HPR Dispatches

A home for my old stuff from the High Plains Reader Wellness Blog

Running For Our Lives

Welcome to the Daddy Dispatch, the premier column for stay-at-home dads in the Red River Valley.  My wife Nelly and I switched roles several months ago when she took a full-time job, so now I get to do dishes, change diapers, and plan meals. I am having the time of my life, and our little family is thriving. Nelly is enjoying the professional world, Baby Boots is walking and talking up a storm, and I have taken up jogging and re-discovered my love of juggling.

As I admitted a moment ago, I have become one of them, a runner.  Nelly even bought me a new pair of running shoes for Father’s Day to seal the deal.  Baby Boots and I are now able to load up the jogger stroller in North Moorhead, cross the Main Avenue bridge within fifteen minutes, and find ourselves deep in the heart of Lindenwood Park twenty minutes later.

Despite all of the nasty things I may have said about runners over the years, there are all kinds of advantages for a daddy on the run.  First off, babies like motion.  As long as Baby Boots is going somewhere, he’s not going crazy.

The next big plus is that we can easily hit three or four parks in an afternoon as our range has been extended big-time.  Our natural habitat now stretches from the toll bridge in the north to I-94 in the south, and spans both downtowns in their entirety.

Finally, there are the personal advantages to literally running around town. I have lost twenty-five pounds and saved hundreds of dollars in gasoline over the last few months.

Have you noticed that gasoline costs more than it used to?  Have you noticed that your pants don’t quite fit like they used to? You can solve both problems by literally running errands!  If we all pitch in and do our part we can slow down and possibly even reverse global waistline expansion.  After all, we’re not just running for the heck of it, we are running for our lives.

July 18, 2008

Reflections From The Pool

What could be more summertime than an afternoon at the pool?  Growing up in rural North Dakota, my brothers and I spent entire summers at our community pool.  We would walk barefoot over the railroad tracks, past the grain elevator, past the Ford garage, and into the sparkling blue paradise of the Hatton pool.

After several hours of swimming, dunking, and diving, the draconian whistle-wielding teenagers would call the dreaded Break Time, and we would be forced to the concrete to first shiver then warm in the sun.

The lifeguards were kids too, of course, but we didn’t know that. They were the authority figures with zinc oxide noses, and had the power to kick kids out for the day (or the entire summer for particularly heinous offenses). I was never kicked out since I appeared to be a good kid, but you should know, O Reader, that I lit the fuses of my share of smoke bombs in those days.

Friendships were forged, girls were impressed, and time was wasted. The summer stretched out ahead of us like a prairie horizon, with school and its responsibilities barely visible in the distance. We would have to leave when the pool closed and go home for supper, but we would return for several hours in the evening and could look forward to swimming lessons the next morning.

Oh halcyon day of youth, where hast thou gone?  Oh. Here you are. We get to do it again, only this time, I’m the authority figure; telling Baby Boots to kick kick kick, showing him how to blow bubbles, and dunking him when the lifeguards aren’t looking.  I would hate to get kicked out for the summer.

July 22, 2008

The Daddy Revolution

Back when my parents were kids, and your parents were kids, things were a bit different.  Oh boy, you may be thinking, here we go again with the “Back in my day” crap.  Well let’s get one thing straight, Buster.  I’d like to talk to you about Title IX athletics, baby changing stations in men’s restrooms, and the glass ceiling in corporate America.  Still with me?  Cool.

Back when my parents were kids and your parents were kids, the number of girls involved in athletics paled in comparison to the number of boys participating in organized sports.  Conventional Wisdom held that girls were too delicate and dainty to get their hands dirty, and besides, somebody might get hurt!  Well along comes Title IX legislation in the 70’s and pushes CW on his ass.  The percentage of girls participating in sports has exploded, of course, since the metaphorical playing field has been leveled.  Granted, there have been myriad problems with implementing Title IX, often involving financial pain in the name of fair play, but it is difficult to argue with the positive results.

We now have girls’ hockey, girls’ volleyball, and girls’ softball teams.  Young women compete as wrestlers, discus throwers, and cross-country runners.  In the process of living up to Title IX, we have given generations of young women the self esteem and confidence to compete in the workforce and to enjoy healthier, happier lives.

So what does this have to do with baby changing stations in men’s rooms?  Informal polls taken by asking women and poking my head into ladies’ rooms (after knocking of course) reveal a clear gender bias when it comes to baby changing stations.  Conventional Wisdom, that many headed beast, roars that this is obviously because more women take care of children than men, so there should be three times as many changing stations for women as for men.  You’re way ahead of me, O Reader, so I won’t belabor the point, but I will say that I believe our institutions must reflect our ideals, and this goes for bathrooms as well as athletic departments.

I am certainly not demanding that we introduce legislation to mandate quotas of parity, I am simply suggesting that there is some truth in that Iowan mantra, “If you build it, they will come.”  Ok, ok, so it’s a stretch, but let’s say you buy the argument that if men are institutionally encouraged to take a more active role in parenting, they will choose to do so in overwhelming numbers.  So what’s in it for me?

One of the reasons most often cited for the glass ceiling effect on women’s wages is that women are wont to disappear for several years to rear those pesky uneducated future workers known as babies.  The corporate ladder often does not reach as high, because many women hop off a rung and start again at the same rung or lower a few years later.  Now let’s say that current trends continue, and more and more men opt to spend time with their young families rather than racing rats in cubicle warrens.  This not only means that more men get to experience the chaotic peace of being a full time parent, but it means that the fairer sex gets a fairer shot at success in the world of work.  The glass ceiling will be blown off the penthouse when male CEO’s start taking three years off to raise their children, and twenty-something men work nights and weekends so that their wives can pursue their career goals.

Plus it’s a ton of fun to goof off all day.

August 2, 2008

Romancing The Sphere

Contact Juggling – Contact Juggling (also known as Dynamic Manipulation, Sphereplay, Orb Rolling, etc) is a relatively new form of juggling where balls are rolled over the hands and body instead of tossing them in the air. Source:ContactJuggling.Org

Have you ever met someone in a chance encounter and couldn’t wait to see her again?  You know, like when you find out that you have something in common with someone that is so rare that you never expect to find another person who shares your unique talent?  Nelly and I were in Moorhead’s Gooseberry Park in mid-June when I glanced to my right and saw that the gods of coincidence had smiled upon me yet again.  Not ten feet away was something I had never before seen in the flesh, a fellow contact juggler.  Nelly noticed my excitement and whispered “go”, in response to my nonverbal query.

“I’m a contact juggler, too,” I declared by way of introduction.  We exchanged meaningful glances and wordlessly walked to his equipment bag full of juggling kit and caboodle.

Nelly and Baby Boots looked on as Ashraf and I showed our stuff to ascertain where we stood on the juggler’s continuum.  There are always two, a master and an apprentice, and it was clear that I would be the apprentice.  My cup ranneth over, my heart sung with delight, and for the first time in my limited experience of juggling in public we had begun to attract a crowd.

Families looked on from the playground, small children stared, and that magical demographic came right up and joined us, the Junior High Kids.  The Junior High Kid retains the natural curiosity of the child combined with the boldness of an adult.  In addition, the Junior High Kid has not yet been robbed of her sense of wonder, though the jaded teenager who waits in the wings may grow to fear rejection, peer judgment, and not being the coolest one in the room.

They practiced with us, and we passed on knowledge and encouragement while exchanging information regarding the local contact juggling community.  As far as we could tell, it was us.

Ashraf described his run-ins with the police and local media last year while contact juggling in downtown Fargo, and I emphasized over and again that I am out running around town with Baby Boots nearly every day and that I couldn’t wait to meet up again to absorb new tricks and share in the joy of rolling translucent spheres on one’s hands, arms, and body.

After an immeasurable amount of time spent juggling around my permanent grin, Nelly reminded me that we should probably get home to begin the baby bedtime process.  I gave Ashraf my information and made sure he understood that I would be awaiting his call in the near future.

Where are you, my almost friend?

Baby Boots is my apprentice, as we juggle our way through the Fargo and Moorhead park districts, but I am hungry to learn more, to know a master who will bring me to the next level, who will teach me the art of palmspinning and will prove to me once and for all that manipulating objects is more worthy than manipulating people.  If you’re out there, call me.

-Jilted Juggler in Moorhead, Minn.

August 5, 2008

What’s Your Sign, Baby?

Baby Boots has been telling us when it is time to eat since he was thirteen months old.  He soon learned to tell us whether he wanted milk or water, and now he says thank you when you hand him the ball or the cat, or whatever it is that he needs most at that particular moment in time.  He tells us all of this and more despite not being able to pronounce many of these words.  This is possible because he is talking with his hands by using American Sign Language (ASL).

Why teach ASL to babies?  Why not teach them a more common second language such as Spanish?  It turns out that a child’s ability to speak lags developmentally behind his ability to understand the concepts represented by speech.  By enabling a baby to “talk” using ASL, you can avoid a lot of the frustration of not knowing what your child is upset about or what she needs.  The internet is crawling with information to help you teach your child to sign and videos are available on YouTube and at your local library.

We started when he spoke his first words sometime around his eighth month by teaching him the signs for “mama” and “dada”.  Next on the list were signs to eat food and drink milk, and additional signs have been added slowly as his world expands.  Eventually I plan to teach Baby Boots the signs for bunt, steal, and swing away, but for now it is more important to work on cracker, cheese, and bath time.

Baby Boots now communicates several different ways, he may sign a word that is difficult to pronounce, he might sign and say the word at the same time, or he may just say it out loud without using his hands at all.  “What a little genius!” some might say.  I have a hard time disagreeing, but you should know that he didn’t sign back to us until about five months after the signing started, while I seem to pick it up with no trouble at all.

August 17, 2008

The Way Through Is Around

Avoiding the trains in our neighborhood can be a bit tricky, but with a little perseverance and an adventurous spirit, we have found some stroller-friendly ways to navigate the gauntlet that is the BNSF.  The trick is to take advantage of the web of parks and bridges, and to remember that the way through is often around.

Since I refuse to wait with a jogger stroller in the human cages next to the banging clanging tintinnabulation of the railroad cross arms, I have been forced to find alternatives.  The bike paths along the Red River provide us with peace, wildlife sightings (see the duck?  The duck says “quack”) and the chance to play my favorite Fargo-Moorhead game, Say Hi to Strangers.

F’n M’rs take pride in their friendliness and it shows.  Ok, so having a cute one year old helps, but I have been impressed with our encounters with local folks, and their shocking willingness to engage in social behavior.  Sure there are exceptions, like the young woman with the ipod and the darting eyes, and the serious runner who is clearly too out of breath to say “hello” and who would crash to the ground if a hand raised in greeting should break his stride, but F’n M’rs are good people, and we are not too busy to be nice.  Usually.

August 26, 2008

Fish Out Of Water

I killed him.  He was a member of our little family for three years, and we took him out just like that.  What am I going to tell Baby Boots?

Oscar was an oscar cichlid, a tiger oscar to be precise, and he was one mean, ugly moody, tough, beautiful fish.  He used to jump up out of the tank to snatch cichlid pellets from my fingers (when I was brave enough to wait until the last possible second).  Oscar would gobble up live feeder goldfish as a treat every month or so, gorging on the first half dozen then taking his time picking the rest off one by one over a period of weeks.  I like to think he enjoyed the company.

A friend gave him to us with the idea that we would be able to take better care of the fish than he could, and we were happy to welcome him into our lives.  He was an almost alien presence, a fish that had grown from six to thirteen inches under our care, and for a year in Minneapolis he had an entire entryway to himself.  Visitors to our home would often love or hate him on sight.  Oscar was that kind of fish.

Here in Moorhead, Baby Boots learned to make fish lips and point to Oscar.  Boots had recently been reaching up with both hands, grabbing the top edges of the fish tank, and attempting to do pull-ups, so I would rush across the room to save him from the snapping jaws of our ferocious pet.  Saying “bye-bye” to Oscar was a consistent part of our bedtime routine of carrying Baby around and saying goodnight to things.  What will I tell him when he asks?

Oscar had been sick for some time, and our attempts at treatment had failed.  Oscar’s fate was sealed one night when he flipped out as Nelly and I watched in horror, ramming himself violently into his tank decorations.  His left eye had been bulging grotesquely from his head as part of his overall malaise, and he had taken it upon himself to relieve the pressure in his now-blind eye.  Oscar ripped the eye open and it bled into the tank.

Soon, he stopped eating altogether, and we began to discuss what the fish would want.  We decided on the process, said the necessary words, and killed him.  The tears came as soon as the methods of culling and disposal had been decided, and they have not yet left me.  Nelly and I have discarded all of Oscar’s earthly possessions, and do not intend to buy another fish in the near future.  There is a large empty place in our living room, and Baby Boots will wake up soon.

My wife mentioned before Oscar was gone that we weren’t really crying for him, we were crying for us.  Although one year olds have limited experience with the concept of death, they understand “bye-bye” very well.  “Oscar went bye-bye”, I’ll say.  “Bye-bye?” Boots will wonder.  He will think about it for a moment, accept the news, and deal with it as simply as possible.

“Bye-bye fish.  Bye-bye.”

September 8, 2008

Nursing Persons Report

Many new parents agonize over the decision, but we decided early on that our baby was going to breastfeed. We decided that of the two of us my wife was better equipped for the job, and we even agreed on a timeline for withdrawal. If Baby Boots didn’t decide to pull the plug earlier, we would cut him off at eighteen months.  Here we are at the appointed hour, and I am pleased to report that Baby Boots has filed his final nursing persons report.

He would accept a pinky finger from me in the first few weeks, but rejected it as a terrible source of nourishment before long.  I quickly learned how to sing and rock and perform deep knee bends and dozens of other little tricks that might, just maybe, possibly calm my crying baby. It is not an exact science, but certain combinations of thinking good thoughts and singing and moving in a soothing manner occasionally will calm a baby who awakens in the middle of the night.  Sometimes.

It can be frustrating to be the father of a breastfed baby. Being able to write your name in the snow is no match for the ability to take a screaming baby situation from Red Alert to All Is Well within five seconds.  “If only I had boobs!” I would cry as my wife instantly silenced the maelstrom, transforming the piercing wails into soft suckling sounds of contentment.

There are certain areas where biology trumps the doctrine of gender equality, and the ability to provide milk to our young is a biggie.  On the one hand, I am relieved that I am now on equal footing as far as caring for our baby goes, and on the other hand, something precious and sweet has been lost.  My wife was a bit put out that our little one took the end of nursing so well, and I can understand why. Nelly got to share so many special moments with baby, and this is the end of one of the most fulfilling experiences of her life.

September 9, 2008

Trailer Trouble

Man rose up on his hind legs, walked, ran, invented the wheel, and eventually the bicycle. It was only a matter of time before the stroller gave way to evolutionary pressure.

Despite my concerns regarding safety, Nelly convinced me it was time for us to invest in a bicycle trailer for our little family. We would not only extend our engine-free range, but we would also add enough capacity to haul up to one hundred pounds of groceries. Sold!

Dylan (aka Baby Boots), our eighteen month old son, hated his new bicycle helmet and screamed the entire time he was buckled into the trailer. This lasted for two days, until Boots fell in love with his buggy.

He now gets excited and assumes we are going for a bike ride every time we open the garage door, saying “Helm, helm, buckle?” in wide-eyed anticipation.

We loaded up the trailer and set out on an adventure into North Fargo the other day, making sure to pack a poncho due to the threatening clouds of rain.  We crossed the toll bridge (bikes ride free!), made our way through Trefoil Park, and continued north to Trollwood.

My son spotted the playground equipment and it was on like Donkey Kong. We played for an hour in the lightest of rains, and had a great time running and exploring the park that I remember most from my childhood visits to Fargo.  A few sprinkles were not about to dampen our fun, but once it began to really pound down on the yellow brick road it was time to head for home.

Donning my poncho and an attitude of perseverance, I began pedaling into the wind and rain. Things were going well until they started to go wrong. Then they got worse.

We were near Longfellow Elementary School when a solar-powered crosswalk light caught my eye and I started thinking long thoughts about how we are all pulling together and will surely find our way out of the energy crisis wilderness.

Some of us are choosing to live closer to our jobs, utilizing public transportation, or downsizing to more fuel efficient cars. Others are thinking bigger by working on long term solutions such as an electric grid powered largely by renewable and clean energy sources.  And here was a solar powered crosswalk light next to an elementary school, a powerful symbol of positive change in my mind.

A car sped toward us, and then ominously slowed down. “Why don’t you get on the fu*king sidewalk!” yelled a young motorist out of his passenger side window. I saw red and gestured for him to pull over so that I could explain exactly why I was not “on the fu*king sidewalk”. Luckily he was not actually interested in my response, which would almost certainly have been of the nonverbal variety.  Anger obscured my reason as jumbled thoughts raced through my now mostly useless brain.

How could he not understand the threat that my rig would pose to pedestrians on the sidewalk? How could he not see that he was supporting terrorism and the destruction of our environment by not riding a bicycle himself?

Even with the bicycle trailer attached, I take up about half the width of a parked car on the side of the road, and I doubt that this counterrevolutionary young man bothers to roll down his windows in the pouring rain to yell at all the parked cars that are in his way.

“What about generational accountability?” I thought. “I refuse to pass on the true cost of my lifestyle to my child as previous generations have done. The buck stops here!”

Up ahead I saw the bike trail and fumed that I would gladly ride in a dedicated bike lane if one were available, but of course that would cost taxpayer funds that are needed to build new roads for new developments that are so far from existing infrastructure that Lance Armstrong would not be able to bike to work.

I was thinking so quickly and angrily that I misjudged my approach to the trail. One wheel of the buggy slammed into the curb, flipping the trailer on its side.  I jumped off the bike and righted the trailer in the time it took my heart to start beating again. Baby was safe and secure in his five point harness, and did not seem to be aware that his daddy had screwed up big time.

Clarity returned and the folly of my rage was revealed. I told him that I was sorry, that it was my fault, and that I would be more careful next time. Dylan signed and said “All done,” and I agreed, wishing that it were true.

The rain slowed and then stopped as we pedaled back into Trefoil Park. The sun peeked through the clouds. A smile spread across my face.

Storms they come and go, as
Summer turns to fall and
Though the light shines not as bright the
Sunshine warms us all.

September 13, 2008

Medical Mix-up

We just got home from a doctor appointment at which my nineteen month old toddler was given a tetanus shot by mistake. Uh-oh.

There is a stereotype about full-time fathers that pops up from time to time that characterizes us as incompetent, bumbling fools (think Michael Keaton in “Mr. Mom”). Like many other stereotypes, this one forces the group in question to work that much harder to overcome the misperception.

When I found out that Dylan had a medical appointment, I really tried hard to nail it. My wife usually takes care of the medical side of our lives, and this would be my chance to prove that I could handle navigating the tricky terrain of childhood immunization schedules. As many of you know, childhood vaccinations are a controversial issue due to the potential side effects. Since their inception, vaccines have met with resistance from groups of people who believe that the risks of vaccination to the individual outweigh the benefits.

After much research and consideration, Nelly and I made the decision to immunize our baby, but to attempt to spread out the battery of childhood vaccinations as much as possible and to eliminate any that we felt were superfluous in order to minimize the risks to our child.

Today, my job was to make sure that our doctor knew that we were concerned about these issues and we prefer to vaccinate only when necessary. Our doctor recommended four shots, but after I explained our needs and described our toddler’s reaction to the last round of shots he dropped the count to two. Dylan was to receive an MMR (Measles Mumps Rubella) and a DTaP (Diphtheria, Tetanus, and acellular Pertussis). My wife was also acellular, as she had accidentally left her phone on the table as she left for work.

The doctor left the room, and five minutes later the nurse who had weighed and measured Dylan arrived to administer the shots. Dylan cried, but seemed fine as the nurse filled in the information in our immunization record. Dylan was offered a sticker on the way out, but I gave him two since he was such a brave and good little boy.

We stopped for gasoline on our way back home and I decided we would swing by the library to deliver my wife’s phone and to give Dylan a chance to see his mom and tell her about the new “owies” on his leg. I was feeling on top of the world and proud about how well I had handled this important task until I told my wife what shots had been given.

Nelly’s jaw dropped and we started calling the doctor’s office. It turns out that Dylan had received the DTaP shot at his last appointment in June, and that the next booster should not have been given until his fifth birthday. Uh-oh.

We called the Minnesota public health nurse while waiting for the doctor to return our phone calls and were relieved to find out that our baby was most likely going to be ok. When the doctor finally did call me back, he also felt that things were going to be fine. Our doctor thought that Dylan might have a reaction and that we should administer children’s ibuprofen for the next twenty-four hours.

Once I was assured that our baby would live, I asked as nicely as I could what went wrong, and how this could have happened. To our doctor’s credit, he admitted that he should have caught the error and that the shot should not have been given. When pressed on how this could happen, the doctor was of the opinion that our choice of a personalized immunization schedule may have thrown him off.

Dylan fell asleep half an hour ago, while I was speaking with our former doctor. He has been crying quite a bit, and walking with a stiff right leg. We will go to pick up some children’s ibuprofen when he wakes up, and I am confident that he will have a rough day or two but will be just fine in the end.

October 7, 2008

“To breed, or not to breed: that is the question”.

Q:  Are children expensive? And if so, are they worth it?

We feel like having children, but don’t yet know how we would buy them clothes or diapers?

How do people afford children???

I don’t understand.

I guess you just buy less stuff for your houses, cars, self, others…right? All for baby?

Tell me how it works!!




A:  RJR,

This is the most important decision you will face in your entire life. You are already way ahead of the game by asking the questions before you are pregnant. Good job.

Children are expensive in nearly the same way that cigarette smoking is expensive. You will prioritize them above all other expenses without even realizing you are doing so. Rather than adding to your total bill, you will find that you have stopped buying soy mocha lattes and that you are still as broke as you remember being before baby was born. On the plus side, you will not actually be smoking cigarettes, which is really a pretty silly thing to do, and smokes are not half as fun to twirl around in circles as little boys.

The good news is that you will have a human life to fill up with all of the good things your parents gave you, as well as whatever wisdom you can scrounge from your own meager twenty-some years of experience on this planet. You will be able to rear a child who is capable of critical thinking during a time when critical thinking will be more critical than we seem to think.


The down side is that you are taking an enormous risk by bringing life into a chaotic world, in which you cannot look your infant in the proportionally large eye and say “I will not let you down.”


P.S. RJR – may I use this question and answer for my column?

October 9, 2008

A Most Memorable Halloween

We threw a party in Northeast Minneapolis in 2005, and it stands in my memory as one of the best parties ever.

My upstairs neighbor Johnny and I built a sort of temporary shelter and spooky beer garden out of giant blue tarps, rope, and various odds and ends.
It was almost complete when we ran into an engineering problem, how to secure a corner of our monstrosity that was nowhere near a fixed structure.  We dragged out my 180 lb. boxing dummy, Slammy, dressed him in a mask and hat, and lashed our ropes to his sturdy frame.

People trickled in for the first few hours, then poured as social circles expanded, contracted, and occasionally combusted.  Introductions flew, booze flowed, and smiles were unmasked.  The variety of ages was astonishing to me; co-workers were talking to rowdy buddies, everyone seemed to get along, and I was free to be that consummate host, Count Dracula.

Sometime around midnight, my brother Jordan showed up in a costume that really ROFL’d my waffles.  He was wearing khakis, a long sleeve casual dress shirt, sideburns, and a fake ponytail.  He was me!  Not only was it very flattering, but also very effective.  My future wife nearly kissed him before she caught on to my brotherly doppelganger’s disguise.

Now that we are married and have a toddler (and closing on our first house today, yay!), our ideas of celebrating Halloween have changed a bit.  We will start moving into our new house today, go trick or treating in the neighborhood, and gorge on candy instead of jello shots.  We are now in a new phase of our lives where we will be unlikely to throw a kegger and invite everyone we know, where we will carve pumpkins instead of smashing them, and we will fall asleep before midnight once in a while.

I think I’ll put a mask on Slammy for old time’s sake.  Happy Halloween!

October 31, 2008

Another One Rides The Bus

Have you noticed that the price of gasoline has dropped lately?  Good, then you do have a pulse.  Even with the price of gas dropping from amazingly to reasonably expensive, the long term rationale for energy conservation remains.  I like to imagine that young master Dylan and I do our part to help out by walking, running, and biking around town whenever possible, yet I had never bothered to catch a ride on the local bus!

We started out by researching the available routes and information at the local transit website, MATBus.Com.

On the first trip we went shopping at some stores along East Highway 10 in Moorhead.  The fare was $1.25 each way (Dylan rides for free, as do all kids up to preschool age).  We were able to get some grocery shopping done, pick up a few pair of socks for the little guy, and pack up all of our loot in the ol’ Daddybag by the time our departing bus arrived (or did the arriving bus depart?).  Our second and third bus adventures to parks and local malls occurred during Try Transit Week (October 20-25) so we paid a total of $.25 each way.  What a deal!

Dylan is a rambunctious toddler, so I was a little apprehensive about how he would behave in a moving vehicle when not strapped down like a racecar driver in his car seat.  It turns out that he loves the bus since there are so many people to look at and windows to look out of, and when things get squirmy we just open up a book and read.  Saying “hi” to strangers may be awkward for adults on the bus, but Dylan doesn’t know any better so he lights up people’s faces with his smiles and uninhibited friendliness.

One of the things I noticed about riding the bus is that it made me feel like a real urban dweller, like I was a part of a bustling city with people of all colors and economic backgrounds.  It gave me a sense of “street cred” that you just can’t get by driving to the store in your four door sedan while listening to NPR.  Now some kinds of gritty I could do without, such as the man who urinated near the front of the bus on one of our trips, but I think that we sometimes lose sight of each other’s humanity and that it is a good thing to get out of your comfort zone and experience reality outside of your own perspective; outside of your own automobile.

Riding the bus also brings a definite sense of “green cred”.  We recently chose to become a one car family and now that the weather has turned cooler I will not be able to run and bike as much as I would like, so we will be using public transportation more often.  According to the Metro Area Transit website, “By eliminating one car in a two-car household, taking public transportation instead of driving can result in a savings of up to 30% of a household’s annual carbon dioxide emissions.”

Saving money is a factor as well; the monthly cost for an unlimited rides bus pass is lower than the monthly liability only insurance bill we were paying for our second car, and spending $50 several times a month to fill up the tank is now a thing of the past.

Gasoline is selling for less than $4 a gallon again, but how much comfort do you take in the lower prices?  When I look into my crystal ball, my toddler’s future does not include driving a gasoline powered automobile.  Dylan will not be driving one hundred and fifty miles a day solo on the interstate to commute to his job.  Our children will have a better way because the ways of the past are no longer sustainable, and there will have to be a better way.

We will not be able to solve our energy and transportation problems overnight, but we can catch a bus once in a while, we can carpool with a neighbor, we can walk to the store.  We can take steps now to make change less painful, and to model sustainable behavior for the next generation.  Yes, we can.

November 4, 2008

Back In The Stroller Again

Extreme cold and toddlers just don’t do well together, it would seem.  We hop in the sled from time to time for a quick ride to a local park, climb some hills, watch some ice skating, then hurry back to the warmth and comforts of home.  Occasionally we will catch a bus to West Acres to play at the Dino Play Land, and at least a few times a week we head to the downtown Fargo YMCA so Dylan can do what he calls “a really very good job playing with other kids” while Daddy exercises.  Then yesterday happened.  The sun was shining, icicles were dripping, and the time was ripe for outdoor adventuring.  We went to our shed, looked at all of our possible modes of transportation and chose the stroller.  Let’s roll.

First stop was the ice skating rinks of Northeast Park in north Moorhead, a really excellent public service for these long cold winters.

Select the Ice Facilities Section for Info

I recall spending many Saturday afternoons in the mid-80’s pretending to play hockey with the other small town kids who were fortunate enough to have a stick and a puck.  Skates seemed to be optional as moon boots would do in a pinch, and we weren’t really a hockey town anyway, more of a baseball burgh.  Moorhead is definitely a hockey town though, as evidenced by the pick up games that seem to materialize anytime the mercury peeks above zero.

Manyways, my little boy Dylan (who is oh so close to two years old now) loves running on the ice and yelling “Oh no!” every time he falls down.  We even found a puck lying on the ice so we practiced kicking it back and forth a bit in between falls.  Trudging through deep snow in his black and orange snowsuit was good fun as well, and it provided an opportunity to teach an important lesson that all northern toddlers must learn at some point.  Don’t eat the yellow snow.  Sure it may not be a great idea to eat any snow at all, but you have to choose your battles as a parent and let the young and the restless play harder than you would like so that they will sleep harder than you dare to hope come nap time.

A few minutes later we were safe at home, parked in the long icy driveway, but as I went to unbuckle my charge he let me know that he wanted “more ride”.  So let it be done.

Nostalgia washed over me in waves as we jogged the city streets, and I thought back to my first tentative attempts at full time parenting nearly a year ago.  So much has changed for my boy (and me) in that amount of time, yet here we were out pounding the pavement again, just two guys on the town with nothing but time and gloves on our hands.  We hit a slight bump in the sidewalk and young Dylan cried out.  “What’s wrong?” I asked, then my sense memory kicked in and I knew what had happened, he was falling asleep in the stroller!  I headed for home at a moderate pace, and carried my bundle of peace inside and up the stairs.  Like a cautious Jenga player I removed his boots, laid him down, and unzipped his jacket.

I can’t wait for the next beautiful day.  Who knows, we may be over the hump and headed for an early spring!  They say there is no good without the bad, no gain without pain, no growth without change.  One thing is for sure, a thirty-five degree day feels great in February, not so much in June.

February 6, 2009

Cash And The Changeling Coloring Book

Young Cash Brandon was a different sort of boy, in several different sorts of ways.  For one thing, he was a very dark boy, both in coloring and in temperament, and prone to long silences.  His dark brown hair was liable to cover his eyes or his ears or both if not pushed back with a hurried hand, and although he wore plenty of red shirts and white socks he was bound to be described as the “boy in black” by anyone familiar with his appearance.

Another difference between Cash and the other four year olds of the neighborhood was that Cash had learned to read at a young age, and had an astonishing vocabulary for a pre-schooler.  When his father came back from a long sales trip for example, young Cash might say “Hello Father, I trust you had a fulfilling junket this last fortnight, mother and I have missed you terribly.”  And so on.

One day, Cash and his mother were home as usual in their modest story and a half home when his mother made the mistake of asking what he was coloring.  Now coloring was one of Cash’s favorite things in the world to do, and he took it deadly serious.  Cash would gather his coloring books and crayons, bring them to an otherwise clear area, and proceed to color the pictures with a slow and steady hand for hours at a time.  One of the world’s great colorists, Cash never colored outside the lines.  What he did do was think carefully about his subjects, and what colors they deserved to be.  You or I or other children his age would color flamingoes pink, dolphins grey, and penguins black and white, but not young master Cash.  He would color a giraffe green with purple spots, and when questioned would ask in return “Doesn’t this particular giraffe deserve to be green with purple spots?  After all, he is the one who drove the rogue elephant away with his ultrasonic horn emissions.”  And so on.

So when the boy responded to his mother’s inquiry, she was prepared for an odd answer, yet not prepared enough.  “It’s a picture of a yellow dragon being pulled by a blue van,” said Cash.  “Well that’s an odd picture to find in a coloring book,” exclaimed his mother.  “I suppose they’ll be making you color pictures of minotaurs eating popsicles next!  What’s the name of that coloring book, anyway?”  “It’s my Changeling Coloring Book, mother,” said Cash.  “It’s my favorite.”

An hour went by as young Cash worked on his picture, and his mother busied herself with folding laundry, feeding the cat and blogging on her computer about where to find the best grocery coupons.  When Cash was finished working on his picture, he very carefully tore the page out along the perforations, walked it over to the refrigerator, and hung it up with the help of several colorful letter magnets.

“I’m going upstairs to take a nap now, mother,” Cash called as he walked by the combination guest bedroom and office where his mother was clacking away at a keyboard.  “Love you,” called his mother.  “Love you,” called Cash.

Something tugged at the corners of Janene’s mind (for this was the mother’s name, you see) and she couldn’t quite place what it could be.  Then it hit her, she would like to see what the picture of the yellow dragon being pulled by a blue van looked like, for it sounded passing strange to find the mythological beast juxtaposed with such a practical cargo transport, and also the name of the coloring book still echoed in her mind.  “The Changeling Coloring Book,” Janene mused.  “Now what could that possibly mean?”

As she entered the dining room, she looked toward the refrigerator and was immediately able to locate the most recent picture to make the fridge.  Cash had rearranged the other half dozen or so pictures to make room for the new one and in so doing had created a dramatic focal point for his newest creation.  “Did he do that on purpose?” mumbled his mother.  Then she stopped short as she saw the picture itself.  She held her breath for a long moment, and then let out a guffaw.  “Oh my god that is so like me to be freaked out by a stupid picture from a kids coloring book.  Ha!  If only Lucius could see me now.”

The picture was indeed yellow and blue as advertised, but it actually portrayed a man pulling a wagon, pretty standard coloring book fare.  Cash had apparently decided that the man deserved to be blue, and the wagon deserved to be yellow, and the picture was as perfectly colored as could be, with long even strokes all within the lines, as always.

As Janene stood and looked at the picture, she began to think about the tension of being home alone with Cash most every day while her husband was out whooping it up on the road.  Sure, he always came home with new stories to tell and books for Cash to read, and sometimes a magic trick picked up from the locals at some small town bar, but it was hard to be alone for two to three weeks at a time, and emails and voicemails just didn’t cut it.  “What the…” Janene started to say, then nearly lost her balance but caught herself.  The wagon had wings.  It was a yellow wagon, and now it had grown wings.  And the wings were still growing.

Staring in horrified fascination, Janene saw the picture slowly moving its fields of color into new yet related shapes as the wagon stretched out, grew bigger, and somehow became a dragon tethered by a chain to a large blue man.  Next the man flexed his muscles like a bodybuilder, dropped on all fours and hunched into an automotive posture as his limbs became wheels, his teeth the grill, and his torso the body of a large blue van.

Janene was drawn again to the dragon, she could see the pain in the creature’s eyes as they bulged from the pressure of the metal collar squeezed around its neck.  Pain, and a promise of revenge.  The blue van was moving very quickly, and she was not sure if it was in malice or fear that the van accelerated.  If only the van would just slow down!

“Hi Mom,” said Cash from behind her.  Janene yelped, and spun around twice quickly to see first her son, then the picture as it had been, the yellow wagon and the blue man.  “I couldn’t sleep, I was thinking about you and father.  I know he misses you lots, and he wants to be here with us.  He’s a good man, he doesn’t deserve to be blue anymore.  I think I’m going to draw a picture of you two next.  Freehand. And happy.  Okay?  Mother, what’s wrong?”

Janene shook with silent sobs and a lone tear rushed hotly down the left side of her face.  “Sweetie, I want you to give me that coloring book, and I’m going to rip it into shreds, and we are never going to mention it again, now where is that Changeling Coloring Book?”

Cash looked up at his mother with patience beyond his years and replied, “Mother, they’re all changeling coloring books when I color in them.  That’s why I deserve to be black.”

And things were never quite the same.

February 18, 2009

Timing Is Everything

Ernest Miller Hemingway, 1899-1961

It was so sad reading about love gained and lost that it made me hungry.  I put down my paperback copy of A Farewell to Arms and made my way to the kitchen for a snack.  “Why would a man of Hemingway’s talent kill himself?” I asked out loud.  “He could have spent more time breeding cats with extra toes.”  The cat lying on the table was not polydactyl, and kept its own counsel on the matter of artistic suicide, so I continued on to the refrigerator.

Opening the door and hoping for salsa, I found myself looking instead at a young Ernest Hemingway.  He was sitting alone at a table, swearing into his moustache with his chin uplifted at a dangerous angle.  Gertrude Stein exited stage left, presumably into the ice maker, and I resolved to set things right, no matter the cost.

“You don’t know me,” I began, “but I know you, and we are going to get a little tight and settle this thing.”

“She is so God-damned right all the time, it drives a man to drink,” declared Papa.  “I will do it my way or not at all, by Christ.  Or not at all!”

“Of course,  you are quite right, one must be true to oneself and all that rot,” I murmured while signaling the waiter for a round of saucers and wondering if I had any interwar period francs in my wallet with which to pay.  No matter, it would take care of itself when the need arose.

As we toasted Paris and quaffed the first round, Ernest settled into a more dignified funk and revealed he was about to begin a novel but needed the ending first.  “How can you balance the scarcity of words with the vast emotional lives of the characters, eh?  Answer me that.  If you fail to begin in the correct manner, they will never arrive at their intended fate.”

Nodding as we drank the second round, I waited for the opportunity to present itself.  Some people learn the hard way or not at all, we had that in common.  My nerves were jumping as Hemingway gestured for the third drink.  Timing was everything.

“Timing is everything,” the young man continued, “If I do not start this story now, I will never get it right.  Art imitates life, and any damned thing will throw you off if you are not careful.”  The third round arrived, and if he noticed that his toast was met with my left hand, he made no comment.  “To Art!  May she blossom and die in the blink of an eye, for we have all time and a bottle of rye.”

I surged up and toward him as he lifted his cup, feeling the power rise from the floor and through my hips and back.  My right hand crashed into the side of his jaw and followed through as the chair tipped over.  I stumbled over his legs and stood above the literary lion.

“Real life does not always end with a carefully crafted climax, Ernie!”  He was down but not out, and I had to talk fast.  “Remember that when you think you need a better ending.  It goes on and on and it is stupid and ugly and all that we have got and art imitates life you son of a bitch, so stop trying to be perfect all the God-damned time!”

Hemingway glared as he rose up on one knee, and then advanced with a snarl.  “Don’t you think I know that?”  I had time to remember that the cuts of salami were in the crisper drawer and he was upon me.  He feinted with two jabs though my arms hung loosely at my sides, then landed the right.  My eye exploded in pain and light as the world went dark all around me.

“Don’t you think I know?”

The cold hard tile felt surprisingly good on my forehead, and the refrigerator door was wedged open by my elbow.  I reached into the drawer without getting up, grabbed several slices of cool deli meat and pressed them against my nascent shiner.  The cat was licking the cut knuckles of my hand and I shoved it away.  A Farewell to Arms still rested on the table, but now appeared to be twice as thick.  Something about the way the cat was licking his paws sent a shiver down my spine.  “Six toes,” I heard myself cackle, “he’s got six toes!”

Ernie Hemingway, 1899-1982

March 1, 2009

Pedestrian Concerns

Another beautiful day in Moorhead had arrived so my two year old son and I packed a bag and hit the streets.  We would have fun by and by but first we had a mission to complete:  we were out of cat food!

As we jogged along in the stroller we immediately ran into trouble.  Although the neighbors down the street had conscientiously shoveled their sidewalk after the last snowfall, the plows had come through and piled up mounds of snow at the intersections.  Not willing to shirk from a challenge, we carefully climbed up and then gently down what Dylan called the “really high mountain”.

Unfortunately, this scene played itself out many times over the course of our journey with varying degrees of danger and inconvenience.  Most residences had shoveled their walks (except for the crucial intersection points) but several had not been cleared for some time and were impassable even to the rugged three-wheeled construction of our stroller.

Things became worse once we hit the high traffic areas of 1st Avenue North, Center Avenue, and Main Avenue.  We had planned to visit Walgreens to buy our dry goods, but gave up once we were forced to run in the busy street for a hundred yards to pick up a sidewalk that had mysteriously disappeared.  We did our shopping at Hornbacher’s instead, which we had to access by using the residential streets a block out of our way rather than Main Ave due to the unfriendly terrain.

Once we finished shopping we headed toward the Red River of the North, thinking we would find cleared trails and a more welcoming environment for those willing to occasionally travel without the impetus of gasoline.  Not the case.  Although I had seen cleared trails previously in both Fargo and Moorhead, they were drifted over on this particular day.  The unexpected obstacle forced us into yet another mad dash along a roadway seeking safety and thinking about what would happen if I were driving and I was forced to adjust my route willy-nilly over and over again due to discontinuities, obstructions, and unsafe conditions.

It is now a week later and my wife and baby are napping while the wind and snow obliterate all traces of pedestrian walkways.  My widget has alerted me that the word of the day is pedestrian – walker; also, unimaginative.  Well let me assure you, my pedestrian concerns are imaginative, and I am counting on yours to be imaginative as well.

The city of Moorhead has been holding public meetings recently to update the comprehensive plan, which will dictate the rules by which future development will occur.  I was able to attend a meeting on March 5th at the Minnesota State Community and Technical College that featured speaker Mark Fenton, a celebrity of sorts within the bipedal community.  Mr. Fenton showed us slides of his adventure hiking in the mountains of California, photos of his past life as an Olympic level racewalking competitor, and pictures of some of the dangerous and unsightly pedestrian realities within our own fair city.

To be sure, there are many biking and walking trails within the city of Moorhead, and Fargo too for that matter.  Mr. Fenton was willing to praise the good that exists while exhorting us to demand a better future for ourselves and our children, and I wholeheartedly agree.  What is needed is intelligent and forward thinking discussion on issues that are important to us as citizens, not angry diatribes against the powers that be.

Our democratic system of government provides the opportunity and the obligation to involve oneself in shaping public policy, and I urge you to participate to the best of your ability.  Your next big chance will be at the Hjemkomst, March 21st at high noon (info at  If you are feeling adventurous, try walking to the event for instant credibility and karma!

March 10, 2009

The Cultural Correction

During the dot com nineties, my generation found out that boom can turn to bust in a hurry.  As a sock puppet famously belted, “what goes up, must come down”.  The tech bubble became the teachable moment at the end of the wild ride, as gullible youngsters realized they were not going to retire to a tropical island by age thirty and the phrase “irrational exuberance” replaced “day trader” on the tips of televised tongues.

By the time I left college in the early oughts, things were looking bleak on our economic landscape.  Instead of being offered high paying jobs in our chosen fields, my classmates and I faced a choice between taking whatever job we could find to pay the student loan bills, or going on to graduate school with the hopes that the increased debt load would be offset by increased earning power.

Some of these same friends who were in over their heads with student loan debt were somehow able to buy their first houses soon after leaving college and started talking about how all the equity they were building could be used to buy their way out of the debt hole created during their years on campus.  This worked for a while, but even the most irrational of the exuberant ones must have seen that it could not go on indefinitely.  Eventually we would have to pay for our consumption; eventually the chickens would come home to roost.

Fast forward to the present, change the names just a bit, and the song remains the same.  The new phrase that pays on financial news programs is mortgage crisis, and the same folks who gleefully refinanced their credit cards and new boat into their shiny new adjustable rate mortgages are now playing Chicken Little and point the finger and other shell games to make sure that none of the blame lies at their own doorstep.

There is blame enough to go around, and now that our political leadership is poised to alter the large scale structures of our lives including taxes, financial regulations, and massive public works projects, we must prepare to transform on the small scale as well.  We must take a hard look at the decisions we are making and make the cultural corrections ahead of the market corrections.

In fifteenth century Florence, Girolamo Savonarola had his bonfire of the vanities, a cultural purge to destroy the consumerist ethos of the Florentines in which many paintings and books were burned along with cosmetics and mirrors, but we may be wiser than he.  We may be able to abandon the trinkets while keeping the treasures, to keep our long term prospects in mind as we change the way we live for the better.

What would happen if we supported the local institutions that enrich our lives and abandoned the expensive personal artifacts of class and status to which we have become accustomed?  What could be accomplished if the educated tutored the illiterate, if the physically fit ran errands for the infirm, and the well-represented made room at the table for those weak of voice and unsure of parliamentary procedure?

We are at a crossroads in history, and the future is ours for the taking.  We have immense resources of technology and information at our fingertips, we have a national sense of crisis along with a rising sense of hope and we have the outrage to overcome the inertia of the past.  In the words of Savonarola, “Do you wish to be free?  Then above all things, love God, love your neighbor, love one another, love the common weal; then you will have true liberty.”

April 16, 2009


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: