Week 81: Ford MK IV

Four weeks have passed since the shootings at Chardon High School.

I live with my family in Geauga County in neighboring Chesterland, near Chardon, and while I did not know the victims or their families, my connections were closer than I might have thought, as I have seen the ripples from this tragedy move through my family.

My youngest children are enamored by superheros, so when they recently began mentioning bad guy "killing them," or "getting them dead" I gently guided them to better methods of play but didn't see anything as tremendously unusual. While my five year, old laying on the carpet, arms outstretched after being pretend shot, seemed uncharacteristically morbid, they were playing Hulk and Captain America, so, while disturbing, I didn't look deeply but continued to suggest less death-related pretend.

In preparing Baby G for pre-school next year I met with Racer A's current teacher, and in conversation she mentioned how pretend versions of death and being shot had permeated much of her class since the shootings. The older brother of one of A's classmates had been seated at the cafeteria table in Chardon near the fatal shootings. His preschooler brother, through overhead bits of conversation and a preschooler's perception of the world, had developed the vaguest awareness of the events, but they had powerfully filtered into his psyche, and, through classroom play, into the collective childhood psyche of the class.

The pretend play of the students did not involve school shootings, of course, but were framed in their own pretend language of superheros and policemen. The altered context of the play appears to be a subtle way the students were coping with dark ideas and concepts to which which they had been introduced but of which they were only barely aware. The events of that day behaved like a cold, grey liquid not so much poured but rather misted over all of us in this community, its dampening darkness finding its way into every thought and action, even those of the very young.

For my oldest son, who recently turned 12, his increased fearfulness of losing loved ones or in possibly confronting some unforeseen tragedy were not a surprise to me. My wake up moment came from a comment he made expressing a sad acceptance that "these things happen all the time." In a startling revelation, I grasped how built into the collective mind of his generation was the threat of school shootings.

Born in 2000 and having grown up hearing about numerous school shootings and their media analysis, my son lives in a time when mandatory terror drills are now conducted at schools. In a type of cold chill moment, I realized my son saw school shootings like tornadoes, cancer, and car accidents. He was saddened and he was shaken, but he was not surprised, at least not in the same incredulous way that myself and other adults were. To him, these things were part of the cultural landscape, and while you prey they don't happen to you, you realized they do happen.

I pointed out that these things don't happen all the time, and for every school tragedy of which he hears there are hundreds, thousands of schools that will never see such things, but my words sounded hollow. Our little rural suburban area had experienced an event beyond my comprehension, and I can never return him to a time before such violence was common knowledge. That time of childhood is irretrievable.

These events have made me more compassionate about children who grow up in war or in urban areas where gang violence and crime are prevalent. Such violence once seemed so removed, and I had once accepted such violence "out there" as a bitter inevitability in the same way my son now sees school shootings, accept for him there is no out there. To him, all students live out there.

As I drove home last week after picking up my five-year-old from his preschool bus drop-off (I drive 20 minutes to the Head Start bus stop, and his bus then drives an additional 12 minutes to his school) he asked if I wanted to play a game his friend had invented. To win, you had to find all the red ribbons. Confused at first, I realized he was looking for the hundreds of ribbons tied on trees, telephone poles and mailboxes in Claridon, an area just south of Chardon, as a show of solidarity for the community and remembrance for the victims.

Maybe I should have explained the significance of the ribbons -- I don't know, but I didn't. Instead, I played.

"There's another one, over there," I said, trying to not sound like I felt. "There's another one, on that sign post."

Note: This week's picture, a Ford MK IV, is one of my earliest tiny cars, one that has miraculously survived since I originally received it as a Christmas gift in 1969 or 1970 as part of a Hot Wheels track set. Broken yet full of spirit, this little car from a childhood long, long gone seemed somehow fitting for this week's blog, one that I wasn't sure I could write. Thanks to  Phil Pekarcik for the picture.

More than words can express, I wish for healing for the families and friends of the victims.  I also wish for healing beyond my little area of Ohio for all of the areas of the world where violence touches and stains the lives of children. 


Week 80: '69 Ford Torino Talladaga

What a watery couple of weeks.

Alliteration aside, unseasonably warm weather, saturated grounds and torrential downpours led to my basement flooding, and the associated costs of this, along with the approach of my son's birthday this week and another son's birthday in April, has led to an underwater feeling financially as I continue to seek out full-time employment. These literal and metaphorical waters however are nowhere near as beautiful as the azure waves my Torino is swimming through above. Plus, I don't look nearly as good drowning -- that yellow and blue is just so photographic, and you can't hear cussing from a picture.

We've been through some whopper storms here in Ohio, but the brunt of the major thunder booms were at night so they thankfully had no fear factor effects on my kids. My gutsy five year old, Racer A, is terrified of storms, although equally fascinated by them. The other day, out of the blue, cloudless sky, he asked me what was louder, a lion's roar or thunder?

I truly love pre-school questions.

Mixed in with the stormy weather has also been some crazy clear skies. One night last week was exceptional and after being out we arrived home at night. Our older son was at camp and the youngest had fallen asleep in the car ride, so it was my wife, myself and Racer A out looking at the stars. Mars, Jupiter and Venus where all visible, and the night was magic. Like a rest between sets when working out (although it's been too long since I've actually worked out), that clear sky was welcome and complete, no previous rain and no upcoming rain, just ultimate transient beauty. For a short time I just was.

Since then I've had some difficulty just being as I cope with an earthworm-scented basement and a sour-milk scented carpet (from a breakfast mishap from Racer A), but I'm trying to remember that starry night. The other night I was walking to the kitchen and little Baby G, who turns 3 next month, shouted "DADDY! BE CAREFULL!! YOU'RE WALKING IN WATER!!" Nervous from the basement flood, I looked down, but saw the floor was dry. There were a few rogue Cheerios down there, but no water.

"THAT'S WATER THERE!" he emphasized, and I understood.

"I'd better take a boat, then," I said, hopping into a pretend boat.

"Yeah, good idea, Daddy," said G, relieved I could now see the water, visible to only the two of us.

Now today the forsythias are blooming with a yellow like that Torino up above, and swirling those spring blossoms together with the pretend waters of childhood I can almost get back to that sense of nowness, at least until the next big rain.

Torino in water courtesy of Phil Pekarcik. On a second look, I realize that muscle car isn't drowning, but emerging from the waters. Here's to emergence!


Week 79: Mini Cooper S Cabrio

Check out my Mini Cooper Cabrio convertible, cruising with the top down through downtown Cleveland.

The weather was almost convertible style today, and while the ground was soaked from the storm the previous night, the strong rains had power washed the world, and there was a cleanness to the trees and their timid buds. The sparkling world, along with the bright sun, lent a Friday feeling to this Tuesday. If I had a convertible, I would have converted.

Racer A and Baby G joined me today in search of the season's first flowers, some random crocuses popping up here and there throughout the yard. Baby G squatted down and searched the ground, not quite certain exactly what he was searching for, but when he found it, he screamed. "I SEEE A FWOWER!!!" Man, what a feeling, to hear such enthusiasm for something that didn't use electricity and feature Mario and Luigi.

One minor victory for me today was I got Racer A out the door dressed somewhat appropriately for pre-school. Practically all winter he's vexed me with some surprise of apparel. Because I need to drive him to the bus stop, which is about 20 minutes away, I'm often rushing around to get ready in the morning and he sometimes heads out to the car to wait for me. For some reason, I often forget to check what he is wearing.

If warm, he would often be wearing his heavy winter coat, but on the cold winter days, multiple mornings I've arrived at the bus stop to find that he was wearing his thin raincoat, a thin sweatshirt two sizes too small, or a thin jacket covered in crusty mud. If muddy, he has on dress shoes and sweatpants, generally with two different colored socks.  Once he went to school with a short sleeve and leg warmers on his arms under his jacket. I have to admit I noticed the day he was wearing a long red ribbon from my wife's Valentine's Day gift around his head ninja style, but I let it go -- when I picked him up later he was still wearing it, making me wonder if the school believed it was a serious fashion choice.

Today, however, I remembered to remind him to wear a zip-up hoodie, his socks matched, my socks matched, and I remembered to grab my coffee instead of leaving it on the freezer in the garage. And it was sunny. Rock on.

Right now my sixth-grade son is finishing packing for his first overnight camp, a four-night excursion with his school. I needed to dig out my sleeping bag in order to get Racer A's packed -- the new concept of a sleeping bag was so enticing to the youngest brother that we couldn't coax  him out of his brother's sleeping bag until there was another larger one to move to -- kind of like a hermit crab shedding its shell.

The work is done, the lunch is packed, and we frightened Baby G off to bed by threatening to play the below video again: a Belgian farting pig song with two characters called Big and Betsy. Baby G hates it. That farting pig makes him cry. Now off with ye, or I'll play it.

Big and Betsy  Joepieeeee!!!

Thanks to Phil Pekarcik for the great picture of my Matchbox Mini -- no farting Belgian pig for him.


Week 78: 1970 Monte Carlo

Debuting in 1970, the Monte Carlo is a mean looking muscle car, with that crazy long hood keeping you at arms length and that V8 leaving you more than a few arms lengths behind. What a great car, even if it holds a touch of bad guy dread.Tint the windows and the Monte Carlo looks even meaner, like a tough guy with sunglasses.

I con't wear sunglasses unless I want to walk into a telephone pole since my eyesight is bad without prescription glasses and contact lenses now limit my computer/writing work -- yup, that bifocal thing. I did have a pair of progressive glasses that darkened with sunlight and I could somewhat kid myself  that I had on cool shades, but I've since switched glasses and these don't even try to pretend they are cool but simply stay clear. These new glasses are not bifocal/trifocals, either. Big mistake.

I don't like progressive lenses -- I always felt like I was looking through a peep hole in order to get the right little area to be in focus, and it wasn't even a peep hole with something exciting on the other side, but one looking out at the sexy world of shopping lists, traffic signs and unidentified goo on the wall put there by one of my kids. When my vision changed I decided to stop doing the jerky lizard head dance of the bifocal/trifocal crowd and go back to single focus lenses. No worries, I thought. I'll just take them off to read.

Oh man, how I miss those annoying progressive lenses.

I can't see anything now. I have tried every nonchalant movement I can think of to unobtrusively remove my glasses to read something, but in the end I just flip them up on my forehead and squint. If I thought it was uncool to wear progressive trifocals that at least tried to look bad, if only in bright light, I've realized there is nothing cool about the squinty mole thing I now do. No, I should have stuck with being a lizard than a little burrowing rodent.

Going back to the bad attitude of the Monte Carlo, however, the other day my soon-to-be-three son came up to me and excitedly told to be "the bad daddy."

"You be the Bad Daddy, and I'll be Spider Man," he said excitedly, immediately making a steam valve noise with his mouth as I was covered with imaginary webs.

I didn't understand the request, and we went back and forth, with Baby G repeating, "You know, the Bad Daddy."

Finally he showed me the picture of the Bad Daddy, found on the cover of his brother's spiral notebook.

Now I don't know if I actually look like that when I'm reaching to take away a yardstick from my son to stop him from beating the walls, but for some reason that picture of the bad guy (The Sandman, by the way), was a picture of a Bad Daddy to my son. G has now shortened the moniker to BadDad.

Whatever the case, I got to be a bad guy, and even if I did lose every battle with Spiderman, I was tough, and any squinting I did was purely for effect, like in an old Clint Eastwood western -- or so the world thought. Sure, G wasn't using "Bad" in the sense of "hip" but in the sense of "angry and cantankerous" but so what.

I was the BadDad, and next time, Spidey better watch out.

Thanks to Phil Pekarcik for the photo of the Hot Wheels Monte Carlo, which I bet is in focus even though I can't really tell.

While basically obvious, I feel obligated to state that Marvel owns the rights to Spider Man and the Sandman while Mattel owns the rights to Hot Wheels.  I own the right to take out the trash tonight, as trash day has moved to Wednesday.