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When They're Too Little

My son's first skin graft.

One Sunday afternoon in April, my son took part in some casual dirt bike riding. A six-year old with a few miles under his belt on a 50cc Honda. A new chapter in our lives, a father-son bonding moment, mentally recorded to look back on and say, "This. This is why I wanted to have kids." To experience the amazing things we have in this world and to do as many as we possibly can while we're able.

I was able to ride a dirt bike when I was a kid. A loaned bike from a family friend. My parents property was huge; a long gravel driveway set amongst grass covered hills and jumps that my bicycle surely flew off of with gusto. To not have to pedal up all those grass covered hills, a motorcycle was something that immediately had it's hooks in me. Our trial was short lived with mechanical problems and we delivered the bike back to it's owner.

When my father-in-law offered to buy our son his first dirt bike, a gesture with rock solid foothold in his own child hood, I graciously agreed to accept. I was weary of my son's cautiousness and I wanted to not try to build up the experience as the best thing ever. Was happy to get the bike, but we never instilled motorcycles in him to the point he would jump up and down upon getting his own. If fact, he was down right timid to get on it and was even worried about his first time. That first time consisted of me pushing the bike up and down the street in front of our house to make sure he knew how to use a hand brake lever.

The first lesson went about as well as I could have hoped. He was scared of the engine and the bike's tendency to jump in first gear with even the slightest throttle movement, something I hadn't noticed testing the bike's throttle limiter with my hefty 220 lbs. I'm not even sure the engine noticed his 40 pound frame. The most we got of the bike all winter was me pulling him around in the snow on a sled tied to the back of the bike. At least, if all attempts failed, we had this seasonal, super expensive downhill sledding simulator.

It wasn't until we visited a friends wide open farm that he got his taste for the life on two wheels. He had completely reverted from our progress in our small back yard and was tip toeing around. I was perfectly happy to do this as long as he wanted, but when the bike started to roll down hill on its own and it clicked in his head to use the throttle, I never thought we'd get him off until it ran out of gas.

Our dirt bike riding time had gotten him up to second gear (which I had to shift into for him because of the laborious articulation of the shifter), him leaning into turns with no fear of falling, and correcting turns and lean angles with the throttle. So I gave only slight pause when sending him and our neighbor's kid up around a grove of trees three-hundred yards away, out of sight and sound. The boys had become separated in their second lap of the circle and when I sent him off by himself to catch up...

I don't think it was until the catch phrase even entered my mind that I really started to guilt trip myself into believing that had I had been there close by, the bike wouldn't have rested it's weight and hot muffler guard on my son's leg. His extra thick pants and boots protecting him from scratches and broken bones weren't enough for the heat put on to his lower leg. He was in a lot of pain. In all my years of riding I've yet to be inducted into the wide open club of Ankle Burners. Now, my six year old is waiting for me to have my turn.

Hindsight is 20/20.

I think that term was made up just to torment parents into over protecting their kids. I totally hated myself driving him home from the university hospital, 40 minutes away, at 11:30pm on a school night. He was asleep with a bag of McDonald's french fries in his lap and lemonade in his cup holder. The only difference with any other late night as that we had sat in the ER for 6 hours, seen 8 different ER employees and were told that his third degree burn would probably need a skin graft.

This is not brain surgery. He doesn't have cancer. He wasn't diagnosed with a god given disease. He was out of my sight for 30 seconds and I failed him as a father. I know I'm being horribly hard on myself, but the guilt is real. It's a weight that needs to be shed, because it's really just like the time we took him to the hospital for that other thing that happened. It will also be like the next time he does that thing we told him ten times not to do. And it could have been exactly like that time I did when I was a kid on that dirt bike we borrowed from a family friend.

When my neighbor joked with my son about it being time to return the bike back to the store, just hours after the accident in the field, he smiled at us and shook his head, fully getting the joke and letting us know that there was no way we were getting rid of his bike.

The Pre-Nostalgic Post

Watching the last half of Star Wars was everything I had hoped it would be; I'll now be able to remember all of his questions and excitement and worry by rewatching it and remembering him sitting beside me with his crossed legs and clasped hands together. He's really back into watching movies and I'm glad the Star Wars movies are something I can pass along to him. The good guys and the bad guys and "RD2".






Know When To Fold 'Em

It was a surprise to receive a request to go to McDonald's for food when, in fact, we're pretty sure he's never seen a McDonald's commercial (yes, really), doesn't remember ever being in a place called McDonald's, and had either of the previous statements been true, would not want to go there to eat things.

But some kid wouldn't let him play with their Skylanders toy.

Puzzle solved.

So for dinner he requested the chicken nuggets of the clown variety and I, thinking to myself that I knew better, obliged, but with a few rules in tow. Water apparently plays a huge role in his efforts to down food he knows he does not want. Sip after sip, washing down bits of chicken delivered by an unsteady hand, he managed to get through an entire ten percent of one nugget. Honestly, folks, it was amazing. If you had filmed just his upper body when he wasn't eating and my face when he was, you might think it was a documentary about removing splinters. He shuddered and put his head in his hand, resting on the table.

While he did find a new love for their fries (and not many people do), we packed up his Skylanders toy which I refused to give him on account that he didn't actually eat anything. The conference drive home ended with him giving me all his LEGO money to pay for the toy. When I then refused to take $0.50 for my troubles and for having to down two hamburgers myself that weren't sitting two well at the time, I made him his real dinner. After having snuck a snack while I was away and then also not eating any of the real dinner, I'd had enough.

I then continued my original plans for the evening of packing up all his old Thomas toys to try to sell again. Having potential buyers made it even easier to let the past wash away and focus on something I'm very passionate about: throwing things away. My first mistake was to ask him if there were any that he wanted to hold onto as a memento of his favorite childhood toys. It wasn't until I was setting up the third playset back in his room that I realized that this entire evening wasn't going my way.

My second favorite passion of cleaning and organizing took over to make room for the new old stuff again. The last few bits of LEGOs were going into sandwich bags and I finally couldn't keep it locked up any more. I broke.

All the parental note comparisons and advice offerings, all the ideals and hopes and dreams of being a parent, and all the moulds I wanted to stuff him into for his well being were fracturing apart and falling into the ocean like a glacier's crevasses splitting apart while they swallowed me whole.

When you are a parent and your child tells you that he didn't mean to let you down and disappoint you because he had a potty accident during nap time at school again or didn't eat chicken nuggets or stole a granola bar when you weren't looking or got sentimental over his old toys, you really have to reevaluate yourself. The fun was completely zapped from the night. We hugged it out. We said our apologies. We promised each other to do better.

Then he said, while having his chocolate milk and Sprout channel before bed, "Daddy, you know what I really want? Ball Pets. Daddy? Daddy!?"

That was the commercial that was on.

I Walked Away

I love kids.

I enjoy everyone's kids.

My outlook on kids in public is almost like driving around the farms in the county and seeing newborn (and sometimes even being born!) baby animals. There all adorable. Their either doing cute things or doing bad things, which are still cute, because they are just thinking to themselves, "Hey, I'm doing this thing!"

I also know that kids can be dirty, undermining, devious little creatures, that use all their energy to focus their little one-track-minds on that one thing you don't want them to do. As a parent on the other side, I still think it's cute. But I've never wanted to step in and correct someone until today.

A small child kicked over someone's bottle of water and the mother rightly grabbed him away and told him to sit down. Then, the up-until-now, curious, chatty two-year-old blew up. Obvious to me, he was bored, looking for something to do while she waited on his older brother to finish what he was doing. Instead of engaging the now upset kid, she stood and waited and did things on her phone. He cried. He coughed and choked on his crying. He cried some more. Mom fussed with her even younger one. He sat and cried and reached and cried.

I finally had to walk away fifteen minutes later. After restraining myself from not engaging the kid on my own and possibly offending her, I decided that asking her to fix the situation because of the annoying sound her meat balloon was making might also offend her and I walked away instead.

Why?

If this was happening in an office or in a movie theater or a classroom or a waiting room, people would stare and judge and hopefully, silently, get their point across. Why didn't participate in the village raising the child and interrupt the "punishment" in order to keep my sanity?

I guess the world will never know.

Our Foray Into Sports

Up until now most of our activities our son has taken part in have been solo sort of affairs like swimming, dance classes, playing the bath tub; the kind of activities that you really always come out the winner (unless you splash water out of that tub, which is a total fail).

Soccer was the first activity that massaged the you've-got-that-and-I-want-it region of his brain. I took turns with him kicking the ball and playing goalie, whereas other kids his age all want to take turns at the same time. It was tough going at first, but since most of the games involved stealing "dragon eggs" from the coaches or telling the kids it's okay to knock over things with the ball, we didn't have too many problems with crying over spilled orange cones.

*Please remember, future coaches of children: the lessons you teach follow them home. Orange cones exist spiritually in every object in the house. But I digress.

After two seasons of mini-kickers camp, I asked him if wanted to play real soccer, a question I had asked many times before. This time, he assured me that since he wasn't three any more, he was okay getting the ball taken away from him. I tend to believe him when he phrases things like that, even though if the major condition is met, it's completely optional every day.

I couldn't have been more proud though, when he got to practice today and kept up his spirits up and down the field as the mass of spinning, kicking children averaged the ball toward one goal or another. He had a really good time, actually kicked a goal or two (I was too far away to confirm the second one), and, like his father before him, ran the ball all the way down the field, by himself, in the wrong direction.

One of my hang ups with team sports is the hatred of aggressive sports parents. I don't quite understand how you can stand on the side lines and yell at your kids unless they are cheating or eating a sandwich while the game is going on. I've seen parents jump out of their pants to yell at their kids (she literally couldn't keep her jeans up). While we've paid a decent amount of money for him to play with this organization that kids in other countries play with balled up clothes in dirt streets with no shoes, I would never yell at him for doing it badly while trying his best. I should probably spend some time and consider what my actions might be if I run into a parent like that. I imagine that, like one of my friends does, I'll just get up and walk away from the field.