Why I Probably Won’t Play With Your Kid

Note: I wrote this in 2010, when my son was barely six years old.

This may seem heartless or callous to some, but it’s something I’ve been thinking about quite a bit lately.

I enjoy hanging out with my son. Whether we’re building things with Legos, folding complex paper airplanes, or just exploring streets deserted by builders caught in a recession, he’s a positive presence in my life. Heck, I even like doing math flashcards with him. Listening to him read? Goes without saying. Sheer delight.

The moment another child is added into the mix, with rare situational exceptions, my interest plummets to zero.

I think this is because in all my 30 years prior to having my own child, I had no interest in children. Perhaps because I was the youngest in my family (that I saw frequently), I didn’t have any experience with children until the birth of our son. I know many men fit that description, but I also see several who possess a seemingly innate ability to jump in with a group of kids and know what to do.

Whatever it is, I don’t seem to have it.

Sometimes it troubles me, but mostly I just let it roll. When my son has a peer over to our house, or we visit one of his friends, I immediately consider it his free time to interact with someone his own age. I am sure I will feel differently in the future, based on what numerous empty-nesters have told me, but for now I just switch into grown-up mode (I didn’t say mature) and cherish the time we adults enjoy covering topics and humor we reserve for just such moments.

Maybe it’s a general social attitude. Superficial social situations do not appeal to me, and I always have preferred small get-togethers over large parties. For the most part, if I can’t hang out with people I really have an interest in and/or care for, I prefer being alone. This intensifies when it comes to children, requiring actual blood relation to get my interest.

Even that doesn’t always help.

I applaud those men who jump in there and become one of the kids. I guess I’m just a stick in the mud.

No Plan for Devil’s Eyebrow

Ben IceholeWe wanted to explore a new Natural Area that had been dedicated in 2012. There were no trail maps, no directions explaining where to see the best spots. No GPS coordinates for waterfalls or cascades. Nothing saying, “then turn left here.”

(click any image to enlarge)

It was January, 2015, and the directions I found only got us to the parking area. The rest we were left to discover on our own, in a tract of land about 1800 acres big. It was exciting and a little nerve-wracking.

After all, the place is called Devil’s Eyebrow.

UndercliffI had seen photos of interesting creekbeds and bluffs overhanging the water. To see that, and to help avoid getting lost, I planned to follow a creek.

The short dirt road, easily handled by our four-door compact car, led us to a grassy parking area bordered by a rope line. A large pasture about the size of a football field stretched out before us, then gave way to woods. On the east side of the parking area, we found what looked like a trail.

The trail dumped us out onto an old forest road, where we walked past a dry streambed with low cliffs above its banks. Our son, 11, loves exploring such areas, but we promised him he could stop and play there on our way back.

A few old, rusty household items and farming tools lay forgotten in the woods. They made it difficult to feel like we were wandering a wild area.

Bird's Nest

Shortly, we reached a fence at the edge of a hay field. We re-traced our steps, carefully checking for any sign of a spot to hike down into the woods. I knew a hiking group from Bella Vista had made its way into this area last year, and they were not really the bushwhacking types. There had to be some simple way to get started, at least.

Our first attempt had reached a dead end, so we turned around.

Benjamin and I played for a bit in the dry creekbed on our way back, and then we all made our way across the pasture that lay in front of the parking area. We picked up a gravel road on the other side and followed it into the woods. To our right was an area that recently had been clear-cut, including many cedar trees. On the left was deep woods and a sign indicating that it was public land.

Moss Icely

The road quickly became steep. The descent was so sharp at one point that I scouted ahead while the others hung back. I saw that the road soon reached the bottom of a gulley, then crossed a stream and flattened out a bit on the facing hillside. “Come on down. The steep stuff doesn’t last long,” I called to them.

We worked our way along the road, which led us uphill slightly and then turned downhill again. The road’s loose gravel gave way to a long, rocky streambed. Thick ice covered shallow pools of water.

Bend in the StreamI scouted up a steep ascent, and a bow hunter making his way down let me know that the road led to an open field. I headed back down and suggested to my crew that we should follow the creek downstream at this point.

We were rewarded shortly by a deeper pool, where my wife and son gleefully threw large rocks to crack the thick ice. Only in a few spots and after repeated hits did they break all the way through to water.

The wintry landscape allowed us to make our way along the banks fairly smoothly, with only the occasional brier patch to re-route us. Within about a hundred yards we had to start choosing our side carefully, due to steep banks. We crossed the creek a few times as we continued to find bigger, better scenery. Together, we discovered what each bend in the creek revealed.

Icefall Family

We finally turned around because the sun was getting low. After a steep ascent, I reached the edge of a field, my way blocked by an electrified fence. Maybe 50 yards across the corner of the pasture, I saw the same gate that had turned us back shortly after we had started our hike. We could cross that field and enjoy a short, flat walk to our car.

Instead of braving that and using private land, we scoped out the steep ravine between us and the opposite hillside. My crew wasn’t willing to hike that, so we headed back down the road and made the turn we missed the first time. It was the long way around, but it also was the only known quantity.

To help alleviate the steep grade, we made our own switchbacks by zig-zagging our way up the road. Again we passed the forest of cedar stumps, and then the woods opened up into the field, where our car waited patiently.

We had spent our day as a family, exploring a forest without a plan. It felt great.

I mapped the hike using GPS, and manually added a section that I didn’t track. Click here to see it.

A Belated Birthday Dedication Letter

Chris,

Ever since we were–what, 7?–I have known that your birthday was either September 9 or 11. Then that thing happened, and the date was forever solidified in my brain. It isn’t 9 or 11, it’s 9-11.

Numbers aside, I’m glad we’re still friends, and lately I’m realizing how much our friendship shaped who I am.

When my own son asks to watch Star Wars or “Star Trek,” I recall childhood memories of watching the original series in your 100-year old farmhouse living room. I remember that you had cool Star Wars toys. Or were those your brother’s?

I remember your TRS-80 computer and your Micronauts, your tiny electronic motors that we wired to “D” cell batteries just to watch them spin. Later, while at your house I read Omni and Popular Science. They were quite different from the reading found at my own house, and sparked an interest in science that still burns to this day. I remember bending in closer to study the huge, yellow garden spider (Argiope aurantia) that spun its impressive web next to your barn.

When I see my son thrilled by the prospect of Robotics Club, I imagine that you and I would have joined had it been available to us. I don’t doubt it for a moment.

It dawns on me while writing this that I’m passing down to my son the same passions I developed with you.

My older brother was not interested in any of those things. While I owe him for any athletic inclinations and skills I have, and countless social skills, growing up with you just a bike’s ride down the road drew out my geeky passions.

I’m glad you were drawing spaceships that day in 2nd grade. It started something bigger than I could have imagined.

Thanksgiving Then and Now

I remember a coloring book page from gradeschool. Newly-arrived Europeans sat at a picnic table with Native Americans seated beside them, with ladies from both ethnic groups bringing freshly harvested items to the table — corn on the cob, potatoes, and other foods that have become staples in the Thanksgiving tradition. A plump, golden roasted turkey waited patiently on a plate to be carved. A cornucopia sat at one end of the table, spilling more vegetables, presumably freshly picked from local plots.

From my 64-color Crayola Crayon set (sharpener built into the back!), I carefully selected warm, earthy colors and brought the scene to life. Staying mostly within the lines, I got fuzzy feelings of cooperation and human kindness, oblivious to the near genocide that followed.

When my family gathers, an adult might crack the occasional cynical joke regarding the holiday’s origins, but it never comes up in the conversation. Discussion of Europeans or Native Americans would result in a fight with ourselves, because our flesh and blood are comprised of both. For the most part we enjoy food crafted by our mixed-heritage hands, remember stories from our childhoods, and make new memories with our own children.

Despite that my generation already met 40 and waved goodbye to it several years ago, we still go outside to play while the older generation stays inside to talk. We even let the 20-something couple join the fun.

Sometimes we stroll through the hilly pasture to see the ramshackle forts the children built near the creek. In a sporadic tradition, we pile into a few vehicles and drive a couple of miles, then make the short hike to a breathtaking waterfall.

Through it all, we enjoy the outdoors, the indoors, the food, and the family — kind of like Native Americans were doing when they saw the first Europeans step off the ships.

I can’t imagine what it would be like to have someone invade the area and, at their most generous, tell us we had the choice to either adopt their culture and their religion or leave. Feeling less forgiving, they would indiscriminately enslave and kill us.

So, while I cannot regard Thanksgiving like a Pollyanna picking the perfect hue for a coloring book page, I am glad that we have each other and still enjoy and appreciate the land as our ancestors did. I can only hope that it isn’t too optimistic to trust we can learn from history rather than repeating it.

A Dad Who Left Early

We lost a great dad this week. His name was Steve Caffey.

When I first saw Steve, probably at Christmas in 1992, I thought, “Wow, that guy needs to wash his hands.” Then I learned he was a mechanic, and realized he probably had washed them more times that day than I would wash mine in a week.

I also learned that he had a youthful energy many his age could only hope to possess. At family holidays, he constantly interacted with children — his own and others’. He made them smile, and they returned the favor.

When my wife and I had a child of our own, I started understanding Steve a little better — why he rolled around on the floor with the kids, and played peekaboo.

It was because he loved being a dad.

I spent some time with Steve outside family holidays. I saw his Coca-Cola collection and the animal sculptures he created with concrete and incorporated into parts of their fence. I saw cannibalized remains of laptop computers in various states of disrepair.

He always had his hands in something, but there was nothing like watching him under the hood.

The few times I stood watching him work on my car, it was obvious he knew what he was doing. He was skinny, but deceptively strong. He could quickly reach and work on parts when others might have to spend hours clearing a path. He could tell me in about two minutes what was wrong with my car, if that long.

One time I rode in his truck with him to take Stephanie to a friend’s house. He spoke of his colorful past, which I won’t try to repeat here. I’ll just say that we both ended up starting sentences with “back in my day..” and sounded like old men, but his stories were much more interesting than mine.

Through all that, I still feel like I only caught a glimpse of who Steve was. During the last several visits to Tulsa, I didn’t see him, but I saw his and Johnna’s children. When they were babies I wasn’t very interested, but now they’ve become some of my favorite folks, always warm and welcoming.

Just like Steve.

Update:
His children have set up a site to raise money for the funeral services. If you can help at all, it would be hugely appreciated.
http://www.gofundme.com/basvmw