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

Summer of Joy and Pain

Underlying what has been in fact my most enjoyable summer in decades, if not ever, is the reality that a part of me is struggling. I’m listing and drifting further and further from the confidence I recently took for granted.

As I write this I’m still in the shadow of a vacation in which I spent long evenings sitting up with close and distant relatives laughing and listening. I’m sitting at my dining room table while my sons play with legos at my feet. They’ve taken to making their own creations from the thousands of assorted blocks we’ve accrued over the years. I’ve had the entire summer home with them and I haven’t wasted it. Sports, days at the pool, a little shouting now and again, but all in all an opportunity I didn’t imagine I’d have when they were this age.

An opportunity that has left me worried about whether we will be able to maintain this life. Concerned and ashamed, honestly, that it’s my failings that are putting all of this at risk. I keep stoking the flames as I search for  the answer but I am finding less and less hot coals to revive. It’s the end of August and I’d say I’m at least a couple of weeks away from the search picking up again. People who hire people in my situation (too experienced and too expensive for most openings) are out of the office at this time of year. I guess we are all on a school schedule of sorts.

Our youngest will be entering kindergarten and his older brother will be starting 2nd grade in a little over a week. I know that they look up to me, but I’m having a hard time feeling admirable. I can appreciate my value beyond how it is defined by capitalism, but I can’t deny that on the capitalism front, I’m failing.

I have perspective and my day to day isn’t devastating by any means. I’m actually quite happy. If I could design life it would look like this. Long summer days spent playing and swimming and exploring with my kids. What could better. The answer, the obvious one, is I could have that start date for my next contribution sitting in my head, validating the part of me I always try so hard to deny. That part that knows ‘provider’ is not my strongest suit.

TIme to wrap it up. We are off to the pool this afternoon and we want to get there in time to get a good spot.

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.

 

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.

Summer Vacation

Spending a summer home with the boys. Exploring and adventuring and looking for work. Lets hope we all find what we need.

Daddy-Charlie-Mommy-Teddy GraduationI’m spending the summer home with the boys. I know that I’m incredibly fortunate to be able to do so. That reality is not lost on me though at times other issues are taking up more primary real estate in my brain and in my heart.

I lost my job. Technically I resigned. This technicality allows me to ascribe far more intent to the action than was necessarily present at the time I wrote the letter, packed up my office and walked out. But in reality, I was canned.

It was the first day of summer vacation yesterday and we got off to a great start. We are home bound until at least July 3rd as we have a fairly major repair due on the car so the boys and I spent our days the way I used to during the long, lazy summer days that feel like someone else’s memories by now. We watched some TV with cereal on the couch in our sleep clothes. We hung out in the backyard hitting wiffle balls and bouncing on the trampoline. We even dragged some music out there and played in our tiny, portable, makeshift sandbox.

For the first few weeks, while the boys were in school and I had at least a couple of days home alone I was able to send out mass resume’s and cover letters. I’ve even gotten a few interviews which have gone well but may not lead to anything and certainly won’t for some time. Which is increasingly fine. Frankly, if I could match my income, or even approximate it from home I’d prefer it. I’m not one of those people who will hate retirement. It suits me. If it weren’t for the nagging, inscrutable loss of a sense of self worth that accompanies this part of the journey, when an income is most critical.

We actually did a couple of boxed science experiments that we picked up a few months back. This morning the plaster has set on the citric acid and baking soda volcano we are set to detonate out back. Crystals should be forming in a dish in the garage. We’ll see about that in 4-7 days. I’m dreadful with science. It was actually a fairly comic scene actually, watching me try to pour 13 ounces of water in the bag of plaster/sand mix as instructed seeing as there was about 4 ounces worth of space in the bag to pour into it.

‘Well, the sand is porous, so surely they wouldn’t give us a bag to use for this without it having enough space within it to follow their instructions.’ I said, foolhardily. Though in hindsight it was obvious that the bag, minus the mix, simply empty, could not have carried the water it instructed us to add. Learned that trails of plaster mix can be cleaned up pretty effectively with wipes. So that experiment turned out at least.

I’m not defeated but I’m probably a perfect dupe for someone pitching me the secret to making a six figure income from home with only a couple of hours of work a day and a modest $399 investment upfront. I would be real receptive to that kind of pitch right now, so please, have some mercy my friends. Also, if I come at you with such a pitch in the months ahead, please say no but be kind. I’m a little lost these days.

Teddy PreK GradI am so happy to have this time with the kids. I just hope I don’t blow it. It’s a strange time in my life and in the world at large to wallow in self-pity. I don’t really have the oomph for that kind of thing right now. The self doubt may grow, but let’s face it, I’m in a house, with my kids who are 5 and 7 and want more of me than I can give. Kind of the ideal time to get an unexpected break from life, so long as I land on my feet on the other end having landed this midlife Triple Lindy.

If there’s one lesson I can take from how it ended it’s this. I brought myself to the edge months ago. I knew it was not working. The work was good, the people were great and by most measures I was doing very well. Unfortunately the relationship between me and my boss, the CEO, was broke. I certainly did my part to break it and was at a loss to fix it. I tried, but it wasn’t fixable. Not by me at any rate. I had prepared and interviewed, had been for a good 9 months. I’d turned down offers because they weren’t enough. Enough money, sure, but I think it was more than that. I think I needed pushing. In the end I’d packed up and prepared to jump and then I waited to be pushed. I won’t do that if this ever happens again. I don’t think it will, but next time, I’ll jump.

Today is day two of summer vacation. We have spent our boxed activities and run out of lunch ideas already. Netflix will take us to 10 but then it’s out back to adventure and explore. Let’s hope we find what we’re looking for, whatever it turns out to be.