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.

I Wish I’d Met You Earlier

‘If I could change anything I’d go back in time and meet you earlier so I would have more time with you.’

imageOf course for that to work I’d actually have to go further back than you might think. I’d have to go back to the relationships before I met you, to the therapies and jobs and life lessons and various family functions when I festered with free floating rage and self loathing. The feelings that led me to some of the terrible decisions I made that left me looking for you in my early 30’s via the internet, wasting one Saturday night after another with the wrong people engaged in the same search. And of course you’d have to go back and relive all you’d lived to get back to the same place at the same time. In the end even that wouldn’t give us so much as a fighters chance of creating the events necessary to ensure another 5-10 years with each other.

The truth is had we met earlier I wouldn’t have been ‘the one’ yet and you may not have been either, though I have a harder time thinking that. Truth is we had to get to where we met, separately. In hindsight it was the only way it could have happened. Had you met me earlier you’d have met an even more imperfect man.

But we didn’t meet earlier. Life knew when and where you were going to be and made sure that I was ready. Made sure I had resolved my old and musty issues and was better able to understand how little I knew. Made sure I had learned, even if only in theory, that the person you love and commit to is not meant to be the end of the challenges and the resolution of all discomforts but rather they are your help and comfort while facing them. Life made sure I knew that it was my job to be that for you, too. That the dream of finding someone to love and be loved by was not the equivalent of going on permanent vacation. That it was not your pillows fluffed and your sheets turned down and rooms cleaned magically and freshly stocked paper products everywhere you looked. It was not nonstop nights of endless passion and wine and late night bathroom window cigarettes and days full of endless entertainment.

Wedding DayLife brought us to the same place at a time when we were ready to commit. To face the challenges and monotony and joys and unknown glories of having someone to do it all with. To commit not only to someone that could make the highs pure bliss, but also someone who could endure the lows, tell you your crazy and put up with the issues you haven’t resolved. Someone who will love you if you never resolve them. Someone who can write all these things at 12:51 in the morning after we didn’t have our best goodnight ever and never ever have to worry that that means anything other than we each have to figure out what it is we have to apologize for. Because this is real. I’m forever thankful for you. You absorb my frustrations and reflect my joys. You make the bad times quick and the good times permanent. I hope I can do at least some of the same for you.

None of this could have happened any earlier than it did no matter how much later it was than either of us might have expected it.

That said, it does leave me sad in one specific way.

I’m thrilled that Charlie is who he is and that Teddy is who he is. Specifically. Had it been another time they would have been other people. They wouldn’t exist as we know them. So in that sense I’m so happy it happened when it did.  But now I’m left looking at them and thinking…

‘I wish I could have met you sooner so I could have had more time with you.’

imageIt’s impossible for me not to project out now that they are with us. It’s hard to look down the road and know that at 20 I’m whispering to 60.  The math gets more unnerving from there. I’m not going to live forever. It’s something that hit me the second our first was born. Perhaps I’m dumb. We all know it doesn’t last forever. To say that it occurred to me at the moment Charlie was born is to somehow suggest I hadn’t known it all along. I did. I mean I knew people died and I knew I was a person. So, ipso facto and ergo and whatnot. But not like now. Now I’m going to die on my kids. I mean, even in the best case scenarios I die and leave them behind. But at my age the chance is it’s going to be when I would have been too young for my parents to go.

I didn’t learn to even start appreciating my parents until my 30’s. Not in the way they deserved. Not in the way that’s a bit more reflective of the amazing job they did  And my god, I’ve needed them more these days than I can ever remember needing them. I understand how silly and sweet that sentiment must sound to them. I ‘get them’ now that I’m a parent.  It must be cute to them to think I think I ‘need them’ now more than ever. Because those early days, my prehistory, the prehistory that is the equivalent to the one my kids are living now, concurrent with the peak of vibrant life for me are days they won’t  remember. They’re our days, actually, not theirs. Theirs come later. And I was their third. Of six. And there were a few more. I have two and I’ve needed them for all of it.

It worries me to no end that I’ll die while they still need me. The early days are just like that, and I’m still in the early days. But the deeper fear is that I’ll die without them being ready, without them being of an age or established in the life that will be there’s to live, that’s the one I can’t shake. I know no one is ever ready. I know I won’t be. But I’ll have a home, a wife and a job and my boys. I fear leaving them before they have any of this. Before they have roots.

There’s also a selfish piece to it all. I want to live long enough for them to forgive all the things we’ll get wrong and to see us as people, who loved them all the way through, even through the hard times when they couldn’t see why we did what we did. Through the times when we get it wrong. When they couldn’t see the love that was at the root of it all. Because having kids and being a parent and a spouse, it’s made me understand my parents in a way nothing else could. It made me love them in a way that’s oddly equivalent to how much I loved them when I was just Charlie and Teddy’s ages now, when they were my whole world and I was theirs and it made all of us special. There’s a symmetry now and I can see all that they did. I once again think of my parents as something so much more than ‘just people’. It’s your job to realize that they are in fact just people as you depart your family of origin. You have to see them for all their humanity and in that you find shortcomings and magnify them. It’s a part of your liftoff you have to exercise. It’s the balance to those years when they were the sun and the moon. It provides you perspective. But if you’re lucky enough, like I am, you get to come around on that later and see how superhuman their lives have been. I’m back to a place where I can tell them unabashedly how much their love means to me. How much I love them. I want that with my boys. I want to make it there.

‘I wish I’d met them earlier so we would have had more time together.’

‘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.

 

In the Waves

Waves march on oblivious, unaffected and uncaring. They beat ever onward each disappearing into the next.

Focusing on my little boy, I am standing in the water, my back to the sea. He’s five now and there is an awareness that was completely lacking a couple years ago, but his faith is still that of an immortal.

I am standing in front of him looking back to the shore. The waves break past me, mostly. Some catch me unsuspecting. It’s remarkable how silent they are prior to crashing. Teddy is facing the waves, delighting in the excitement of the break and it’s power and the surging and retreating waters. The laughs are undeniable. They overwhelm him. Inside the chaos and devoid of fear all he feels is joy.

As I stand in the water looking back at him I marvel. I am blissful as I absorb the reflections of his giddy, playful happiness.

Waves march on oblivious, unaffected and uncaring. They beat ever onward.

I’m riding the waves as they pass. If I see them I jump. If they reach me before I look I let them lift me. Either way is fine. I’m in control when I can be and pliable when caught off guard. If I tried to stand my ground the wave would bury me and remove me from this perfect moment so I surrender whenever prompted and float up.

I come to shore after a powerful surge knocked him down and a close wave followed and crashed down on top. Any fear he lacked before has caught up to him and he’s off, running out of the foamy water as it recedes, toward the crowded beach. I yell his name but its no use. It just disappears in the surf and wind. I start to run in and ride a passing wave for a few feet to hasten the journey. He’s never gone from my sight, but he made good progress. I catch up and kneel next to him.

‘Are you okay, buddy?’

‘I was laying down and a wave flew on me.’

‘I know. I saw that. Did you get water up your nose.’

‘No. It just fell down on top of me.’

‘I know. Was it scary.’

‘Yeah.’

We get his mother and older brother whose play has left them surprisingly far from where they’d entered the water. The little one was done for the day, at least with the water. His curiosity now turned to the fisherman on the rock outcropping that bordered the far end of this section of the beach. We all followed along enjoying the beautiful weather as he followed his curiosity, stopping throughout to inspect mollusks and dried seaweed.

He learned something today about the ocean that I didn’t learn until much later. I wasn’t born near an ocean and our family didn’t visit the seaside much until I was older, closer to a teen. But I learned the same lesson long ago.

Truth is I’m still learning the nature of the sea. Still trying to find out when to challenge and when to yield. It’s hard for me even now to know what fears need facing and which are best left in place.

I’m enjoying a moment of riding the waves as they catch me. The waves keep coming and any one of them could carry me to safety or drag me down. Best I can do for now is try to relax and let the ocean do her work.

Playing Catch and Enjoying the Show

Charlie is playing with the regulation size basketball this summer. He is playing every chance he gets. We live across the street from his school where there are six hoops and two full courts on a patch of pavement where a group of neighborhood kids, the older ones, play a regular game of baseball. Charlie isn’t quite up to that game yet, but it won’t be long. It’ll be a different set of kids, different relationships, different ground rules, but essentially he will join them not too long from now. It was about three blinks ago that I was tossing gently the oversized wiffle ball underhand from a few feet away. It would hit his belly with a barely audible thud and shortly after he’d bring his hands together hoping to catch the ball that was already on the ground and rolling away from him. This morning we already tossed the softer but still relatively hard tee-ball ball for a half hour or so. Full speed, catching in gloves. That happened in the last couple weeks. Forget about hitting. I’ll never throw that boy another underhand pitch again. Haven’t for some time now.

I wasn’t much for baseball growing up. I was in fact rather anti baseball. I was a basketball player to the core. It was my first identity and one I will never fully abandon. I could go a decade without taking a shot and I’d always be a basketball player. A bit past my prime for sure. Rounder and slower. But so long as I have any control over my body I’ll be able to do something with a basketball to feel young and vibrant. It’s ingrained in me.

Teddy is not yet interested in sports. He may become an athlete and he may not. He loves his art classes and his dance class that he powered through for the entirety of the school year. Seeing him on stage with the rest fo his classmates at the recital at the end of the year was incredible. He was so nervous about it that for the weeks before everyone wondered if he’d be able to go through with it. But there he was, the ‘Tin Man’ dancing to ‘Ease on Down the Road’, hitting all his marks, even helping others. He was brave and graceful.

I so wanted to be that brave when I was little. My older brothers were in all the plays at school when I was Charlie’s age and I watched them so intently, wishing I could be up there. When they were done with their three day, four show run I’d collect the abandoned, worn scripts and read them cover to cover, over and over, reliving the story in my head for months. I loved Oklahoma so much that I went to the Seymour Library, nine years old, and would take out other Rogers and Hammerstein plays to read and imagine into existence as a production in my head. When I was of an age I was too self-conscious. I didn’t ever tryout. I wish I had his courage.

They aren’t ever going to be in strollers again. I’ve lived long enough to learn that parents are needed for a lifetime, but the need that they had before is gone. They need other things. They need someone to play catch with and casually chat about school friends and sports teams. They need a dad to take them to their dress rehearsal and talk about the music and where it came from and why its cool to be the only boy brave enough to be on the dance team. Sometimes they need a rebounder to feed them for endless shots at the playground hoop and tell them over and over how much better they are then when I was their age. Sometimes they just need me to get in the dirt and look for worms under the rocks.

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.