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.

 

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.

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.

I Hope You Know… 

I sure do spend a lot of time yelling. I spend a lot of time hugging and reading and cooking and cleaning. I spend a good amount of time playing, though not as much as I should. I spend a lot of time laughing and talking and a lot of time listening. But the yelling. 

It’s losing it’s effectiveness. When I do it in response to inappropriately timed or overly exciteable silliness, you have taken to smirking. I hate it, but sometimes at that point I get super serious and scary. It’s not real scary. At least that’s what I tell myself. I mean, I know for a fact I’d never ever hurt you. But that’s a justification. A true enough one, but one that intentionally uses a very narrow definition of the word, ‘hurt’. 

You’re our first ever 6 year old. I worry every day about what I’m getting wrong. I worry about how I’m going to handle all that I’ve yet to see. What is it gonna be like when you are 7 or 12 or 17. How am I going to protect you from a world you don’t fear enough and I fear too much. What kind of protecting is enough. What kind is too much. What does that look like. I don’t know. You know even less. You see, we’re breaking new ground, in some ways, with every new step you take. I want you to know, I’m scared too. 

I don’t yell as much as I used to. You’ve become a remarkably good little boy and a quite unique and kind and sensitive big boy. But it still happens, more than it should. 

On the flip side I don’t really share with you all that you mean to me. I’m so thankful to know you. As I’ve told you before, you are the person, the only one who will ever live, who made me a dad. Your dad. It’s the greatest thing that ever happened to me and I will never, could never thank you enough. I am so incredibly proud of you. When I was your age I was on my second year of kindergarten. It was an advanced kindergarten that required two years due to the incredibly high IQ’s of the special people selected for it. Okay, that’s not true. When I was first in kindergarten I cried all day every day for months. I was not 5 until Thanksgiving time and i wasn’t ready. I don’t fully believe that even now. To some degree it just felt like failure to me. Failure by me. It was, technically speaking. I’ve actually spent a lot of my life getting over that. I never recovered in relation to school. 

When you so bravely took on the challenge I died a little. I have always despised those parents who lived vicariously through their kids, but apparently I couldn’t avoid it. I said I was scared for you. I was. But I was scared because of me. You were a rock star. A rock star is what we called kids who opened toys on youtube when we were little. Except they weren’t kids and they were in bands. Still, think Evan. You were all kinds of EvantubeHD about the whole thing. 

You are so honest about your feelings and aware of them. You are brave. I struggle with that now. But you are the most sincere and loving hugger of goodbye’s I’ve ever seen. You’ll get silly with your brother when we are leaving, but when Mommy or I are heading out you are so so insistent on making sure you wish us a good day and hug us as many times as you can. We’ve trained some of that out of you by accident, but there’s some that lives in you that we’ll never be able to get to in order to save a few minutes in the morning. Evidence that sometimes wisdom is inate and not a thing that requires age and experience. 

I’m so proud of how thoughtful you are. How much you worry about others. How diligently you go about showing kindness to others. How you try to be creative about making others feel happier. You talk about it. You ask questions about it. You show up, day after day, brave, loving, kind and determined to make others feel how much you love them. 

I hope you know how much I love you. Because sometimes I yell. Sometimes I must look like a truly crazy person. Sometimes I’m imperfect and sometimes I’m scared and I’ll fail a lot. Thankfully I have time. But the years slip by fast and I’d be crushed if you didn’t know how proud I am of you. How much I love you.