Two TKTs. Two Days.

You know, I thought I’d be the kind of dad that was always there.  You know.  Ready to build a fort at a moment’s notice.  The kind of guy that doesn’t get tired of going to the park or will watch Mickey Mouse Clubhouse in the morning EVERY morning.  I also thought I’d be the kind of dad who had boundless energy and patience, too.  Somewhere along the line, a good number of these things started to slip and it’s sometimes an accomplishment to get through the day without twisting my hair in my fists in frustration.

I know.  It’s been said a million times before a million better ways than I can say it: Raising kids is haaaaaaard.

It’s no secret to anyone who knows Laura and I that our two boys, Travis and Jake are very different in many ways.  Travis is (and likely always will be) a Mama’s Boy.  It happened at a young age and at age 6, it’s still the law of the land.  For fun times he goes to Dad, but when he needs to talk or to be comforted, he goes to Mom.  It’s been like this since he was a little tiny guy.

Jake on the other hand, is my right-hand man.  It’s like he knew there was a vacancy with me and he’s attached to the hip.  I come in the door and it’s ” Daddy!  Daddy!  Daddy!”  He even throws in some dance moves and jumps up and down.  It’s seriously the best.  Imagine coming home and someone is throwing you a ticker-tape parade.  Now imagine this is EVERYDAY.  Guess who’s not sick of that, yet?

This guy.

So, imagine my surprise when I blinked and I’ve suddenly got a kid (Travis, age 6) who is freshly graduated from Kindergarten.  Just like that.  Done.  We seriously dropped him off for the first time like a week or two ago, didn’t we?  Really?

Travis and the First Day of School

And it was a heckuva year for the little tyke, too.  He experienced all sorts of stuff in a short amount of time.  He met a girl who he swore he was destined to marry and was heartbroken when she ended up switching to a different AM offering of Kindergarten.  He made tons of friends, got invited to a bunch of birthday parties and went through a period where he hated school and wanted NOTHING to do with it anymore.

I knew the feeling way back when.

He learned quickly how to read even better than before and he was writing stories about cool things.  When it came to behaving in class, Travis HAD IT DOWN.  They had a system where if they were good kids, they got a green mark every day.  If they needed to be warned they got a yellow mark.  If you were a complete turd?  Red mark.

Travis ended up getting only ONE yellow mark for the entire year and greens every other day.  Can I tell you how devastated he was by the yellow mark?  It wrecked his whole week.  Even at the end of the year, he said, “Wow.  I got one yellow.”

Like his dad, he ignores all the good things and zeroes in on the one bad thing.  We both probably need to work on that.

But, to say we were (and are!) extremely proud of our kid is an understatement.

The thing is, he graduated and sadly (like millions of other kids in The US and A) he doesn’t get to hang out at home all summer.  He’s in a summer program that the school offers for working parents (like Laura and I).  He gets to do all kinds of fun stuff all year and hang with his friends, but it’s not the same.

So…there was a gap between when Kindergarten ended and the Summer Program started.  Those days?  Monday and Tuesday of this week.

Since Laura had to work, I took the days off to hang with the kid.  Now, I’d be lying if I said this is the first time that we’ve stayed home together and found something to do.  Nope.  There have been sick days, vacation days, and days where Laura had to travel for work.  It’s not like it’s a new thing to me, but somehow I wanted these last couple of days with Travis to be different.  I wanted my kid to see that we didn’t just have to stay home and watch 8,000 episodes of Spongebob Squarepants.

We could actually DO something.

So we did.

DAY 1

TEETH – Now the beginning of our Monday together was sort of a downer.  Travis had to get a cavity filled.  When I was a kid, getting my first cavity was a huge deal.  My parents devised a system where we’d get a gold star every time we brushed our teeth well.  It was a huge deal to get these stars on the makeshift calendar my mom drew up and posted on the bathroom door.  To me there was nothing worse than having a rotten hole in my teeth.  It wasn’t until I was about 12 or 13 that I ended up with my first cavity.

I digress, but the point is, Travis couldn’t be more excited to go and get this taken care of.  I soon discovered why.

“Dad, whenever I go to my dentist doctor, they let me pick two prizes out of the box,” Travis declared on our way in.

“Well, please be happy if she tells you that you can only pick one,” I reminded him.

“She’ll let me pick two,” Travis assured me.

Once inside, he hopped up on the chair like a champ, slapped on the sunglasses they give him and was ready for action.

Bring on the drill!

He was all smiles during the ENTIRE thing.  I sat there  in a chair at his feet, watching and waiting for him like he was undergoing major surgery.  He told the dentist and the hygienist (is that what they’re called?) what our plans were for the day and didn’t flinch at all.  When they put the sealants on his teeth, his only remark was: “It tastes kind of sour.”

And wouldn’t you know it?  He DID get two prizes from the prize bucket.

LUNCH WITH GRANDMA

We decided to go see Kung Fu Panda 2 (in 3-D) out at Rosedale Mall.  I’m not going to lie.  I was definitely more excited about the movie than he was.  But we thought it would be cool to meet up with my mom for lunch beforehand.  I told him he could pick whatever he wanted for lunch and to no one’s surprise, he picked Noodles and Company.  Inside, he found his chopsticks and was happier than a pig in filth.  Since I’m not down with N&C, we got his goods to go and met my mom at the Chipotle (to no one’s surprise) and had a nice lunch outside.  My mom brought some shorts that I’d stained with corn-on-the-cob butter and (not sure how she does it) but the things were perfect.  Not a hint of greeeze on ’em.  We talked, fed a little bird that decided to hang out by us, and got ready for the show.  When I reached down to try and get the sparrow to eat out of my hand, Travis reminded me: “Dad, those birds are full of germs.”

KUNG FU PANDA 2

If you’ve been following this blog, then you probably know my kid isn’t a big fan of throwing up.  (who is?)  But he LOVED the first KFP and I was sure he’d like the new one.  We were all excited when the previews came out months ago and we were jonesin’ to see it.  Then, when the extended preview came out, Travis changed his tune.  “I don’t want to see it.  It looks awful,” he declared.  I was crushed.  There are few movies I was REALLY looking forward to and KFP2 was one of them.

Then it dawned on me.  There’s a scene in the preview where Po (the titular panda) says something about stairs being his old enemy.  Then he mentions in a cut-scene that he threw up two flights down and someone should go and clean it up.  That sealed it for Travis.  He doesn’t even like to HEAR about throwing up, let alone see it or, you know, throw up on his own.  I don’t know how I did it.  Maybe it was the allure of popcorn and his own soft drink that drew him in, but he agreed.  After buying the tickets and snacks, we headed to the theater.  Outside the door, I got this business:

“I changed my mind,” Travis said.  “I’m not ready.”

“Seriously?  Travis, I just dropped a ton of dough on tickets and snacks.  I paid $4 for a bottle of water for myself for crying out loud.”

He stood there, adamant.  Only when I told him that I would make sure he wasn’t scared AND that he could cover his eyes and ears did he agree to come in.  We got in on time, and sure enough, he covered his ears and eyes at parts.  I was sure he was going to tell me he thought the movie sucked, but at the end, he gave it the thumbs up and declared it awesome.

I thought it was top-drawer, too.

MONSTER COOKIE

It’s no secret that I’m a sucker for cookies.  I can find the best cookie within a few mile radius of wherever I am and as it happened, when we got out of the movie, I was near a coffee shop that has my favorite.  MONSTER COOKIES.  I told Travis that even though I ‘m trying not to eat so much of that kind o’ crap, we should stop and get one.  We did.

Like his dad (me) he’s into kitschy kinds of dumb things, so we also scooped up a little plastic dragon for the road.  I’m pretty sure the ladies that run the counter at the coffee shop kind of hate me.  I never order coffee since I hate the taste/smell/thought of it and I’m the dude that comes in and orders a cookie and a large glass of Skim milk.

The thing weighs like 4 pounds. 4 POUNDS OF DELICIOUS.

Somewhere, that one famous guy in Columbia who picks the coffee beans is crying into his mustache.

While eating the mammoth cookies, Travis made an astute observation:

“If Jake knew we were having these cookies and he didn’t get one, he’d be pretty upset.”

I completely agreed.

“We need to make sure we don’t tell him, then,” I said.  “Plus, a little guy like that wouldn’t know what to do with the sheer power of this sugary bad-boy.  It’s for the best that Jake doesn’t get his little hands on one of these.”

“Our secret,” Travis said.

After our fun-filled afternoon, I surveyed the weather whilst on our way home.  As you may or may not know, we live in Minnesota and the rumors are true.  The weather here can be awesome one day and god-awful the next.  It seemed like it was going to be nice pretty much the whole day, so I thought of a cool idea, not sure what my partner in crime would think of it.

BACKYARD CAMPING

Funny thing.  When Laura and I got married a little over 7 years ago, we must’ve thought we’d be doing a lot of camping.  On our wedding registry we asked for all kinds of camping gear.  Sleeping bags, cookware, a stupid radio/fan/lantern/alarm combo, and a tent.  Well, considering Travis was a honeymoon um, conception, that kind of thing never materialized.  We ended up with the gear all right, but never the time or the drive to camp, especially with little dudes.  At least…not yet.

When I proposed that we sleep out in the yard, Travis was ecstatic.  He had plans for what he was going to bring in there.  Toys, games, sleeping bags, pillows.  All the stuff you need to have a fun time out in the yard.  I also thought since we both had the next day off that we could stay up late and play video games and just hang out.

It was like he won the little kid lottery.

True to form, our lovely Minnesota weather decided to mess with us.  Trying to put the BRAND NEW (still in the unopened box) tent together was tricky.  The wind kicked the tarps and bags all over the yard and I wondered if it was going to rain.  It sure looked that way.  Travis didn’t care.  He got a hold of the mallet and was thrilled to be able to swing it around like a maniac.

Hammer Up!

The weather behaved and we stayed up until 11pm, playing Wii games and talking about how cool it was going to be to camp out in the tent.  At one point he even said:

“Dad, I can’t wait to sleep in that tent with you.”

I know it doesn’t sound like much, but considering how little I hear that kind of stuff from my oldest dude, it really hit home.  I think I was getting through to him and he was thinking that I’m an all right guy.  I let him pick where to put his air mattress and I put mine close-by, assuring him that if he got scared or anything I’d be right there.

That wasn’t a problem.  Travis fell asleep almost instantly and slept through the night with nary a peep.

I wasn’t so lucky.  I heard the neighbor’s sprinkler system go off at 3am.  I heard a bunch of dumb birds making noise and traffic.  Our neighborhood is quiet, but dang…when you’re sleeping in the yard, you can hear traffic from miles away.  Also?  My air mattress had a leak and I was sleeping on a half-deflated piece of rubber.  Great.

Travis was out, even after I was stirring around in the morning.

Out.

DAY 2

So you’re probably looking at these pictures of  Travis and saying: Dang…that kid is all kinds of shaggy.  He could use a…

HAIRCUT

Travis has this thing about his hair.  He doesn’t want to cut it until it completely covers his eyes.  I don’t know if he wants to look like Justin Bieber or what, but he’s AGAINST haircuts.  So, in true tradition, we decided the start out the day with something no-so-fun.  He wasn’t happy about it.  I promised him that we would only trim it a little to take some of the weight off.  I mean, seriously.  Look at that helmet of hair!  His hair grows thick and quick, just like mine.  Even so, he lets it grow over his ears and that DRIVES. ME. CRAZY.

A deal was struck.  We’d eat lunch at Subway, get his haircut…er, trimmed, and I’d let him pick what we do next.

On our way to Subway, was saw a dude with some seriously wigged-out hair walking across the parking lot.

“Check out that guy,” I said.  “Don’t let your hair look like that.  Please.”

“He’s ridiculous,” Travis said.  “That hair is just dumb.”

That’s my boy.

The haircut went smoothly, which was a relief to me.  The last haircut ended in tears as they “cut too much off” and “people at school are going to laugh at me.”  I reminded him (gently, ever so gently) that his hair, like mine, grows like a weed.  I swear, I get it cut and two weeks later it’s time again.

When the nasty haircut business was done, I asked the boy wonder what he wanted to do.  The night before, we listed out some potential ideas.  He picked…

CRYSTAL CAVE

When I was a kid, I heard about this place in Wisconsin.  It’s basically this massive underground cave that some boys in the late 1800’s discovered.  They hollowed it out and turned it into a tourist attraction.  I’ve ALWAYS wanted to go and for some reason or another, we never did.  Even driving past the signs on 94, I’d get a pang of nostalgia for the place I’d never been.

To say I was excited to go is putting it gently.

Ol’ Google maps promised that it was only 54 minutes away from our front door, but we made it in 35.  We listened to his favorite group (Gorillaz) on the way there and we were talking about how cool it was going to be.  It would be an adventure.  We’d get to go underground in the dark and see all kinds of awesome things.  I wasn’t sure if building it up was such a good idea (since I’d never been), but I didn’t care.  As long as the place didn’t pull a Wally World on us and end up closed, I figured we’d make the most of it.

Crystal Cave rocked.  (did you see what I did there?)

The Main Building. (worried at this point that the caves would suck)

New Haircut = New Adventures

It was kind of drippy in there.

This is about 7 stories underground. 7!

Stalactites & Stalagmites, yo.

"Dad, I wish we had a cave."

We had a blast down there and only saw one tiny little bat.  It was pretty cool.  Fully grown and the size of my thumb.

There was a point in the tour that we got where the guide told us that she was going to turn off all of the lights and I was sure that Travis was going to lose it.

Notoriously, he tends to get scared about stuff and I thought that after all of the things we did together, that would be how it would end…with him screaming bloody murder 7 stories down in a cave somewhere in Spring Valley, Wisconsin.

But nope.  Travis held my hand and told me he thought it was going to be scary.

“I’m going to be right here, dude.  Nothing is going to get you,” I said.

That was all he needed to hear.  The lights went out and we were cast in complete darkness.  I held my free hand as close to my face as I could and couldn’t see squat.  So so cool.

We got to walk around “Good Fortune Pillar” which is supposed to bring you a whole day of good luck if you walk around it once (and only once).  The guide showed us some phosphorus rocks that glowed in the dark.  We checked out some fossils, saw the underside of a mud puddle…you name it.

When we were all done, we climbed back out of the cave and into the Crystal Cave gift shop.

Did you know they have fudge there?  (they do)

We set Travis up with a bag of shiny rocks, flattened a penny with a design of Crystal Caves mashed onto it, and bought a little dinosaur for Jake (who was thrilled with it and named it ‘Oscar.”).  When it was time to go, I have to admit I was a little bummed out.  The next day I’d be back at work and Travis would start his summer program at school.  It went by waaaay too quick.

But those were my two days this week.  Traditionally Mondays are supposed to stink and (for me) Tuesdays aren’t much better.  Considering how quick they went and how much Travis and I bonded during these small, goofy adventures, I can’t think of a better Monday or Tuesday that I’ve had.  It made me come to realize that this kind of thing doesn’t need to be a special occasion.  He’s only going to be a little kid for a little while longer and while I’ll always be his dad, I know I’m going to look back on stuff like this and miss these days like crazy.

Life’s too short to let cool times with your favorite dudes slip away.

Seize ’em up.  I know I plan to from now on.

Two TKTs.




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