Tag Archives: kids

MOVING

We’re in a new house. Moved in on New Years Day in the middle of the coldest, snowiest winter week in Upstate NY so far this season. I’m not sure what we were thinking. But we’re in and settled and making it our own place nonetheless.

This morning the kids held me to my word that we’d drive by our old house on the way to the sitter (they catch the bus with her kids in the morning). As we pulled out of our driveway, the tune “Sing Along” by the Virginia Coalition came up on the iPod. Under normal circumstances, this song evokes a bit of nostalgia-like feelings. But as we turned onto our old street, slowing down to pass our old house–as I said “well kiddos, it’s still there,” looked in the rearview mirror and saw all three of them with their heads on each other’s shoulders– the song seemed a perfect and heartbreaking soundtrack to the sense of nostalgia we were all feeling.

While Cam was far too little, my daughter’s old enough to remember our place in Falls Church. She’ll bring up the cats we had or riding in the kayak with me on the lake, but she had no emotional tie to it. To her then-toddler-mind, the location was incidental, like furniture in a room, or a rainstorm. We were there, and then we were simply someplace else.

But this house was hers, and her brothers’ too. They built their blanket-and-box forts and pirate hide-outs in the backyard. Ran with their friends till they came begging, flushed cheeks and out of breath for “water, please.” Transformed their rooms into lego and lincoln log cities, musical stages and “no boys (or girls) allowed” space to be alone. Made s’mores over the firepit on summer evenings, helped grow veggies in the garden and water the flowerbeds. Filled the sidewalks with chalk drawings in the summer and dug tunnels and caves in the snowbanks I made from shoveling in the winter. Their growth was measured in over 4 years of pencil marks on the wall in the kitchen.

That house was theirs– they had put their childhood stake in the ground there. And while the new place is only the equivalent of three blocks away and I know they’ll make even more memories as they make it their own– it’s still a mighty tough stake to pull.

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SNOOZING GOOSE

I should start out by saying that my dad and I have not had good luck when it comes to hunting geese together. We’ve largely been relegated to the January bonus season since most good hunting fields aren’t cut by the early (September) season and we’re usually in our treestands after whitetail during the regular (November) season. Needless to say, by the time we’re clear of our other outdoor past-times to get out in January, the birds have been shot at in enough through the fall that the only way they’re going to come into our field is if we we’re in town having breakfast. But I suppose that luck doesn’t have to be defined by whether you actually knock down birds, as as much as it does having an entire morning to talk, enjoy coffee from a thermos and some nice pipe tobacco and discuss the estimated time of departure for the flock of over 200 geese that overnight on a lake not a quarter-mile to the west. As I get older, I’ve come to value the latter definition of luck as much, if not more than the first. Well, this season my dad and I were determined to get out when the birds were still dumb and plentiful. I had an additional good-luck charm that I was bringing out too: one of my boys.

My middle child, Cam (I call him Hammy) turned 6 this past summer. He’d been talking about goose and deer hunting for the last two years and at 6 was already a more accomplished fisherman than I was at 13. One example: Father’s Day 2008, not yet 5 years old, he sat for 4 hours in a canoe casting for bass. That little sucker caught 5. I mean legitimately…casting a crankbait on his own, hooking up on his own, lifting the fish into the boat on his own. These weren’t dinks either. 12″ – 15″ the lot. I unhooked them, but hell, at that point he’d done all the work and I was ready to buy him his own Ranger boat. So, having turned 6 and having concluded that I could probably learn a thing or two by including him in the field this season, I suited him up for a morning amongst decoys.

I woke him up at 4:30 a.m Thanksgiving morning. His first comment: I didn’t know there was a time on the clock this early. Brilliant. He was into his long-johns and camo faster than scat. While he enjoyed a breakfast bar and some juice, I checked weather.com for the morning’s forecast. Cold. Clear. Wind barely above 5mph out of the SW. Not good for getting the birds off the water, but good for a comfortable first-time-out for Hammy. Dad arrived, all smiles for our new pint-size bird-dog. We loaded our gear in the truck and hit the road.

I’m always surprised and proud at how well Cam operates in situations where I think he might struggle a bit. Last winter he wanted to join the pee-wee wrestling program (another thing dad did that he wanted to do). I thought he’d have a tough time actually mixing it up with the other boys, but I planned on helping coach, so we gave it a try. He’s back at it again this year and loves it. This morning was another one of those times. Goose hunting requires that you set up your spread at least an hour before daylight. There’s no light an hour before daylight. None (read my post – ELEMENTS – to see how well I’ve handled the dark during hunting season growing up). So we gave Hammy a head-lamp. He started carrying decoys into the field like he’d done it his entire life. Game on.

By 6:30 we were set up. Dad and I had our layout blinds concealed as well as we could in a cut soy field. Hammy’s cover was a magnum goose shell- which fit him much better than it fit me when I used it the year prior. At sun-up, we were a few whispy clouds shy of a blue-bird sky. By 7:30 we had a couple sets of birds check us out and keep flapping. Cam did well. He sat as still as he could and enjoyed his breakfast bars and juice boxes. At 9:30, the faint sound of snoring drifted out from under the plastic shell of the giant goose.

The snoozing goose

Sensing no impending rush of birds anxious to light in our field, dad and I decided to start packing up. No wind. Blue sky and bright sun. A snoozing goose. No sense pushing our luck.

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Filed under Fatherhood and venison jerkey, In the woods

HOOKY

I love to fish. Early mornings. Late afternoon to dusk. Lake, stream, pond, puddle…I fish for whatever’s swimming. And there are days when I’m just as excited to catch sunfish on a micro-popper with my 3-weight fly rod as I am to set the hook on a smallmouth with a 6″ Texas-rigged rubber worm. Summer is my primary season to fish, since hunting for deer and geese has my Falls spoken for. But the truth is, if I can get out and fish, even once during the “off” season (using that term very loosely), it’s a great bonus.

There were times in my life that I’d have the luxury of spending entire days on the water. But, just like the shape of some streams change under the influence of current and time, my fishing opportunities too have changed. Kids, work, coaching, volunteer boards…no one season is long enough anymore, let alone a weekend or even a day. I am fortunate that my kids are getting to the age though where we can go fishing together rather than me taking them fishing – parents with kids that fish understand the huge distinction in that. But as for “me time” on the water – where I’m able to be as aggressive or slow as I’d like without having to maintain that extra level of kid-vigilance – my love for fishing, a certain personality trait I like to call “ingenuity” and a bit of good-luck has helped maintain a fruitful compromise.

The last two days I’ve been able to close my laptop at noon, announce that I’m heading out for a bit and then sneak off and play hooky from work for about an hour. I now have a co-worker-turned-fishing-partner as an accomplice who joins me too. It’s nice to have the comaraderie. We fore-go lunch. Eating is over-rated when you have a tremendous trout and fall salmon fishery not five minutes (or two miles as the crow flies) from work.

I say tremendous, not because it’s a blue-ribbon stream or because it winds it’s way through wild sweeping vistas – but rather, in spite of the sprawl of suburbia not fifty yards away, it might as well be fifty miles. I’m able to lose myself in the sound of the water, the reflection of the mid-day light on it’s roiling and determined surface. The gentle flight of my fly line finding it’s way silently above the flow. Heron, muskrat, squirrels, blue jays and cardinals busy with their day-to-day. Trees standing stark above the tangle of underbrush along the bank, waiting for winter. Waiting for the possibility of that electric shock when a trout picks my fly unceremoniously from some downward current off the near side of a boulder across and slightly downstream from where I’m standing.

For that brief time, that short respite from my desk and every other thing pulling me in every other direction, I get to breathe deep. I get to be a kid fishing away my summers. I get to recapture perspective and appreciation for what I’ve got. I get to be gone, gone, gone – even if it’s only two miles as the crow flies.

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Aleida

I just spent this past Sunday with my 7 year old daughter at a lacrosse tournament. She was playing with the 3rd and 4th grade girls team, invited because their numbers were thin and she’s tall (and quite coordinated) for her age – and I was asked to help coach. I worried a little that the age/skill difference (and the fact that she had never played a real game before) might make her shy/pensive/un-assertive. Quite the contrary. She had a ball, and I found myself uncharacteristically silent several times throughout the day, just watching her run, laugh, scowl and chase the fast-break, take a breather on the side-line with her goggles on her forehead and a Gatorade in hand. At those specific moments, had I tried to offer some sort of instruction or encouragement, I’m sure my voice would’ve cracked (that’s a no-no, by the way. No emotional stuff, dad.). I did holler though when she scored a goal, her first, and my voice cracked like puberty had made a comeback.

The last couple days I’ve been thinking about how far she’s come from the pudgy bundle we brought home that cool Virginia November almost 8 years ago. Throw in any number of Coldplay, Dave Matthews, Augustana, Jeff Buckley or Nick Drake tunes that happen to be playing on my iTunes and voila! I’m suddenly up to my eye-balls in nostalgia. We had Aleida while I was in grad school at George Mason for poetry. A good deal of my writing was about my every-day…trying to make connections between my past and my present. Having our first child made for a pretty deep pool of “writing matter.” Here’s a section from my master’s thesis (a book-length poem about fatherhood, fishing and the landscape(s) of America) that I just re-discovered, in which I talk about Aleida:

[34]

Most pools have been filled in with concrete to keep
kids from swimming. Suckers run in fractional numbers.
Land around the cemetery has been cleared. Wooded places,
have been cleared that used to feel as if, in being there,
your steps were the first. Dogs are not allowed.
Plots are allowed only two arrangements per—
tasteful, modest arrangements.

Dad took my daughter to look for suckers this spring.
In a small piece of slack-water above the fourth bridge
they found three fat lakers holding in the shade.
He lifted one toward my daughter, her eyes wide
& then wider, the fish working its mouth, waving its tail
back & forth. Not sure what to make of this creature,
she screamed when she touched it, laughed her child-laugh,
wiped her hands on her pants as dad returned the fish to the water.

Yep, connections between my past and my present. Fatherhood, much like fishing or poetry I’m realizing, is about paying attention to the small things…before those small things grow up and head into the current of their own life.

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Practice

My kids are beginning their journey into sports. Lacrosse, soccer, wrestling, football, basketball, golf, backyard whiffleball… the list goes on. At 8, 6 and 4 respectively, they’ve got more moxie and swagger, head-fakes and highlight-reel moments than I had when I was…well…ever, actually.

As much as I love looking through their school-work when I get home — handwriting exercises, math problems, reading responses, random crayon drawings and watercolor paintings — as a dad, my heart soars when I pull in the driveway and I’m greeted by “Daddy! Daddy’s home! Wanna play catch?!”

In truth, I was lousy at sports and school as a kid, and only realized success at both as an adult. That could be why my wife and I loosely agree on the importance of their involvement in sports in school. She tends to agree with the in-game commercial from the NCAA that says “Most of us will go pro in something other than sports,” while I tend toward “that’s fine, and most-likely true, so you better go play your ass off till you’ve gotta wear a tie.”

So when my youngest says “watch this!” and pitches a golf ball over the fence into the neighbor’s yard…when I pass the rock to my oldest who can now make baskets on our neighbors regulation hoop…when I toss a football to my 6-year-old and he takes five steps back and throws a pretty darn good spiral…I let go of a laugh that starts in my soul, carries with it every hope, fear, anxious moment, expectation, disappointment and glorious success I’ve experienced in life. I laugh and jump in the air with my hands up. They run to me for high-fives and I holler things like “what a shot! I don’t think that’s coming down!” and “at the buzzer for 3!” and (of course) “touchdown!”And they smile their perfect 8, 6, and 4-year-old smiles, turn their swagger up a notch and we play some more.

I feel like I’m doing something right…which, as most dads will understand, is huge. I’m constantly amazed by their natural ability to “get it.” They’re learning confidence, fair play and respect. They fail, fail again and then finally figure it out. They cheer each other on. They’re learning about the value of persistence and practice. All great things to bring with them to school.

In the end, it doesn’t matter what they go pro in. Lord knows I’m still trying to figure it out for myself. I just hope they enjoy the journey as as much as the destination(s).

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