_8_1192clained what an incantation was. She repeated after me, “Lollypop, lollypop, pretty and sweet, turn this coin into a big fat treat.” I then placed the coin very deliberately into my big raincoat pocket, so that she could see that it was in there. Palming coins is not my specialty, but I did it.

“Okay, reach in and see what you can feel.”

The look on her face was something between surprise and terror. She pulled out a big old-fashioned lollypop exactly like the one she described.

“OH MY GOD! OH MY GOD YOU DID IT!!”

“Oh my GOSH Madi, say gosh.”

“HE DID IT, HE DID IT, HE TURNED MY COIN INTO A MAGIC LOLLYPOP!!! HOW DID YOU DOOO THAT!!!”

(Boom. Magic.)

Madi was truly beside herself. She took off, stopping at everyone she saw to exclaim that her dad turned her coin into this lollypop. I mean that quite literally, she ran from stranger to stranger, like a deranged candy toting Paul Revere. I had to chase her down. She spent the day showing anyone who would stop, her progressively smaller magic lollypop. The magic lollypop has been done many many times since, with a variety of gold coins.

Last week I was setting up a Halloween show on the festival site on another wet and miserable day. I had dug my old raincoat out of the trunk, the same one I wore years earlier. While walking the chilly site, I put my hand in my coat pocket and pulled out the original coin I had used.

Do I believe in magic?

What would YOU call it when a child asks for exactly the same thing her father saw in a gift shop that morning while thinking of her?

I call it Magic.

PART IV: Father/Daughter Stories–The Blue Frog

I’m okay with divorce, I really am. I’m a big boy now, and I like to think that I take responsibility for my choices, but I never planned on, nor was I prepared for, raising a child in what when I was growing up was called a broken home. Double household kids are as common today as spilled milk, and I’m not sure what they are calling it these days, but it is talked about with an air of acceptability that I find unsettling. What substitutes for a home with a mother and a father and a singular sense of belonging for something as fragile as a new life?

Starting out life in a toxic or loveless place can be far worse; I know that, we all do the best we know how. Psychologists now site new studies (and I’ve read them) that reveal that children of divorced parents learn better relationship skills and can become stronger and more productive people. I accept that, yet none of that matters one tiny little bit the to heart of a small child. These are the same psychologists who like to point out the rising dysfunction in young people today.

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A kid can get good parenting, and know that they are loved, and that matters immensely, but it is the fractured sense of belonging that is the hurt that cannot be undone. I have always referred to my place as “home” or “our house,” but Madi still talks of Mama’s house or Daddy’s house, as though she is somewhere in-between.

People would tell me, “Don’t let it bother you, children are amazingly resilient.” I never bought that crap, platitudes for the guilty mind. With all due respect, I’ll take my reality the way my child takes it thank you very much.

The first hurdle was figuring out how to tell a three and a half year old girl that her Mama was not going to be living here anymore. I did my research and spoke to friends, and professionals, and Mama, and found the latest thing. They say tell them only what they can understand at their age, then update as they get older and ask again. It was good advice, and it worked, but the plan only addresses HOW to tell them, WHAT to tell them is the hard part. We started with Mama staying at an apartment because it was easier for late nights at work, and went from there.

It took me some time, but I did figure out, with a little help, what my job was, and it had nothing to do with anger, blame, and resentment. My job as Madi’s Dad is to LIFT. I am relied upon to support and guide in whatever my little charge came here to do, no more. Each of us comes to this world, presumably by choice, with our own unique tasks and challenges, and with our own specific destiny. It is not for me to choose or manage her path, that’s her job. This realization made single parenting one whole hell of a lot easier for me, but there are days that are not so easy, days where you just have to put your head down and do the work.

One night, after about the third or fourth iteration of the on-going explanation, Madi woke up in the dead of night screaming. I thought she had been hurt, because she got right out of bed and walked across the scary dark hallway straight to my bed, which was unheard of. Any parent knows that there are many types of crying. There are cries that say, I want, I’m hurt, I’m hungry, I’m angry, I’m sad, and more. Kids cry. It’s one of the things they do. I am as good as any at flipping the parental switch and letting them cry without a lot of emotional attachment. There is nothing wrong with crying, kids need to cry sometimes, and often you need to let them do so before you step in to help. This night, the cry was none of that, it was something altogether different. It had a sound to it that I had only heard once before from her. This sound seizes the spine and gives you a rush of hot nausea. It is the sound of human suffering, of desperate sorrow, and it is awful. And, when it is coming from your baby, it is excruciating!

Physically she was fine. It took some time before I could get any words out of her other than something about a blue frog. She had had a dream. It wasn’t a bad dream, it was a beautiful dream. I pieced together a story about a blue frog who lived near a tree. Mr. Blue Frog was her friend, and he talked to her a really long time under his tree about many things, and these things made her so happy. She loved Mr. Blue Frog, and Mr. Blue Frog loved her. They were very happy that they were friends. Then Mr. Blue Frog told her that he had to go away. He was going to the North Pole to live with Santa, and he would never be coming back. He had to go, and he would never see her again. He told her that he loved her very much, but he had to say good-bye forever. Then Mr. Blue Frog left.

If I can get her to tell me her dreams, I can usually figure out what is going on with her. This dream was a dread realization that was all too clear to me. Her little subconscious had finally figured it out, and was letting her know that her life would never again be what it was. That the two people she loved and depended on the most, did not love and depend upon each other; that the home she knew, the original place of her belonging, the place she was safe and sure and happy in was torn in a way she did not understand. Personified in this little blue frog, the force of its finality was devastating to her.

The wailing was explosive, and intense, and continuous, and always there was that sound in it. I did everything I could to calm her down; I held her, rocked her, and talked to her. Nothing made even a tiny dent. She had absolute trust in Mr. Blue Frog, and HE said he was never coming back.

Between the wails there were pleas for me to help. “Please Daddy make him come back!” “I want him back again!” Madi was missing her friend Mr. Blue Frog, but I knew what Mr. Blue Frog meant. I remember these pleas like you remember the slow motion details of a traffic accident, and every one cut. “Help me Daddy, bring him back.” “I don’t want him to go! Why did he have to go?! Why did this happen??! Why?!! Tell me!!” “I don’t understand why he had to go!” “I need him Daddy please, help me! Do something! Bring him back! “ “Tell me what to do! I need him with me! I love him! I want my blue frog back!” “TELL ME WHAT TO DO!!”

For my part, I was being lashed, and I knew I probably deserved it. If you had given me the choice then of feeling this, or having the inside of my heart scooped hollow with a rusty spoon, I’d have chosen the spoon!

The wailing and pleading and my feeble attempts to ease them went on unabated for forty minutes. I tried everything I knew to help change the outcome, “maybe he’ll come visit you at Christmas with Santa. Maybe you can dream of going to see him. I’m sure if he loves you he’ll change his mind,” but the blue frog was telling the truth, he really was never coming back, she knew it, and I knew it. Finally I just ran out, I had noting left so I gave up. That’s when the first honest words came rolling out of my mouth as I tried to hide my own tears.

“I am SO sorry Madi, I don’t KNOW what to do, I JUST DON”T KNOW what to do!”

Silence.

We both just sat, numb.

Then, in a tiny, trembling voice she says, “We can write him a letter.”

[POING!!]

“Yes, yes we can. We can write him a letter! What would you want to say in the letter?” She explained what she wanted to say, and then asked, “Can we write a real letter?”

“Sure we can, we’ll turn on the lights, go downstairs, find some paper and a pen and we will write this letter!”

“Can we put it in an envelope?”

“We will put it in an envelope.”

“And put his address on it?”

“Of course we will! Do you know his address?”

“Um, Near a tree.”

“Good enough, that’ll do.”

“And can we put a stamp on it?”

“Yes. We have plenty of stamps.”

“And put it in the mail box for the mailman to take?”

“Absolutely!”

“Okay.”

“Okay!?”

“Let’s go.”

“Let’s go!!”

IMG_3525aThe sun was just coming up when we walked the envelope with the letter to Mr. Blue Frog to the mailbox. Every word carefully dictated, and a special card included for him to return to her when he came back, in the real world. She carefully tucked the envelope into the box and made sure the flag was up so that the mailman would take it. All things considered, we had a good day after that. She never mentioned the little blue frog again, but I have never forgotten him. Later, I pulled the letter out of the box and saved it. I have not opened it until today.

I have not forgotten these posts are about what is GREAT about having a kid, especially mine, so here goes.

Fast-forward four years to this Spring, fathers day I believe. We were visiting grandpa with most of the family there. My sister was going through a divorce of her own at the time, and when she, Madi and I went to take her dog for a walk around the block, she struck up more questions about separation agreements and house selling. Since I had been around that block several times, I was one source of opinion and advice. My sister didn’t know that I had not told Madi of her aunt and uncle’s impending separation. I was unsure how Madi would take it, so I put off telling her about it. By the time the conversation started, it was already too late so I let it run. Madi was happily at the other end of a corgi’s leash and I half hoped she wasn’t paying attention. We finished our walk and went back inside.

Later, my sister recounted to me that once inside, Madi came to her and asked her if she and uncle Steve were getting a divorce. My sister, herself worried about Madi’s reaction, told the truth none-the-less and said that yes, they were. Madi raised her arm to my sister’s shoulder, patted her, and said, “It will be alright aunt Jeanne. I know, it’s hard for a while, but it gets better.”

…And somewhere a little blue frog smiled.

“Reedeep!”

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PART III: Father/Daughter Stories–Flat Tire

I don’t like being angry. I grew up consciously avoiding the emotion, and with good reason. I will get angry, but not often with people. Mostly it’s an inanimate object that refuses to do my bidding then mocks me that really pisses me off. I know what anger is, it is the dispelling of a pretentious assumption. You assume that the lid will come off the jar, that’s what lids are supposed to do, but it doesn’t. The laws of physics have no master, least of all you. You assume that you are in control of your situation and you are not. Causality has its own plans that you are not privy to. Control is an illusion.

Every parent I know has at one time or another lost it in front of his or her kids. Kids can push buttons like chimps in a Soyuz, and if you are not on your game they can catch you out, even without their meaning to.

A few years ago, our late August trip to Nantucket involved going to my Dad’s house in Fayetteville the night before, so that we could leave from there in the morning. We were to meet him for dinner around six at Huller’s Restaurant.

I had gotten very little sleep for several days prior, a condition I do not function well under, and was more than uncommonly stressed on the lead up to the exodus. I packed the Nissan Murano to the gills with a precision I like to describe as NEARLY obsessive, but I could be wrong. We used to bring EVERYTHING. Madi was six, and very excited about going on vacation. She was delighted, sitting in her booster seat with her snacks and her video player lashed to the passenger headrest, all set for her big adventure.

I have in my time produced massive productions, with hundreds of people and myriad detail, but nothing was ever as hard as getting a six-year-old packed and in the car for a vacation. Dinner at six became dinner at eight by the time we left the driveway. It was dark and rainy, Madi was chatty and needy, and I was exhausted and hungry, and doing my best to stoke a pleasant façade.

We were just outside of Cortland when I felt that funny pull and knew I had a flat tire, right rear by the feel of it. I pulled over on a narrow shoulder on a long dark stretch of route 13 with heavy, fast traffic, and rain; I get out to look, yup, right rear, “Son of a bitch, that’s all I f*ucking need!”

I got back in the car and searched my phone for a garage, but it was Friday night and nothing was open. I could probably fix a flat tire blindfolded, but I just wanted someone to come out, take my tire, plug it and put it back on so I didn’t have to drive a spare (fearing it was a half spare) to Massachusetts to catch a ferry. I also knew where the spare lived. “Suck it up dude, change the frickin’ tire and get movin’, you’re already late.”

I backed onto a small side road I had just passed, and Madi caught on that something was up. “What’s happening Daddy?” Now, suffice it to say that when I was a child, going on vacation sometimes seemed more like visiting an anxiety ward, so I was going to be damned if I was going to inflict my anger and lack of grace on my kid. Period. “No problem sweet pea, we just got a flat tire.”

“Oh no! Daddy does this mean we can’t go to Nantucket!”

“Gosh no, I’ll just fix it and we’ll be on our way.”

(She started to look scared) “Are we going to be late for dinner with grandpa?”

“No honey, we’ll make it. Look, Madi, sometimes things don’t go exactly as you planned them to, and you have to adjust and make a new plan. Do you know what we call that? An adventure!”

“Okay.”

GARY’S INNER VOICE: I call it getting f*ucked up the a*ss!

I grabbed a flimsy umbrella from under the seat and went to the back of the car. As the hatchback door lifted, I realized that what once looked like an expert packing job, was actually a cunning barricade. The spare you see, was underneath EVERYTHING I had carefully packed, there was no sliding it out from under the ample gear, it all had to come out, into the rain.

“Daddy.”

“What sweetie?”

“I gotta go pee.”

“uhh… there is no… it’s rain… uh, can you hold it for a little while?”

“No I gotta go really bad!”

INNER VOICE: Jeasus Christ! What the f*uck!? Why didn’t you go before we left!??”

INNER INNER VOICE: Calm down, it’s not her fault, she’s six, you’re the adult here.

“Ooookay, sweetie, I’ll be right there. Noooo problem. You’re just going to have to go outside okay?”

I got her out of the car into the drizzle. Holding the umbrella awkwardly with my chin, I had her squat down, her pants pulled down to her ankles.

“You’ve peed outside before right, with your Mom, right?”

“Yeah.”

“Do you remember how to do it?”

“I think so.”

INNER VOIVE: Don’t pee on your clothes kid, I’m warning you, do NOT pee on your f*ucking clothes!”

“Let me help you, now, okay, LEAN FORWARD…”

Madi’s aim was perfect, right in the center of her underpants. She was right; she really did have to pee. It soaked through her underwear, her pants, her socks and her sneakers. There in the rain, pee-spray tickling my bare shins, I reached a crossroad. Which path would I take? I summoned every ounce of empathy and love that I had, determined not to make my daughter pay for my frustration. I grabbed the curse as it vaulted up my throat and forced it back down to my spleen. Sensing Madi’s expectation of my response, I countered in my most matter-of-fact tone, “Aw, that’s okay Madi, let ‘er rip kiddo.”

“But Daddy it’s going in my shoe!”

“It’s alright punkin’, we’ve got lots of clothes (buried somewhere), we’ll just take those off and I’ll get you some new clothes and shoes, not a problem… no problem at all.”

INNER VOICE: OK, what the faaack is going on!! What’s wrong with you Izzo? Don’t you know how girls pee?!

Actually, I didn’t. Sure, I have been around plenty of women peeing outdoors, but I was always too polite to watch closely, and frankly, I was never interested enough to ask how they did it. As the pee flowed and mixed with the rain and mud, my anger turned inward where at least Madi would be safe.

INNER VOICE: HOW do you NOT know this!! Asshole! You work at Renaissance Festivals!!! How could you not notice?! Women are peeing in every corner! If you had night vision goggles you could see them perched like seagulls at a landfill!   What do you think Renaissance Festivals ARE? They’re urinals with a theme!! You moron, Jueasas #$@#@%!!

INNER INNER VOICE: Stop being so hard on the guy, you’re not helping.

I put the soaked clothes in a grocery bag I brought as a car trash bag, tied them up and set them on the floor. Madi climbed back in, feeling pretty special sitting in the car with no bottoms on while I went to the trunk and unloaded all the stuff, found her suitcase, got her clothes, dressed her up again with a second pair of sneakers, hauled out the spare and the jack, devised new expletives for the guy who designed the hold downs for Nissan spares, reloaded all the luggage and crap in a messy pile mostly out of the rain, and proceeded to change the tire while holding an umbrella in my teeth.

I was about half way through the change when I looked up to see someone had pulled up and was coming over.

“Need any help?”

“No, thanks, it’s just a flat tire, and I’m almost done. Thanks for stopping, I appreciate it.

INNER VOICE: Wait! Ask him if he has a gun. Hey mister, do you have a gun? If so, please, SHOOT ME!”

INNER INNER VOICE: Come on now, chillax dude, you’ve almost got this.

As I was back at the trunk unloading everything out into the rain again and devising more expletives for the evil genius that designed a hold down for a spare tire that refused to let you replace the tire, Madi piped up again.

“What was that sweet pea?”

“ Daddy, I gotta go pee again.”

“Wha.. d’… Guh… How’d… (breathe) How come you have to go again sweetie, it’s only been fifteen minutes, and you really went quite a lot before. Can you wait a little while for me?”

“No, I really really gotta go like before.”

INNER VOICE: What the f*uck! Are you bullsh*iting me?! What the hell kid, did you contract Ebola?! @#$%$%*…

“Nooo problemo kiddo, I’ll be right there.”

I came to terms with the hold down for the spare by pulling it out altogether and sneering at it and quickly loaded all the stuff out of the rain again. With Madi back squatting in the rainy pee-ridden mud in her new dry clothes and last pair of clean sneakers, me holding the umbrella as before, I tried again to unravel the mystery.

“OK, we’re gonna get it right this time, ok? You and me, okay kiddo, you ready?   Okay, now, LEAN WAY FORWARD.”

Yes, I know, I thought about it, but leaning back just did not look right. Bull’s-eye, through the pants, the socks, the last pair of clean sneakers; I tried to steer her, but it was no use. I could not believe she could reproduce the same deluge in that short amount of time.

“Daddy, I’m peeing my pants again!”

“Aah go ahead Madi, we don’t care, we got lots of clothes!”

INNER VOICE: Mother f*ucker! Mother F*ucker!!! #@$&@#*$#@#!!

INNER INNER VOICE: …well if you paid more attention to the women you were with maybe…

INNER VOICE:   SHUT The F * UC K up!!

I wrapped up the soaked clothes and went back to her suitcase to get her more dry clothes. I had placed her suitcase at the very bottom of the pile, requiring another unload.

INNER VOICE:  I AM JOB’S BITCH!!!!

I dressed her again; she was getting hungry and tired now. I chatted her up, and then completely repacked the car again. Out of sheer spite, I repacked it EXACTLY as I had originally packed it, in all its quasi-obsessive compulsive glory.

Just as I put the last piece into place, Madi says, “Daddy I’m really really thirsty, can I have my Juicey Juice?”

“Sure you can Sweetie Pea, let me get it for… ‘yu….” The cooler with her Juicey Juice, which I had not planned on using, was at the bottom of the pile.

INNER VOICE: (that sound you make, when there are no more curse words that will satisfy)

One well-rehearsed repack later, Madi had her Jucey Juice and we were on our way to Fayetteville. We were an hour and a half late to Huller’s, but Dad showed up going with the flow, and Madi adopted a booth full of college girls delighted to be the focus of her effervescent showmanship. I eventually allowed her to bring her plate over and they all dined cozied up and giggling. I had a second beer.

The next day brought clean clothes, tire repair, and another vacation adventure started. No big deal.

INNER INNER VOICE: I would just like to say how proud I am of Gary, that through all his rage and folly he never once upset his little girl.

INNER VOICE: Thank you.

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PART II: Father/Daughter Stories–The Easter Bunny

Easter in my family was always a big, noisy, crowded affair so I was kind of freaked about our first Easter alone. No family around. It was just us two. So after a giant basket of compensation candy left by the Easter Bunny with a personal note attached, we went out in the yard for an Easter egg hunt.

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Chocolate solves everything

The path through the woods that leads down to the pond is called the Fairy Woods (for obvious reasons, that’s where the Fairies live, duh.) It was there that during the egg harvest, Madi came upon what looked to the untrained eye (if you tipped your head and squinted a bit) like an old woodchuck hole right in the middle of the path.

“What’s this Daddy?”

“Whua, why that’s the Easter Bunnies House.”

“The real Easter Bunny?! He lives here??”

“Oh my gosh, didn’t you know?? Yeah, this is where the Easter Bunny lives. He makes the chocolates right here under ground. Shuh, why you think we bought this house?”

Of course, the real Easter Bunny wasn’t actually seen any more frequently than the Fairies, but it was good to know he was there. About then, (two months after her mother moved out) Madi started to have trouble getting to sleep at night. Now, Madi has always been a kid who needed a parent there in the room until she was out cold, and she still is. (no advice please. Loooong story). I lie down next to her until she is out, and then try to sneak out across the God damned squeaky floors without waking her again. Madi has bad dreams and a few issues about being left alone. One night, not long after that Easter save, she asked for a bedtime story about the Easter Bunny who lived in the back yard, and thus began a tradition that lasts up to today, the “Easter Bunny Story”.

Madi has a brain like mine, it’s noisy and crowded (concentration is a sacred art there) and it needs a narrative to quiet things down so that drowsiness can do its thing. So, nothing new about bedtime stories, but Easter Bunny Stories are different. They always start the same: “There once was a girl named Madi, who was best friends with the Easter Bunny, who lived in a hole in her back yard…” She goes to the hole and since she is not Easter Bunny size and can’t fit down the hole, he, the Easter Bunny, leaves a pink M&M in a tiny basket for her, which shrinks her down to Easter Bunny size. She walks down the hole, knocks on his wooden door, he answers, and the story begins.

Each one is an adventure improvised on the fly using my ‘mother wit’ and key parts of her day. The secret of the Easter Bunny story is that symbols and actions in the narrative are used to address the stressors of her day. The psychological loose ends are tied up, the fears are confronted and conquered, the anxieties are soothed, the unresolved questions are answered; the hopes and dreams are fulfilled. This does more than make her drowsy, it puts the bad stuff out of her head so she sleeps without an upsetting wake-up, and Dad does not have to spend his night siting around waiting for her to fall back asleep. If a kid bothered her at school, the kid is there realizing the wrong and apologizing; if she calls herself stupid over homework, she comes up with a brilliant solution to a problem; if she has questions, her and the Easter Bunny work them out together. She asks for, and gets, an Easter Bunny Story nearly every night. There have been almost five years of Easter Bunny stories.

The Easter Bunny looks sort of like the White Rabbit in Alice and Wonderland, but not nervous, and not white. He wears a waistcoat and glasses, has a great sense of humor, is very smart, but is often out of the loop, because he lives underground a lot. Madi is his best friend. Through the door there is a cozy dining room with a round table and a small hutch, where they begin and end their adventures with sitting down for tea and crumpets. His bedroom is just off the dining room and on the other side is a VERY LARGE kitchen where he makes all the Easter chocolates for all the kids in the world. Like Santa, he works all year for just one gig. Yes, he and Santa are pals.

First look down the rabbit hole!

First look down the rabbit hole!

Over the years we have discovered that he is quite a powerful little rabbit. He has many secret rooms and entrances, can create portals to far off places, change time, and manipulate nature. Adventures often include flying. He has a biplane, but usually they shrink down even further and ride dragonflies, butterflies, birds, milkweed, or pretty much anything that can get them airborne. Last night in fact, they worked out that now that the leaves are beginning to change, they can catch a dragon fly ride to the top of a maple tree, and if they pick just the right color leaf and jump on the stem until they hear a crack, one can swing around, place one’s hands on either side of the stem and ride the leaf down to the grass like a hang glider. (You get the idea).

There have been many notable adventures, like the time the kitchen blew up, the time they found a trap door at the bottom of the pond that led to another dimension, there was the time Easter Bunny got sick and Madi nursed him back to health, or the time they accidently ate a whole box of farting chocolates, once, they talked to trees, and they have made friends with, and rescued, just about every creature in the woods.

Sometimes I’ll take requests. Last year, there was a whole series of required stories about how the Easter Bunny found a girlfriend and fell in love (humph.) Oh, it was very romantic.   She’ll sometimes invite friends from school who never believe her until they meet him, once or twice Easter Bunny has shown up at the playground to straighten out a few crack pots, and there have been a great many heart to heart talks over tea and crumpets. Eventually though, she has to go home for dinner, says good-bye and promises to return.

I used to dream of the day when Madi did not have to take up 45 minutIMG_0764es to an hour of my night just to get her to sleep, but now I wouldn’t do without it. And, my improv narrative chops are awesome. There is a good deal of regular talking and book reading as well, so it is exceptional quality time, but the last thing is always the Easter Bunny Story.

Man,  I wish I could remember some of the better ones. Every so often I get on a really good riff and I am rewarded by a sleepy hand patting my chest and a, “That was a good one Dad.” I shamelessly reply, “Yeah, it was.”

Half the time she falls asleep during the story, I’ll hear her breathing change, but I’ll finish it anyway. Why waste a good story?

The picture of her looking down a hole, is a chance shot of the very moment of her very first peek down the now infamous Easter Bunny Hole.

Don’t be telling her there is no Easter Bunny, she knows better.