Diary of a Wimpy (and AWESOME!) Bookstore

When your seven year old son manages to have his attention wrangled by a book you pounce. When he falls so in love with a book series that he reads 12 of them as fast as he can acquire them you do everything you can to feed his passions. In our case that meant spending hours on end reading with him. He would assign both me and his mother separate books that we would take to his room and lie in his bed with him while each reading quietly. If one or the other of us chuckled we would read what it was that made us giggle back so we could all get in on the laugh. For us, for our Charlie, that book series was the Diary of a Wimpy Kid books by Jeff Kinney.

Charlie at the hotel that night showing off his haul!

I don’t know if you’ve had any time recently with an obsessed seven year old. It’s intense. And when there is a exactly 217 pages x 12 books of details to obsess on ones curiosity extends beyond the pages of the books and into all the surrounding content they can find. It was while pursuing any and all things Greg Hefley that our Charlie discovered the existence of An Unlikely Story in Plainville, Massachusetts.

Well, our fate was sealed. A journey to the store was in the offing. So when we surprised him on the night before we were to drive the four and a half hours (spread over six or so as we were of course traveling with the seven year old and his five year old brother) he immediately started bouncing. Just ceaseless bouncing while exclaiming over and over, ‘this is going to be the best day ever!’

He wasn’t wrong.

There’s no telling if a bookstore so highly anticipated in the active imagination of a little boy can live up to his wild expectation. As soon as we pulled into the small parking lot adjacent the store on the otherwise unremarkable intersection in the aptly named (no offense) Plainville any concerns were allayed. He was all buzz and electricity.

Upon entering the bookstore we were all a bit overwhelmed. Immediately it was clear that this store was not the beautiful monstrosities we come across at our local corporate book monolith but rather a space designed by and for people who loved books. The high ceilings and burnished wood surfaces were beautiful in the lighting that instead of bathing every inch in overwhelmingly bright floods of fluorescent uniformity highlighted the spaces between the shelves and the items throughout the store.

It’s clear as well that this space was designed as a community space for book lovers, fantasy geeks, story obsessives and lovers of the type of independent bookstores that take residence more in our minds and memories than in our lives these days. Which is wonderful. For all the awesomeness we discover at the massive book behemoths there is something about getting lost in a less uniform space that I didn’t realize they were missing until they got to navigate this place of magic. It’s a modern throwback to a time when bookstores held a different role in the life of a place and a welcome balance to the modern, uniform experience. A place where a sports fan, a cookbook enthusiast, a reader of mystery and genre fiction and kids learning to fall in love with stories can share the space without feeling separated and segregated. Where each can stumble on the other and become curious about others interests.

The cafe was unobtrusive and inviting and after making all our purchases of all things Wimpy (and a novel for me and bag for mama) we were comfortable lingering and exploring our new lit stuff. In fact the cafe attendant saw how much Charlie loved the Wimpy Kid books and when we were done getting our assorted refreshments she slipped us a few cups, the sort used for a fountain soda or iced coffee, with images of Greg Hefley, the Wimpy one himself, all over them. We haven’t broken them out yet. We’ll probably save them for dinner the night his pre-ordered, signed copies of book 13 come in the mail!

An Unlikely Story Bookstore & Cafe

A Moment to Treasure

Some moments are just magical. They arrive unannounced and if you are lucky you recognize what’s happening in time to capture it in some way. This is not one of those moments.

‘Daddy? What’s your favorite butt cheek?’

Hmm. Thinking. Resisting every inappropriate joke running through my head.

‘My left butt cheek, I guess.’

Phew, dodged all bullets.

‘No. I mean between me and Teddy.’

‘I don’t have a favorite. I love all four of your butt cheeks equally.’

…and, scene.

‘No’ is My Love Language

andrew-seaman-645932-unsplashI am spending the summer home with my sons. They are 5 and 7. I fully appreciate the unencumbered, freewheeling imagination of these bright young boys. I do. I say this as a disclaimer to be applied to what might be considered a hurtful thing to say did you not know how truly enamored and impressed I am with these children. They are the apple of my eye and the light of my life.

They are also the progenitors of the largest private collection of horribly conceived ideas I’ve ever come across. The tonnage alone makes their collection impressive. I am the sole arbiter of these ideas. I am the judge and jury and I can tell you, I could shout ‘NO!’ at the outset of any question beginning, ‘Daddy can I…’ and I’d feel justified and correct in my response 99 times out of 100.

Being a good person and modeling the patience I wish them to possess I listen fully to most of these proposals. Here’s a small sample of things I’ve said no to this summer.

‘Daddy, can we bring the hose into the trampoline?’

‘Daddy, can I walk to the store alone?’

‘Daddy, can Charlie drive me to Grandma’s house and you and mommy stay here?’

‘Daddy. Can you open my window so we can jump down to the top of the umbrella on the deck?’

‘Daddy, can we go by ourselves out to stop strangers with dogs to pet them, right by the road, around the corner where you can’t see us and ask them if they have candy and if they would take us for a ride in their windowless van?’

Okay, that last one wasn’t asked, the 5 year old just did it. Granted, it was just the petting strangers dogs around the corner part, but any decent parent fills in the rest and doesn’t allow them out to the back porch without supervision once they are reminded of the total lack of common sense possessed by a five year old.

These are the times when they think to ask. Other times it’s just luck that I caught them in the act.

‘What are you doing?’ I ask incredulous.

‘I’m putting sunscreen on my tongue.’

‘NO!’

Saying no to my kids was once a hobby. After this summer, seeing the decisions they’d make without me, I have come to think of saying no to my kids more as a passion. It is what I need to do, sure, but it is also what I love to do.

Besides, saying no to trying Fortnite is so much easier when it is part of a larger milieu.

 

The Curious Nature of Time

Time is immutable until it isn’t. For me it got all out of whack after kids.

  When Charlie was born I became a dad. That’s when time first shape shifted. From that point on I haven’t been able to get a hold on it. When I catch up to it and live and move with it, when it all sycnchs up it’s magic. Before long I’ve lost the thread again and even in my memory that moment has morphed from a point in time to a blessed eternal experience that will live outside of time and space for the rest of my days. Other times, times like the colossal journey of the early years are even more inscrutable. The days were repetitious and overwhelming. Too large to be effected by the spinning of the earth. It felt like one never ending day. Until a morning came that looked different and the remembrance of it all now seems to grow smaller, ever more brief the further I am removed. 

  The first moment, the instant I saw my first child broke all understanding and left me a mess. It is easy to look at it and see the 30+ hours of consciousness that buttressed his arrival and think that time was aided in her transformation. Perhaps. What flooded me in that moment though was not due to exhaustion or elation. The full scope of the allotted time for a person became very tangible that moment. I was alerted very directly in that moment to my exact spot on the line that starts with my birth and ends with my death which is now incredibly important that it stretches as far as I can hope out into the timeline of this little mans own linear track. Life was abstract and time accompanied it before. Not tied to anything, not rooted in another’s story. Now it was finite and fading and valued like never before. 

Soon after we were home. Days were like years. Almost literally. I may have conceded to times dominion before I knew it could be questioned, but I knew the differences the years made. I was different at 4 than I was at six than I was at 16. It basically tracked with a standard deviation, but each year brought more knowledge more understanding and dare I say, ocassionally some earned wisdoms. They were absorbed, the ones I could recognize, passively. The learning you achieve by breathing more. By the uncontrolled firing of synapses making connections inside and out. I may not have put it together, not have put words to it, but years came with more than numbers. They brought growth. I grew years in those early days. Not the journey around the sun years, but the equal of them in terms of learning about me, the world, what it all means, how to feed, clean and care for something more than myself. Those are years. And they happened every day their early on. Some days more than others, but every day brought something that gave time a new track to explore and play with. 

  Baby world melded together from one to two. Charlie was just at his first birthday when we learned there was a Teddy coming. So no sooner had we nailed a bedtime routine than we added competition to it. Regression met emergence and envy and competition and compassion and peer-ish relations entered our home. We rolled with the punches much better the second time which was somewhat by necessity as life seems oddly to respond to addition with multiplication in many ways. That said, whatever more there was, it was fed by more and more love and concern. To paraphrase myself from an earlier time, if Charlie came and taught us how long the days could be, Teddy was the child who taught us how short the years could be. 
  Now I am as much observer as participant. I’m a dad of kids who need a good deal of observing. I am also a dad who can’t stop himself from watching as they explore and navigate the world and ideas and their abilities and challenges. They are compelling. They demand attention and I’m now walking with them. I may still retain control but that’s mostly a height thing at this point. Honestly. Their instincts are what drive us now. We maintain rules of the road, but they are driving in every way other than literally, and in many ways they are doing so figuratively even at those times. 

Time is uncatchable for us now. It is surging forward too fast or stopping completely. Slowed to crawl or dancing to its own rhythm and we are learning to find some of the wisdoms we can find from its nature. But mostly, we are finding that the wisdom is knowing we are at the mercy of time and we try as much as we can to respect her and do as much as we can to invest as much as we can that is of value in her. 

Parenthood Changes

Life has me ponderous at a time when there is precious little time to do anything but ride the current. 

All of us are so full every day. Full of stuff. Stuff that needs to be done, eaten, taken, dropped off, completed, returned, thrown out, retrieved, fixed, cleaned, washed, folded, put away, picked up and put to bed. We are doing all the things. At least all the things we know to do. All we can do. All we can find time to do. 

I miss the focus having tiny kids gave me. It is a very centering thing, having kids. At least at first. The world gets so small for you that it’s hard not to be centered. Your world collapses to your living space and a small collection of points. Your workplace. The ridiculously expensive but super convenient grocery store you only go to if you HAVE TO, which is every other day, and the other three stores you trek to on the weekend because one has the cheap milk, the other has the reasonable produce and the other because there’s always a sale on yogurt drops or pouches of the puréed carrots the kid decided was the only food worthy of him some time ago. The pizza shop. The gas station. And home. The living room kitchen bathroom bedroom which has morphed into one space, each formerly distinct zone possessing all the traits of all the rest. It’s not somewhere I can say I want to ever go back to, that crazy, sleep deprived, questionable hygiene and nutrition time when emotions were spattered about like the half eaten cheese sticks we no longer ‘find’ all over the place. But I’d be lying if I said I didn’t miss it. I found a new me there. The new me.

Now that new me is back at it, trying hard to make it work. Don’t mistake me, I can barely remember and hardly recognize the me that lived before becoming dad, but I’m not so insistently and consistently engaged in the constant crisis and joy of newborn parenthood like I was back then. 

Tonight was a nice night. We watched a short video after showers and pajamas. It was as far as I can tell a couple of young or not so young men talking to one another as they tried to raise dragons in Minecraft. The me before having a 5 and a 7 year old wouldn’t have uttered, let alone understood such a sentence before, but I’m getting it now. 

  Today was the first day that T went to school after his very best friend for the past 3 years up and left to Germany. He’s cool with it, me and his mother, not so much. I drove him to school this morning. It’s a funny life we’ve made our way to. I work about a 2-3 minute drive from our home, but I drive him a half hour away and have to leave early to be to work on time. Normally mom will drive, but a time or two a week it’s me. He is the king of the place by now. Super sweet and happy but a bit of a celebrity as well. At least all the love that’s in the eyes of his former teachers (well, all but one, but there’s always one) makes him seem like one as he leads me down the hall, not getting two feet into the building before tossing off his coat, ready to get at it. He loves his dance class and he is going to be in the recital this spring. We are all super looking forward to it. 

Momma took the big boy out to his swim lesson today which is at the same place as T goes to school. It runs just before T is to be picked up, so I could stay at work a few minutes late. Charlie is becoming a real swimmer. He is the only one in his class that swims the deep end with no assistance. 

 It was my turn to be on bed duty. We still lay with them. Judge if you like. That’s your business. It’s how we do it. I read a good long chapter book to the younger one while Charlie started plowing through library books. He even kept reading past lights out by the combination of dim lighting of a nightlight and the green stars that are projected from Winney’s pot of honey that rests on the dresser. He just loves reading, loves books. He’ll take them to bed with him he loves them so much. I let it go for some time. But eventually I told him it was time to go to sleep. It was a really good bedtime. We’re busy and scattered but we’re doing our best. It’s not intense and it is. Its just a lot. It’s like its all of life, every aspect of it, coming at us all the time. I can get very down thinking about all that isn’t happening, all the writing I’m not doing, all the fun we could be having. But what’s the point. This is life and we’re doing things as best we can, getting better every day. 

Well most days anyway.

Thanksgivings

I’ve come full circle on sentimentality. It’s not that to some degree I haven’t always had the predisposition, I have, it’s just that it’s become something I embrace, even seek out now that I’ve got some road behind me.

Life is moving as fast as it ever has. Faster in many ways. But for some reason I’m less and less moved by it. I’m underwhelmed by momentous change. I’m not as easily energized by my own morphing and evolutions. I’m simply living it. I’m running full speed to keep up and I’m barely processing it’s going so fast. Who can make sense of this stage with the solid oak I grew from growing ever wiser and the seeds I’ve planted requiring constant tending. Not to mention the intentions I had for myself before the realities I never considered became the droning and pressing necessity of each day as I try to make a life I’ll be proud of.

I’m tired and busy and energetic and overwhelmed at all times. I’m looking at a life that is zooming past and trying to find any and all rest stops and exits that look like I can afford to take them. I’m trying to get as much of this finite life as I am able and it feels impossible to catch up to it.

So I find myself on days like today, Thanksgiving 2017, in a sentimental place where I can experience the benefits of compounding interest as I feel the past in the present. It’s easy to do as Thanksgiving has been a huge part of the magic of life for me.

The early ones were at home and had the tables, all that we could move, fold, setup and tear down, stretching against the grain and crossing transoms to stretch far enough to fit all the family who could be there. I was a kids table holdout who ventured rarely and always regretfully to the grown up table at least once before I was ready. As a result I was always more than happy to give up my seat with the big people to spend another year at the fun table. The food was warm, the air was steamy, small rooms filled with big people and warmed by a kitchen that never stopped.

Later, when we were a tad older, but still young it became Florida! We went every year to visit our grandparents in Vero Beach. It was there my dad pointed out the connection that it might not be pure coincidence that Nana and Papa moved to where his beloved (Brooklyn) Dodgers had there spring training facilities. There I saw the shuttle from the driveway and looked up with my dad who marvelled that his dad, staying warm on the enclosed deck had been around when horse drawn carriages and Model T’s were filling the streets and now we were here in his driveway watching the space shuttle. It was there where we snowy natives spent hours learning how to body surf and seeing my dad in shorts, something rarely seen, but always when there was an ocean to swim in. He liked to bob in the waves, floating with his toes popping out of the water, riding the tide in peace. It was there that I saw the dance between my mom and her husbands wonderful, but decidedly commanding mother play out with a remarkable amount of good humor, understanding and grace on all sides. It was there where the adults I’d know later were the kids I remember now. When we see each other I like to think they see that young vibrant me as well. Time has taken its toll and it always wins, but its nice to know their are cousins who’ve seen you all the way through and know you. The real you. And it was their that I learned I may be the funniest in a room now and again and that may be a very useful thing, but I should never forget that theres a family tree of funny that has deep roots and long and surprising branches. I come from funny stock. Thanksgivings with the Wershing/Medler’s were the funniest.

College came and the family tradition couldn’t last forever. We quickly redeployed and had the usual guests and local family holidays that are the norm. Soon I took to heading up to the mountains where some friends had established roots. Saranac Lake and environs. It might have been just three or four times, but those Thanksgivings were amazing. They were like a vast, tribal, artisanal, low culture-high culture blend you can really only achieve in your twenties. Full capacity, zero responsibility, unmatchable sociability and comraderie and a determination to be adult. To this day, no offense to anyone else ever those meals were the most succulent and delicious I’ve ever had. It was a 3 day party and there were late night shenanigans, beer fridges and high times indeed. It was a joy of being alive kind of feeling that I’ll always love.

Then we had the family gathering at my brother’s house in Poughkeepsie. It was like a perfect little blessing that for those years, with me in the city and my sister in the area as well. We would inevitably show up the night before, until there were kids. Mom and dad would show up at night, mom having cooked a meal for twenty and packed it all in the trunk and we would unload into the just gorgeous home he was always so generous with. We would each offer dish and be welcomed to bring it and make it. My mother always liked us to be involved, but it was her production for sure and it was perfect. Food on the piano for serving, table set to Rockwell like perfection and new family as funny as the rest in on the conversations and bringing new humosrs and smiles to our faces. I don’t know what was said, I may have even had a part in the sequence leading to the laughter, but a memory that sticks out for me is my mom removing her glasses and wiping tears, in full all out laughter, only at catch her breath to say, ‘I haven’t laughed this hard since last night.’, only to kick off another round of table wide guffaws. We were all a little grayer at these gatherings, but we still through the football around and stayed up late enough for our turkey sandwiches and movies. Resisting every urge we might feel to get going home if that was in our plans. This was our first real thanksgiving after the kids. The one where we could bring a baby and begin our families traditions in earnest.

Circumstance changed and kids continued to grow and we began to have our traditional Turkey days at Karen’s parents house. It was such a treat. They live on beautiful land outside Saratoga county. Youhonestly couldn’t paint a more beautiful picture of holiday land. The house was always full of all our favorite treats and every meal was a chance to sit and visit between indoor and outdoor adventures in a landscape carved carefully by nature and man over decades of tending and refining. There were sled rides in snow, treasure hunts, long adventures in the basement workshop and treats to fill the hearts of toddlers and middle aged men. These were magical visits that always started with Grandma and Koba greeting us at the car, as excited to see us as we were to be there. Travel is hard at that early stage, but they always understood and went so far out of their way to make sure the memories were of the wonderous variety.

Now, today, the tradition turned again as we went to a new gathering place in Maplewood. We’ve been passive observers of Karen’s sister and brother in law as they’ve put in countless hours making a warm and welcoming home, a dream home really since moving in years ago. Now once again the tables were laid out against the grain, traveling through the home from back to front, seating and feeding generations of family with more than a delicious meal. It was a magical day. The kids sat at the big table and did mostly great, when they weren’t crawling underneath. Hectic moments when all arrived and too many hands went on instinct to the kitchen, chaos slowly turning to perfection as the food was pulled together by my brother in law, the magician, casual conversations happening everywhere you looked between people who loved being with each other and can so rarely be due to the simple and never ending logistics of life. Good laughs and good food, great stories and long and luxuriant pickingat desserts that fed and fueled the days journey into night. Hugs and goodbyes and smiles and warmth. The tradition is beginning for these guys, the little ones. For me it’s settling into the pace where, seeing it starting again for the kids and watching it evolve once more for all of us grown ups, I can finally catch up to the sentiment. I can feel the nostalgia and the beauty of it all in real time.

It all leaves me so grateful to be sharing this journey with these fellow travelers, every one of them from each iteration.

The Husky Dads Million Dollar Idea

I’ve never been truly thin. Not even as a kid, when I reasonably could have been considered ‘lanky’. Whatever wireyness I might have possessed was due almost entirely to my reaching my height sooner than most of the kids I grew up around. I’m 6’2″ if you go by the tale of the tape next to my headshot in the program. 6’1″ easily if you go by actual measured height and I got a legit 5’11” of that height by the time I was in 7th grade or so. But even then I knew not to go shirtless too regularly. I was kinda fat-skinny. 

In the years since then I’ve become just plain old husky. I’d be burly if I could pull it off, but doughy tugs pretty firmly at me. I’m 43 now so I’m not sure I’ll ever dip down below 200 lbs ever again. I’m okay with that as long as I’m able to stick around for as long as my kids really need me. But let’s just say the metabolism ain’t where it could be. Or rather, I’m 43, from what I hear it’s exactly where it should be.

This cake was magical. Been chasing that dragon ever since..

If you are not yet of an age, let me tell you this central and universal bit of misfortune that comes with age; You can gain significant weight in one lost weekend and you can’t lose that weight without a month or more of committment, discipline and sorrow. At least I’m told you can. You certainly can’t lose it with a months worth of backsliding committment and little to know will power and endless taking it easy on yourself and having that extra cookie. That much I can say for certain. That path is one I’m testing. Been doing it twenty years now and while I’m not yet fully ready to share my data, I’ll let you know that I’m starting to notice some pretty predictable patterns. I mean, it’s like the least groundbreaking science you’ll ever see. To that end I’m taking it easy on my overstressed joints in hopes of making them last a tad longer. Cross your fingers for me!

So this post weekend was the worst kind I’ve come across over my many era’s. While it was thoroughly enjoyable in all other ways, this weekend was a disaster for my ever diminishing hopes of ever getting back into that suit I wore on the wedding day. A day I should note happened in my mid thirties when I was significantly past my playing weight. And don’t get me started on ever fitting in that speedo I’ve yet to buy that I’ve always imagined I’d use to embarrass my kids at beaches over the summers of their youth. Though that’s perhaps more of a committment issue for me. I mean, I really have to go for that bit for it to work, but I’m just not there yet, guys. Please don’t pressure me.

Cookie. Nap. Cookie. Nap. This is my cycle. Has been since they were little..

This past weekend was a quick trip to the grandparents. Well my kids grandparents. My inlaws. They are the nicest, kindest people on earth. So nice that they, well, she, makes ALL of the things I’ve ever complimented and told her I loved. Have you ever had pumpkin pie ice cream? Not pumpkin pie with ice cream, though I will note this here for future reference, but rather pumpkin pie flavored ice cream. I have. I hadn’t when I woke up last Friday. Now I’ve had an easy half gallon. Super easy. Like so easy. 

I remember hearing for decades now that you can get serious control over your diet by writing down everything your eat. It’s supposed to keep you from overindulging I guess. Maybe spur some healthy, light self loathing. After loosening my fat cargo’s I thought, maybe I have to do it. So I took a sheet of paper and wrote. Chicken salad sandwich, 1 2  3 bowls of pumpkin pie ice cream, chocolate chip coo- and I stopped. Right in the middle. Damn that was one fine homemade chocolate chipper she gave me, I thought. There have to be more. No one bakes one cookie, I thought some more. And like that I was off. Sure enough. Full tin. Right there, out in the open. Where I could grab a half a cookie anytime. There, maybe six halves, whenever I walked by. Damn, damn, damn. Writing didn’t work. Don’t worry, there were rich buttery scones to get me through breakfast. 

Anyway, it occurred to me this past weekend that Perhaps I’m missing a real opportunity here. Maybe there are other men, men like me, men of what we like to call a certain age. Men who pause a beat too long when someone says to us from behind a counter, ‘Sir, I said we have a chip reader’. I love chips. I just learned how to make them from scratch. Well I mean, it’s pretty basic, but I digress. My million dollar idea is simple. It will take some marketing to convince my customers, but I’ll be the first and most enthusiastic of adopters. Without further ado…

It’s well past time that men like myself should have a good, high quality, fashionable, High waisted, control top, boxer briefs to wear in the wake of these lost weekends. This market is real

Who’s with me!