The down undah

A few short months ago, an opportunity to relocate our family to Australia presented itself. My wife and I immediately grabbed at it with both hands and in around three and a half weeks from today, we’ll be boarding an intercontinental flight and saying goodbye to almost everything we know.

It’s quite a daunting prospect. There are a myriad of things to wrap up and to check off and to be honest, I’m not sure we fully understood just how much preparation and planning this would all take when we started. That said, it became clear early on that the entire buildup to the actual flight would be broken down into milestones. Each of these would have a series of preparation steps and an agonizing waiting period before one could move on to the next step.

That became our reality.

There were interviews and emails and very early morning calls. There were periods of gathering documents and certificates, the filling in of all manner of online (and paper) forms and many more visits to our local home affairs office than any human being should have to be subjected to in one lifetime. I spent so much time sitting in a chair in home affairs, waiting for my ticket to be called, that I began to feel like somehow I was doing something wrong and that it was not the grinding bureaucracy that was at fault but rather my selfish need to be validated by a series of documents and stamps and digital records. I’m actually quite proud of the fact that I only lost my temper once. It could easily have gone the other way where I could have made my way into a local news report as a story about a public disturbance where some reported them coins the phrase ‘queue rage’.

When the news finally came through that everything had been approved, that visas had been issued and that short of a comet striking the earth or our airline going out of business, we were definitely going to go, we were elated to the point of floating. We were actually in bed, half asleep when an email alert dinged quietly in the room indicating that an all important communication from Australia had arrived. It really was a champagne moment, without the actual champagne as there was work the next morning and it was two in the morning. All we could do at that point was congratulate each other and roll over and try go back to sleep. Quite anti-climactic really.

Through all of that though, by far the biggest hurdle we have faced this far was telling our children what we were doing. We agonized over when to do it for weeks. In the beginning, we didn’t want to tell them our plans for fear that they would amount to nothing and then all of the worry and uncertainty that would come with sharing the plans with them would have been wasted. We resolved, early on, to wait until the visas were approved and almost made it to that point.

But then, one evening, we found ourselves sitting them down on the couches in our living room, explaining to them, as tears welled up in their wide eyes, that we were going to leave our country and go on a great adventure. With children, phrasing is everything.

Immediately there were questions and tears and worry. All driven by fear of the unknown, fear of change. We did our best to answer all of the questions as honestly as we could. Thing like ‘what about our grandparents’ and ‘what about all of our friends’ were particularly difficult to answer because the relationships they have now are all going to change dramatically.

We committed to them that we would Skype and FaceTime and WhatsApp and message everyone here as often as they wanted and we said we’d travel home for visits as often as we could.

But then we switched gears and began to focus on all the positives. Our dog, for instance, was going with us. We would get to choose our new home as a family. We would get to buy a new car as a family and we would get to choose new schools as a family. All decisions that traditionally we’ve made as parents without their input. Now they were officially empowered to be a part of those things.

Then we began to google cool things to do in our new city (and country) and we realized that we could literally be tourists every weekend, for years and not see the same thing twice.

In the end though, the deal clincher was a promise to visit Disneyland next year when the Star Wars attraction opens. We showed them the artists impressions and reasoned with them that it was much easier to fly to California from Sydney than from Cape Town. That did it, they were all aboard from that very moment onwards.

In hindsight, we really should have opened with Star Wars.

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The love story

If you ask a hundred people what love is, you will probably get a hundred different answers. The reason for that is; love is subjective, it is quite different for each of us and we have different shades of love for all of the people in our lives.

There is that first love that most of us are fortunate enough to know, the love we have for our parents. They are our touchstones, our guides, our protectors. In truth, they are our gods until we are old enough to perceive something bigger. The love we have for our parents shapes and defines us. It is the bedrock and from it all other love flows.

As we grow into little humans, there’s the love we have for our siblings. This love is always present but we hardly ever acknowledge it formally and when we quarrel, as sibling do, it is easy to lose sight of it, but it is always there. There are times, especially when we are younger, that we will utter nonsensical things like “I’m not going to be your brother/sister anymore.” But these times are transient (or should be) and in the end, our siblings are the people we will probably love the longest throughout our lives given that we usually outlive our parents and pass on before our children.

There is that very first love. You know the one. That shy flower, hidden behind a back and presented with a flourish in a schoolyard. That toothy, toothless smiling kind of love we have when we first start to see flashes in others of the qualities we will inevitably be drawn to when we’re older. It is honest, it is simple, it is innocent. It is also the yardstick that the romantics among us will hold all of their future relationships up to.

Adolescent love seems to consume us entirely, lasting for a few, confusing and tumultuous years. It clouds our minds and we take it so seriously as we believe it to be utterly unique, as if no one has ever known this type of love before or ever will again. It is tears. It is laughter. It is hormones. It is practice for the main event. This is also a time where most of us will experience that most cruel form of love, unrequited love, that is all at once everything and nothing. That feeling of being full and empty at the same time. It is longing, it is lonely and it burns in our chests like a lava in an abyss. This is a chapter in some of our lives that we wish was over the very moment it begins.

The love we have for our pets is a simple love. It is quiet, it is kind. It is comforting and altogether one of the most rewarding expressions of love we can have. Throw a ball and you’ll see what I mean.

The love we have for our friends is loyalty, it is familiarity, it is camaraderie. It has no constraints and no complications. It is probably the easiest kind of love which is why we can have more than one friend. If it is done right, it lasts a lifetime.

The love for a soulmate is a mix of everything we know about love to date. All of it rolled into one. When you find it, you know. It is as simple as that. You remember every shade of love you’ve experienced and you feel it for another human being. This person is the one that fills the gaps in our hearts and minds. The one person that we’ll tell all of our secrets to – and everyone else’s. The one person that you want to share everything with and until you do, it’s not entirely real. It is also the one love that changes most over time, that we have to keep up with lest we fall behind.

Then there is the love we have for our children. How does one put this love into words? It transcends everything else. It is the one love we cannot know or understand fully until we actually have children. It is that deep sense of purpose realised, this is why we are all here, a ‘now it all makes complete sense’ kind of love. It actually begins before your children are even a single cell dividing into two. In most cases you plan for children and from the moment you do, they are real to you, you love them. You begin to imagine what they will be like and watch the clock tick away from the moment you find out you are to be a parent through the long months until they arrive. You buy clothes for them, toys for them, books for and about them. You nest for them. You plan and pray and worry about them at every step of their journey in the womb. You have sleepless nights just reading a brief paragraph in a baby book about some random illness that could befall them and find yourself angry at the universe that such a thing even exists. The love you feel for your child growing in their safe womb is so clear and palpable you could sculpt it out of stone with your bare hands.

Then suddenly the day arrives. Today your child will be born and the flood of emotion you feel is second to none. Your heart beats so loudly you feel that doctors and nurses around you may be distracted by the sound.

For those of you without children, imagine now if you will, compressing into a ball, every single emotion you’ve had from the moment you were born. Place that ball of energy squarely in your chest and you’ll have some idea of the feeling of expectation, joy, relief, love and white knuckled terror you have on the day your child is born.

P.S. It never goes away.


The simple life

Do you remember worrying about anything as a child? I honestly do not remember having any real worries. I remember that there were things I was allowed to do and things that got my name penciled in on the ‘naughty list’ but I certainly did not worry about them.

My parents sheltered my sister and I from the coarse realities of life. They gave me the gift of just being a child in a world where sometimes, the only thing I had to do was remember to switch off the garden hose after I’d been playing in the muddy water all day long.

I didn’t have to comprehend things like the rather awful connection between the roast lamb I was enjoying for Sunday lunch and the beloved lamb from Mary had a little lamb or the link between delicious rashers of bacon and the marvelous (lucky) pig from Charlotte’s Web.

As I grew older that sort of thing began to change, all rather organically. Again, my parents managed to allow the real world to dawn on me at a pace that I was comfortable with, until I was mature enough to understand things like bacon with a certain amount of perspective thrown into the mix.

That said, I was still boy then, a child no longer but not quite a teenager and the central theme of a poem by Longfellow resonates for me from that time of my life.

A boy’s will is the wind’s will, and the thoughts of youth are long, long thoughts.

I was growing up and found that I now had equal parts additional freedoms and realities bestowed on me. More importantly, I was old enough for adventures beyond the cul-de-sac I lived in and I could have those adventures on a bicycle. This was a tool for taking me further away from home than I’d been before on my own, but just easily able to bring me back before the street lights switched on. The freedom of the wind in my scruffy hair. The freedom of scrapes and falls and ramps and punctures and near misses. All experiences guaranteed by the reckless abandon of youth. My favorite pastime by a country mile was freewheeling down the long main road in our suburb with my hands raised up over my head and the wind almost, but not quite, lifting me up into the sky like I was an extra in a scene from E.T.

My two little princes are just beginning to get glimpses of those freedoms. They can flit between our house and their grandparent’s house at will, but no further than the street we live in. They can ride their bicycles up and down our street, but only with parents hovering nearby. They can play in tree houses and swim in pools and walk the dog in the park, but only the closest park and again, all only with a chaperone.

I long to give them more and more freedoms because each new one, unlocks a brand new dimension of life for them to explore and for us as parents to enjoy watching them unpack like a Matryoshka Doll.

However I’m also going to leverage technology to keep tabs on them. You bet. They’re going to be covered with GPS trackers before they leave the house on any adventures that resemble something from Huckleberry Finn. In point of fact, I’m going to try stitch a drone to each of them that will follow them around, recording everything and ensuring they continue to make smart choices.

Life is no longer as simple as it was and let’s face it if you, as a child, knew your parents were watching you, more than half of what you did in a day would get vetoed by your internal common sense engine. You’d stop in your tracks and turn to look up at the drone and raise your hand – acknowledging you almost made a mistake.

That’s the theory anyway.

In all probability, they’ll be crafting weapons to shoot down the drones and attaching their gps trackers to stray animals before they set off on an adventure Mark Twain would have been proud to pen.

I need a nap just thinking about it.


The three little things

As a father of two boys that are growing up at an alarming rate, I find myself torn between two states.

First and foremost, I want to marvel at the wonder of my children experiencing all the magic that life has to offer. I look forward to them reveling in their youth and reaching their respective milestones; things like little teeth falling out or riding bicycles or learning to dive into the pool or being old enough to watch Star Wars.

It really is all kinds of awesome.

That said, a part of me also wants to keep them just as they are now, beautiful, loving, happy little boys that can still plant kisses on their Dad’s forehead without getting embarrassed and that count the number of sleeps until Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Mouse (that gives them cash for well-maintained little teeth) visit our home.

Living in those two opposite states is difficult. It seems strange too, I’ll concede that. I mean, I do understand that I can only live in the present, its not like I have the option to stay here indefinitely or visit the past and live there, but the truth is simply that I want both.

I want three little things, the yesterday, the today and the tomorrow.

I want to be able to hold my little guy’s hands again while he teeters around the house, taking his first steps on brand new feet. I want to watch him don his gown and set his cap on his curly mop of hair when he graduates from preschool.

I want to feed my eldest boy his first spoonful of peanut butter again and watch him spread it around his delighted little face using all ten fingers and both palms. I want to watch him walk his little brother into Grade 1 next year with his steady hand guiding and reassuring the little guy all the way to his new classroom.

I want to walk behind my little guy again as he scoots around on his plastic three wheeler push bike and listen to pure joy escape from his mouth in the form of loud, animated squeals of delight. I want to see him ride a big bicycle, complete with gears and shocks, over a ramp at a bike park and get ‘big air’.

I want to sit at that cafe in the mall again while my eldest, no more than a year old at the time, props himself up against the table and shouts at every single person walking by. First drawing them in, then dazzling them with a magnificent two-tooth smile and an unaffected belly laugh. I want to watch him delve into his first Hardy Boys book, reading by torchlight at bedtime and then flipping quickly past the scary bits with trembling hands.

I want to hear the little guy chug his bottle of warm tea at bedtime like a piggy and then listen for the empty vessel being tossed unceremoniously across the room when he’s done. I want to see him drive his first car around a parking lot on a warm sunny afternoon in November when he gets his learner’s permit.

I cannot have all of that though. I can have the two little princes they are right now and all the moments that lie ahead. It is the very definition of bittersweet.

I’ll simply have to resolve to take more pictures and videos of them so that from time to time, when I miss the earlier versions of these amazing little humans, I can turn back the clocks and see them again.


The mental age

I’ve been thinking lately about age. It occurred to me rather suddenly that I am now officially of ‘middle age’ – probably a little past the middle if I’m honest with myself. However that’s just the physical me, my chronological age. The ‘I’ in my head is somewhere around twenty five years old and he is just as real as the somewhat scuffed body he occupies.

That line of thinking brought with it a question; have my chronological and consciousness ages always been different or did they only start to drift in my mid-twenties?

Thinking back, I can’t remember a time in my early childhood where I felt older or younger than my age, I was a kid and every now and again a Birthday would roll around and I would count myself one year older. It was really pretty simple. I had no concept of age really other than to think that everyone taller than myself, was ‘old’.

My teens were spent wishing I was older. I remember that very clearly. I just wanted to be finished with school and the awkwardness of puberty and I desperately wanted to be able to drive a car. No one on this planet could possibly have wanted it more. Driving represented freedom and control of my own destiny and being able to play my own music on the car radio.

Oh, and I wanted to grow my hair. It was the eighties after all where every rockstar at the time had long hair and I wanted that more than anything too – except of course for being able to drive. But there, I always still felt my age, albeit in excruciating detail – by that I mean I was seventeen for what felt like an entire decade. True story.

I guess the argument could be made that the ‘I’ inside was actually younger than my physical age during those teenage years. Plenty of poor choices were made, which I won’t scare my mother with by committing them to this post. My early twenties were also filled with many poor choices but here I made a few good choices too and I think my ages aligned more closely for a short while.

Then, rather curiously, my mind stopped aging in my mid twenties while my body followed the clock. It’s difficult to put a finger on what happened though.

What was the catalyst for this split? Who is this person living inside my head that does not align properly with the body he’s in? He can still do a five kilometer run at the drop of a hat and then eat a Cleveland Burger from Clans without skipping a beat. Whereas the guy in the mirror needs to take a nap after eating protein – much like a toddler.

My eldest is beginning to wish himself older, not because he’s unhappy with his lot in life in any way, but rather because Star Wars: The Last Jedi is coming to a cinema near us in a couple of months and he desperately wants to watch it on the big screen. He must have asked me if the new episode is PG rated about a thousand times since I told him it was coming out. He simply cannot contain his enthusiasm and I think secretly, after he’s said his prayers each night with me, he adds an extra shout out to the big guy about Star Wars being PG rated. He really is an open book, he draws people in with his sunny disposition and is very difficult to say no to. I imagine great things ahead for him because he has such a big, open, generous personality.

The little guy on the other hand is barely even aware of what day of the week it is. It’s not that he doesn’t know because he can’t comprehend the days of the week and the progression of time, rather it’s that he simply does not care. He’s also a huge Star Wars fan, but only to the point that he often asks if we can just go watch it today. No? Oh well. On to the next thing then. I am in a constant state of surprise, confusion and amazement with him. Sometimes I check his pockets just to make sure he’s not carrying around the one ring to rule them all. I imagine great things ahead for him because he is already in charge of his own universe, it’s just a matter of time really before he’s in charge of ours.

As my boys get older, I wonder if I will recognize the points at which their ages start to differ inwardly and outwardly. Perhaps I will. Perhaps not.

I do think though that asking them how old they are and how old they feel (on a regular basis) would be a good exercise. You never know, I might find myself living in a house with a twenty five year old pre-schooler plotting how he’s going to reach the pedals of the car when he takes it for a joyride.


The manual

I firmly believe that there is a fundamental flaw or gap that we as humans have somehow failed to correct in the last 200,000 years or so of our existence.

We, do not come with instructions.

I mean we’ve evolved opposable thumbs, we walk upright, we have a far more aesthetically pleasing forehead than the fossil record of ourselves would suggest. We have far less cause for knuckle-dragging too and with our ability to write ideas and facts down, we are all able to share any information with others in a detailed, widely understood and accepted way.

As an aside, in other respects, we seem to have regressed.

Take Bieber for example. He appears to be an evolutionary step backwards for men in general and masculinity in particular. He represents an androgynous, dystopian future that I care not to dwell too much on. I don’t care how many tattoo’s he has, he still hasn’t grown up and he seems to hold the world in contempt. Suffice to say, if he doesn’t grow into a human man soon, an entire generation of girls will come to believe that he is the norm – what then for human kind?

Back to the point of this post though; something we are all in desperate need of is an operating manual. An honest to goodness list of operating instructions containing a candid declaration of what’s in the box, a list of requirements, a list of parts, known issues and incompatibilities, standards and deviations. The lot.

Here’s the trick though, it should be up to each one of us to write our own manual from the time we are able to write and then keep it up to date. Prior to us being able to write, our parents should be documenting our quirks and behaviours as they uncover them. A biography if you will. Once we take over, it should then be mandatory for us to keep it up to date. Complete honesty, should be driven through the customer experience – more on that later though.

With our manual in tow, whenever we meet someone new that will play a role in our lives more significant than say – exchanging cash for coffee at the local starbucks, we can then exchange manuals, giving the new person in our lives a crows-nest view of ourselves and vice versa. The idea being that when you experience a glitch with another person, for whom you have a manual, one can quickly check their manual to see how to sort the problem out. That’s assuming it is a problem, it might just be standard operating procedure for that person, in either case, we’d know exactly how to handle that person.

Imagine someone you work with passing an idea of yours off as their own. You would immediately be able to check their manual and see that yes, they are, in fact just complete assholes. It says so right there in their manual. You would then also be able to annotate their manual under the asshole declaration section and say yes, this person is quite accurate in their assessment of themselves. Here’s my rubber stamp, asshole. Or you know, you could check their asshole status when you first meet them and then, armed with that information, you could make more informed choices when dealing with that particular asshole.

The entire premise would be based on complete honesty. For instance, an undocumented asshole would instantly become a pariah for not declaring their asshole status. So while it may not seem like an obvious thing to do, this honesty idea, it would be far better to declare yourself an asshole, and act like one, than not declare it at all and then subsequently act like one.

That would, in this new future, be a social faux pax on a level about a thousand times more serious than say farting in a crowded lift or peeing in a pool.

There, I’ve planted the seed, now let’s all think of the potential applications for this idea and spread it far and wide.

As I proofread this, I realise that this post has mostly been about the word asshole. To the more sensitive reader, I humbly apologise. In my defense however, my manual would, on page one, read as follows:

Uses the word asshole a lot.


The equals

In an age where children are put under the microscope and continually assessed against every yard stick imaginable, it’s a wonder that they don’t all morph into bundles of neuroses dressed in matching school uniforms lugging around overstuffed school bags on their backs.

I get it. The idea is to get them all to conform to a set of behaviors and be measured against well defined assessments and then, if any child happens to score low (or high as the case may be) in a given area, that becomes an area of interest that teachers and obviously parents then need to focus on. Early detection. Early treatment. Better outcomes. I get it.

But there’s a problem. When these weights and measures were first being applied to our children, they seemed to only highlight one or two children in a given year, now you can’t swing a book bag without hitting at least ten children in a class that are on some sort of ‘requires therapy’ spectrum. As a parent, you have to ask yourself; can this be right? Are we not now searching for problems a little too enthusiastically and with such a fine toothed comb that ultimately we find exactly what we were looking for?

While I do support the idea of screening for potential problems and then treating them early to avoid bigger problems down the line, I do think that we’re missing something pretty obvious in more instances than the system would like to admit and that is this; we are talking about children. They do not all mature at the same rate. They are not all the same age in the same grade. They do not all put their hands in the air before they speak. They do not all possess the ability to sit in a chair for an hour or more at a time without having to stand up to stretch their legs.

By way of example, some adults verbally process thoughts and ideas, yes I think there’s a term for that, it’s called ‘thinking out loud’. Why then do we expect every child to think internally? Why do we have to label any child that doesn’t conform in every area with an acronym? The favorite by a country mile at the moment being ‘ADHD‘.

Once that term gets bandied about, you find yourself having to take your child to some kind of therapy to address the ‘problem’. The therapy advocated, more often than not, is ‘occupational therapy‘, which I’m not a huge fan of (and that’s putting it as delicately as is humanly possible). The ‘problem’ is, more often than not, that your child is simply not like the other children. That’s it. That’s literally the ‘problem’ that you’re being asked to resolve.

Think about that for a moment.

I submit to you that for most parents, myself included, that particular ‘problem’ comes as no surprise at all. I have two children who are from the same genetic swimming pool. They are pretty close in age. They have been raised in the same way and have, incidentally, worn the same clothes and played with the very same toys (hand-me-downs being a superfine thing because they’re both boys) and I can tell you unequivocally, that they are as different from each other as candy floss and butternut.

Could we not perhaps be looking just that little bit too hard for problems? Should we not step back a little and say perhaps there is some other reason for a particular behavior presenting in a child. Perhaps we could consider weighting the age of a child a little more as a factor when doing assessments.

Here’s a simple example to illustrate the point. A child born in January and a child born in December of the same year are expected (in South Africa) to start school in the same year. You might be inclined to think that on the surface – that sounds quite reasonable. But let me put that another way for you, a child born in December is not actually even conceived at the time that a child born in January is, in fact, out of the womb and experiencing the world.

Let that sink in for a moment.

Can we then fairly compare the ability of both of those children to suckle on the day that the January baby is born? No, of course not. The December baby is still just a twinkle in the eyes of the parents or an ‘X’ on a calendar for date night on Valentine’s Day. Six months later can we compare the ability of the December baby to roll over onto their tummies on a play mat with that of the six month old January baby? Again, no, of course not. December babies are still in the womb, tugging on the umbilical cord for oranges and peanut butter. By the time a December baby is actually born, the January baby is crawling, in some cases even walking.

The list goes on.

I will concede that by the age of six or seven, the gap between our two hypothetical children narrows significantly, but there is still a gulf between them and I believe our school systems should make more allowances for that. At the moment they seem to lean towards ‘therapy’ to bridge the gap which then in some cases leads to medication. The whole diagnosis of these conditions is the subject of umpteen articles like this one.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I wholeheartedly support and salute teachers, they are the architects of our future. They shape the minds of the children that will one day choose nursing homes for all of us. I just wish they would step back every now and again and wait for a birthday to roll around.

For now, let’s celebrate the non-conformity of our children lest we end up in a world out of George Orwell’s nightmares.


  


The camping thing

At some point in our lives, many of us will find ourselves on a slowly deflating blow-up mattress, resting our sleepy heads on musty smelling pillows, swaddled in a questionably clean sleeping bag, wondering if a spider is going to crawl into our ear after we nod off.

I am of course talking about camping which, if I’m honest, is not my most favourite thing. There are several downsides, which I’ll illustrate here to help those of you that are toying with the idea of taking up this recreational activity, to understand what you’re in for.

Ablutions. The communal ablution is the first item on the list. This is a place where everyone gathers to wash off the grit from the day in camp. It’s usually one of two things; a block of bricks or a timber framed hut. If you’re smart, you’ve chosen a camp site far enough away from this structure so as not to get a whiff of the goings in inside, but close enough so that you can make the journey there on foot without having to stop along the way to answer the call of nature in a more natural setting – say next to someone else’s tent.

The showers in these ablution facilities, however clean they may be, are excellent locations for picking up a case of athletes foot if you’re ignorant enough to venture into them without the universally accepted and required apparel – the flip-flop. They also always seem to have been plumbed together by a self-taught handy-man who, upon completion of the job, found that at least two buckets needed to be placed somewhere along the mysterious and usually superfluous piping that seems to have come straight out of a Mario Brothers game.

There also always seems to be some confusion about which tap (or side of the mixer in the more posh camp sites) will produce hot water. It seems that adopting standards and following commonly held conventions are always the first things to go when doing your own plumbing. Hot side, cold side, meh.

Shade. The very thing that we as a species have pursued on hot days since before we evolved opposable thumbs, is another camping issue. There simply is never enough of it. There will almost always be trees on your site, but they will usually be too small to camp under which means that you will either be slow roasted to the point that you abandon your tent in the mornings before breakfast, or you will risk suffocation in the afternoon sun as all the air is sucked from the surface of the planet. You won’t be able to avoid both. At midday you will be sitting in your car with the air conditioner running, watching dead grass and insects melt outside your window.

Smoke. Camping by definition is open fires. These are the touchstone of camping and if we’re honest, the main reason we partake in this strange activity is the oppertunity it affords us to sit around a campfire and watch things burn. Whether it be wood, food or stray flying insects that burst into flame as if by magic having mistakenly flown a little too close to the flames. But the problem is that it’s not just you. There are all those other pyromaniacs camping out there with you, each of whom is intent on keeping their fires going throughout the night, like the stokers of the fires of hades. What this means is the campsite is awash with the smoke of a hundred fires. Not. So. Awesome.

Abhorrent things. The rule of thumb here is that if it has more that four legs, it’s probably a crawling nightmare of some kind that you will more than likely find glued to the inside of the roof or your tent the moment you switch off the light. If it has less than two legs it’s probably a snake or a worm and let’s be clear, neither of these things is something we would willing spend a night in a sleeping bag with if we had a vote of influence in the matter.

It is also fair to say that all of these things are far more at home in the boondocks than people are and are drawn to our warm bodies like rats to the pied piper. Our bodies play the song of warmth, of civilization, of soap, of fear, of come slither into my shoe – that is completely irresistible to these creatures of the underworld.

Sleep. Yes, we go camping to sleep under the stars but we don’t really sleep under the stars do we? We sleep under flame retardant, waterproof, breathable tent fabric that smells like old fires and feet. We sleep surrounded by people that snore and fart like bears hibernating with full stomachs. The silence of the great outdoors is not so silent really. It’s punctuated by the sounds of inflatable mattresses being re-inflated at thirty minute intervals throughout the night. That, alternating with the sound of mosquitoes feasting on your extremities and your children and flapping around your head incessantly for hours on end after they’ve had their fill, out of pure spite alone.

Those are just the highlights though, there’s also hours of packing and unpacking and then more packing and unpacking and you will inevitably leave something important at home, like the long spear that you would have used to kill the ghoul in your shoe with more eyes and legs than any creature should be allowed to have.

On the plus side though, children seem to love it. It seems to make them feel like extras in a Huckleberry Finn adventure and the goal of any parent worth their salt is to make their children happy, so there is that.

And, there’s the marshmallow factor. That passtime of roasting puffs of sugar on sticks over an open flame. That makes up for quite a bit, I must confess. Quite a bit.


The wizard

At some point or another, every parent will convict one or more of their children for an offense that they are completely innocent of. It’s a given since we are, after all, only human. But there are multiple lessons to learn here, not the least of which is admitting to your children, that you are wrong when you are, in fact, wrong.

That’s a hard pill to swallow and it’s not just because I’m not fond of admitting I’m wrong – a growth point of mine. No, it’s mainly because it goes against a carefully constructed narrative I’ve been weaving for them since they were born. The crux being that parents are all seeing, all knowing, infallible wizards. I realize that this seems like a rather unrealistic outfit to attempt to cloak oneself in, but it serves a purpose. For me, it set firmly in the minds of my children that we, their parents, know better. Our logic is sound, our judgement is fair and we are always right.

My children needed that security. Just as they needed to know monsters aren’t real and even if by some chance they are real, they’re simply no match for a Mom or a Dad. Just as they needed to know that spinach can do for little humans what it does for Popeye and that the tooth mouse will only pay for sparkling, white teeth that are brushed twice daily and not tarnished by too many sweets.

Now obviously I am aware that this story can’t go on indefinitely. At some point, the little guys will figure out that I’m not the all knowing, all powerful Oz with the good witch Glinda at my side. But my hope is that by the time they get there, they’ll be well adjusted little humans, happy to conform to the rules of society. Much less inclined to want to drop kick each other into an abyss while having milkshakes in a restaurant or set fire to each other’s toys when they’re feeling piqued.

Back to the point of this blog though.

Last night I painted myself into a yellow brick road corner. I gave the minions an ultimatum; one of them had to own up to trying to feed the Basset Hound semiprecious stones, or I would take away their iPads for the balance of the week. Neither of them confessed though and so I followed through and impounded the tablets, which are at the moment the source of all happiness and it seems they are quite unable to function normally without them. They immediately descended into a pit of gloom and indignation.

As it turns out though, it is plausible that the Basset somehow helped herself to the stones from the dining room table since she is almost human height when she stands up on her hind legs. So it is possible that I may actually have been mistaken in this instance…something quite unheard of until now.

And this is what my seven year old son pointed out to me in a heartfelt, well articulated appeal several hours later. He delivered it flawlessly, complete with a few lonely tears rolling down his cheeks. It seems he’d had a discussion with his brother and between themselves they’d agreed that neither of them were responsible for the unfortunate incident and as such they needed me to rescind my ruling on the iPads and apologize unreservedly to both of them for the false accusation. It was all said very respectfully mind you.

I must say that I was very proud of both of my sons in that moment. So, I said I’d think about it overnight and let him know this morning what I had decided. But underneath my pointy hat, I knew I had to concede. I had to open the curtains slightly and let him see some of the smoke and mirrors I’d been using all this time and admit I was wrong.

I hope though that my boys are still able to suspend disbelief for a little while longer when the wizard speaks.


The Father’s Day

This Sunday, the 18th of June 2017, will mark my first Father’s Day without being able to speak to my father. I’m still my father’s son, but he’s no longer here. The next twelve months will see a collection of experiences for me that will no longer include him. This is the first one.

In recent years I spoke with him less and less. I think I let the minutiae of everyday life get in the way of the important things. It didn’t happen all at once though, it was very gradual. I see now that one can let almost any eventuality occur if it happens slowly enough. I regret that now.

If you’re lucky, you are born into a family that planned for you, loved you, nurtured you and guided you to adulthood and beyond. Again, if you’re lucky, you will have your parents with you on your journey for most of the way. That’s me. I was that lucky. Looking back now I realize I always assumed that when the day finally arrived for me to say goodbye to one of my parents, I would be mature enough or grownup enough and as such, it would be less painful.

The truth is though, I’m just mature enough and grownup enough not to show how painful it is. Nothing more.

My father was an introverted, playful and generous man. In these last few years, he dealt with illness compounding on illness in an uncomplaining, brave and steady way. He loved his family and always had a special place in his heart for his dogs who, as far back as I can remember, were treated as full siblings to my sister and I.

It wasn’t all perfect though, no family is. There were times that I clashed with my father. There were times when he had to be tough on me, to try teach me a life lesson, to break patterns of destructive or antisocial behavior that I was displaying. But it was done to try make me a person that could prosper in this world. There were times as a teenager that I would be brooding in my room, angry at everyone and everything, where I blamed and berated, said harsh things and felt misunderstood.

I wish I could go back and clamp my grownup hands over my adolescent mouth and whisper into my deaf ears…’be quiet now, say no more.’

That’s the life lesson though, isn’t it? Most of us are given a full measure of life and how we use it is largely up to us. The trick I think is to try to limit those moments that you may later regret. To check yourself.

This Father’s Day, my boys will no doubt burst into my room with open arm hugs and hand-made cards and will plant kisses on my cheeks. They will be loud and playful and carefree little creatures and will delight in the novelty of the day.

That will make it a little easier for me to resist the urge to call my Dad. A little easier deal with the absolute finality of the fact that I can’t speak to him anymore.