Sunday, July 29, 2012

The kids get bigger, and so do the questions

I love this picture our friend David Andrews (genius) took of my Ben and me. This image speaks to everything I want to be to my boys: a welcoming place to lean, a safe territory from which consider what's out there.

Ben won't fit much longer, though, into that curve where my hip becomes my waist. His older brother is already way too tall for this, and too cool. And I know my opportunities to keep them safe are limited and quickly diminishing.

Today's column in the Times Free Press is a rumination on the challenges of telling my boys difficult truths without making the world seem a terrifying place. And letting them know they'll always have someone to talk to about all of it.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Crazy, stupid fun

So there is this thing about kids that you may or may not know: They are unbelievably, mind-bendingly, laugh-out-loud-until-your-sides-ache-and-you-truly-almost-can't-breathe FUN.

A caveat, though. I don't mean little kids. Toddlers. Babies. Even pre-schoolers. Noooooo thank you to the tantrums and the diapers and the sticky Cheerios and the whiiiiiiiiiining. That's not what I'm talking about at all.

I'm talking about this right here:

How YOU doin'?

These handsome fellows are 12 (Jack in the driver's seat) and 7 (Ben riding shotgun) and dear gah my lawd good grief no one ever even began to prepare me for how much freaking FUN it is to have these half-grown people in my house every day.

So, of course, because they are so much fun, I am busy dreading the day they leave me and I no longer have a license to, for example, ask strangers if we can take pictures of their totally badass cars.

That ride pictured above is a Shelby 289 Continuation Cobra, I am authoritatively told. The sight of it parked at a gas station on Hixson Pike last weekend inspired my (King of Fun) husband to shriek (in a manly way, I assure you) and execute a deft U-turn. Then he and the boys spent 20 minutes chatting up the owner and shooting pictures in and around the car.

"Thanks so much for putting up with this," I said to the grinning owner, as I waited for all of this to be over so we could just go to the damn pool, already.

"I just think it's so awesome how much they love it," he said, laughing and watching the boys mug it up for their dad.

See, this is the kind of thing that kids make it completely OK to do. If Jim and I had been rolling along alone, stopping to talk to that guy and take pictures of his car would have been lame bordering on creepy. But the KIDS love it and everyone loves to see kids getting such a thrill out of something.

This has been the Summer of the Car. My husband, who was a mechanical engineer and car enthusiast in a past life, has taken the kids on a test drive in a Dodge Challenger, and to showrooms to visit and sit in an Audi R8 V-10, a Nissan GTR and a Porsche 911 Carrera. (None of this means a thing to me, by the way. Jim just dictated and I typed.)

Also, while we were in Florida in June, Jack spotted a Ferrari 458 Spider so, naturally, we had to drive down the street after it and force the owner to endure the onslaught of slavering adoration from the three Fortune boys.

Hey, kids, that car costs more than our house. Don't scratch it.

But the Summer of the Car is just one example in the big pile of fun stuff we get away with because we have kids. There are the cartoons we get to watch and the long days just hanging out at the pool doing nothing and the drive-in where we throw blankets on the grass and watch the latest animated brilliance from Pixar. 

There are trips to Target for the sole purpose of looking for new Pokemon cards and bike rides and nature walks and SO MUCH CAKE and end-of-the-school-year trips to Lake Winnepesaukah, where we ride the Scrambler and the Cannonball and the Ferris wheel.

There's also this right here:

Getting ready for the neighborhood Fourth of July parade. That's
our mailman, Gary, who leads the parade every year.

Every year, our neighborhood puts on a big old Fourth of July parade and pool party, and every year we decorate everything and participate. 

The kids get a ridiculous thrill out of the whole thing, and we get a ridiculous thrill out of watching their ridiculous thrill. Left to our own devices, I am pretty sure Jim and I would just sleep in. But we are in the driveway at 9 a.m. every Fourth, tying flags and sparkly crap to the kids' bikes and scooters. It is, as I believe I mentioned, really freaking fun.

A friend of ours recently theorized that this is why grandparents get such a kick out of grandkids. It's a repeat performance of the fun. Because we all know there will come a day (oh gah, so soon) when our boys will be too big and too cool and too busy to spend their days at the pool with us or go on scavenger hunts for awesome cars. They will want some money and the car keys and for us to quit worrying when they get home so late. We will have years of teenagers and young adults, and I am sure that is fun in its own way. 

But, really, no I'm not. Because I was not a fun teenager or young adult. I was an asshole. My parents endured some truly unfun years, and I bet we're in for at least some of the same. 

But right now is pretty much perfect. Right now is our reward for the years we spent wiping noses and bottoms and enduring fussy, nap-fighting toddlers who could not be induced to stop squalling. Our boys are fun and funny and full of ideas and energy and they adore each other and us (and by us I mean their dad, but dammit, I am part of the package and they have to put up with me).

Ben and Jack at the pool. Having fun.

And I'm not saying that adults unaccompanied by minors are not allowed to do all this fun stuff. I mean, sure, we can go to the pool and the drive-in and I guess we could even accost strangers and talk to them about their cars. We could watch cartoons and visit theme parks. I guess.

But, I have to tell you, the idea of doing any of that without the pleasure of watching my boys enjoy it holds zero appeal. None whatsoever. Their fun makes our fun. Seeing the world through their eyes has been one of the greatest privileges of parenting.

Well, that, and getting to see a Ferrari 458 Spider in real life. That was pretty rad, too.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Our fountain of youth

The Stuart Heights pool is the center of our summers, and has been for years. For more than a decade, we've forged friendships from the deck chairs and on the diving boards. Between Memorial Day and Labor Day each year, you can bet there's a swimsuit and towel in my car so I can go at a moment's notice -- after work, after drinks, before dinner, all day, all weekend.

My kids' memories of their growing-up summers will smell like chlorine and taste like freeze pops. This column is just a drop in the deep end of our shared affection for that place.

Ben (up high), Jack and their buddy Max. (As mom reclines
and chats with her buddy in the background.)

Jack dives into summer.