The 1980s: A Nice Place to Visit, But…

This morning at the campground laundry, I was asked if we were planning to keep coming back next season and beyond.

“Are you kidding? I’m pretty sure we’ve sworn off the entire summer home thing as a concept.”

I thought it was universal. A thing everyone loves, but it’s basically “Doing chores closer to the beach/woods/mountains.” And if you think it’s just me being the usual boor, I promise you I’m not alone in this.


The kids, though. They’ve had six weeks of living in the 1980s. They wake up, hop on a bike and go look for their various frenemies, for another day of pushing each other into ponds, scraping themselves up on the pavement, being stung by hornets, having wiffle balls line-drived at them from taped bats, getting locked in the campground bathrooms, taunting, yelling, and generally laughing their asses off.

In other words, they’re summering. Like a boss. With their pals, they kinda have taken over the place, riding like a gang of hardbitten eight-year-olds and terrorizing the population of mostly retirees. I’m sure we’re woefully underappreciated here.

I’d say we’re sticking out like the Massholes we are, but everyone’s a Masshole. Every cabin has signage on it declaring that its inhabitants hail from North Reading, Somerville, Wilmington. The TV screens in every trailer glow with the blue glare of the Pats game (or Sox, natch).

And the word “Masshole” is purely on-point. These are the same people who clog the aisles at Market Basket and get into fistfights over parking spaces back home. Only here there’s more public consumption of alcohol.

Toss in hordes of screaming kids, and there it is, the 1980s.

I’m sure there are a lot of people here who are only going through the motions. They don’t love it, but hey, it’s for the kids. To me, sitting around by a fire and shuffling back and forth to the pool is not an adventure.

The kids have had fun, but they’ll have plenty more back home. It’s far easier to plan and prepare for our numerous adventures back there. The house is a much better base camp. That’s why it was named Camp Lucky.

So in a nutshell, we can’t wait to get back to civilization, where it will be easier to leave it.

From time to time, that is.

“Parenting is Not Friendship!” (Let’s Deconstruct This)

youre-not-their-parentThere’s a saying: “I think the biggest problem is parents are so concerned with being friends with their kids. You’re not their friend. You’re their parent.” made by Charles Barkley, during a 2002 CNN interview where Barkley talked about his insights on role models and parenting.

Now this guy has done a ton of work with and for kids, giving to his community, building houses, speaking, leading, and I’m certain he can still dunk a basketball. He’s about a million times richer and more useful to the world than I am, and probably a better dad, but this Father’s Day, I’m gonna go ahead and disagree with him on this.

The sentiment sounds quaint, but over the years it has turned into something far more sinister. People now have ready access to immediate online commentary, on everything ranging from kids getting away from mom at the zoo, to freak animal attacks at amusement parks. You’ve probably shared an opinion or two on these incidents, and maybe, just maybe, you did some parent-bashing along the lines of “watch your kids” or “too many people try to be friends with their kids.” “Your Child is Not Your Friend” hector the online experts.

I don’t know if the idea originated with Barkley, but it has become more than just commentary. It’s become the driving force behind public child-shaming incidents, like making kids hold a sandwich board or shooting a daughter’s computer with a gun. An alarming number of people cheer these parents, as if they’re bringing a new wave of “Dirty Harry” style of parenting. Mom as Judge Judy. Dad as Chuck Norris. The imperious and harsh dictator of the manse. The vengeful Old Testament parent.

To me, this kind of thing only makes sense if you’re not emotionally developed much beyond a four-year-old yourself. It’s not parent as parent. It’s parent as chief-tantrum-thrower. It’s probably got a great deal in common with the trend toward authoritarianism and backlash populism that drives ever more aggressive political rhetoric.

Is it working? Or is it just a moronic escalation of aggression?

I’m not going the other way either. A lot of people rail against the ‘helicopter moms’ who ‘hover’ over their kids while they fill out homework assignments and apply for colleges. Much of this is total bullshit hyperbole at best, and it is, like the concerns over ‘friendship parenting’, based on the fact that most people really don’t want to know each others’ details. They just want to judge.

There is no rise in kids who are totally inept at everything in life because they got timeouts instead of a belt buckle. No studies have revealed that, though you’ll get the college recruiters and corporate HR professionals who give you anecdotes about applicants they’ve found wanting. I suspect that when they look at the bottom of the barrel, what they’re seeing is not new.

So if you can’t go back to the days of the woodshed, and you get frowns if you dare offer rewards or timeouts, how does the world expect parents to behave? Should we go the route Barkley and so many others have stammered about? Is it always my way or the highway?

I say screw it. I’m their friend.

After all, these kids are by far the two most important people in my life. How far? Well, if everyone else fell off the edge of the planet, it wouldn’t matter, as long as the kids are still with me. That’s the truth. My wife would say the same from her perspective.

It’s been a very long time since I raised a beer with friends down at the… It’s been forever since I rode the bike trails with the guys at the… Remember those late night sessions spinning business ideas at the… And didn’t we have fun jamming on stage with the boys at the… And how about after work, those dinners over at the…

None of that happens anymore. It’s unfortunate but also inevitable. There is no blame. We’ve all got our own things going on. Me, I’ve got the two closest people I’ve ever been with, to jump in lakes, ride bikes, shoot hoops, camp out, play video games. True, they’re kinda captive. They get some say in our adventures, while I get quite a lot. But they’re getting more input every day, and branching out a lot more with their interests.

Will they play music? Will they play baseball or soccer? Will they be dancers or gymnasts? Will they draw? Will they want to be architects? Scientists? Teachers? Will I have any influence at all? Someday I’ll lose them. They’ll have their own friends, and the bulk of their days won’t involve me anymore.

What then? I have no idea. Until that happens, there is really only one thing I can do, and that is to be their friend. Maybe the problem is that we define ‘friend’ incorrectly. I’m sure we agree we should enjoy hanging out with friends, sharing interests, and maintaining the capacity to understand each other when we don’t quite agree.

But don’t friends do much more than that? Don’t friends try to fill in the blank spots in our lives with their interpretation of what we need, whether we know it or not? Shouldn’t friends know exactly when to impose ideas, and when to hold off? Aren’t friends the people we can always turn to, no matter what, who will, with degrees of difficulty, drop everything and listen? Aren’t friends the ones we confide in with our darkest worries, yet knowing when not to burden them with our problems?

Doesn’t friendship mean absolute, unconditional understanding, if not agreement, knowing when to share and when to borrow? Doesn’t it mean doing everything we can to inspire each other to be better, to push harder? To lead when we should, and follow when we must? To be a foundation rooting each other to the soil, in a bond that will never, ever break?

Or did I just define parenting?

If friendship means being there to hold others up, to see them through their worst times and cheer them on through their best, then dammit, I’ll be the best friend they’ve ever had.

The Pirate Wolf – Chapter 1: Beulah’s Report

It’s a few hours before sunrise, and if you stand in the forest with your eyes open, adjusting to the darkness of this moonless night, you might notice something. There! Movement behind the thick stand of evergreen trees off to your left. Is it a hundred yards away? Ten?

You hear a rustle from the right. There is a bush moving, just a little, then it stops. It sounds close. No more noise comes from the snow-covered ground. But now you don’t need to hear it. You can feel yourself surrounded by something. A presence that gives substance to the gloom. Your spine tingles and your stomach shrinks.

In truth, it’s a good thing you’re not really standing there in the black. You would be surrounded by hungry wolves.

On they come, flowing past the trees, like water coursing a stony rapid. They meet in glens and again separate around the pines, never pausing, focused on a single point not far off. As they close on their target, they spread apart, encircling around and beyond it. They begin to tighten their group, barring escape.

Four deer in a small clearing look up. A mother and three yearlings. They feel the presence too late. Yellow eyes stare at them from every angle. They shudder in panic.

Finally, a wolf, the alpha, steps forward to speak.

“Hello there!” he says. It is Lark, the pack leader. “Have you seen our latest trick?”

At this the wolves jump toward the deer and form a line in the open clearing. Some of them jump on top of each other, scrambling raggedly on each other’s backs. They form a standing triangle four wolves high, with Lark on top. He somersaults to the ground in front of the bemused deer and presents his paws in a kneel. “Ta da!”

One of the yearlings claps his front hooves, the other two look at him and shake their heads. Beulah, the mother deer, rolls her eyes. “Oh, please, Lark. You stole that from the raccoons.”

Lark lowers his head to one side. “It’s a coincidence, I swear it,” he says. “Oh, by the vie, you kids hungry? We got some prime cutlets here. Parmesan.” One of the other wolves steps forward and shrugs off an ill-fitting backpack. Lark pulls open the zipper and noses out a box of frozen dinners.

“You stole that, too,” says Beulah accusingly.

“Yeah, from people,” Lark agrees. Everyone in the forest knows the code. You take only what you plan to use, and not something already claimed. But with humans it’s different. You can rob them of all sorts of things.

“There’s this small group of them camping near the Greeley Ponds. Not using their bear box.” He chuckles at this. Humans can be such morons.

The young deer sniff the boxes curiously. “Kids! Get away. It’s probably chicken,” Beulah says. “We have other sources of protein.”

“Yeah,” Lark says. “You just have to eat a whole meadow of it. And you guys are pretty fast twitch, too.”

“It isn’t proper!” Beulah protests.

“You could get totally jacked, is all I’m saying.” He tears open the box and tosses a few cutlets to his pack. They dive in.

“Ugh, you guys,” Beulah says with a shake of her head. Her three boys bend their heads and go back to munching the new ferns starting to pop up through the receding snow. Spring is coming earlier than usual. “Hey, they didn’t happen to have any coffee with them.”

“You know, I didn’t happen to smell that,” Lark says, his jaws dripping with half-frozen spaghetti sauce. “We’ll send a Scout there to see if they crack any open at dawn.”

“Which one?” asks one of the wolves. Four of them are named Scout, and aptly so. They’re the ones who keep getting the assignments to watch for people. By now it’s a running joke whether the name defines the job, or vice versa.

“Oh, how about Little Scout this time?”

There is murmuring among the crew, but they agree. Little Scout is now catching some sleep back at the den. All the wolves know his reports are unreliable, if somewhat fanciful. They suspect he’s discovered the magic effects of mountain teaberries.

“Remember what he told us about the road the other day?” one of the wolves says.

“Yeah,” Lark says with amusement. “A whole line of trucks painted like the forest.”

“Like we couldn’t smell these things three valleys away,” laughs another.

“Ridiculous,” says Marcella, the wolf pack’s matriarch.

Beulah looks up. “No, we saw that,” she states.

The wolves look up, slowly chewing the last of their cutlets. “Have you been getting into the teaberries, too?” asks Wheat, one of the larger wolf lads. He is ironically named, with the darkest fur, almost black. The rest laugh.

“We did see it. Three nights ago,” Beulah says. “They had one of those spinning birds on a truck. Painted the same.”

The wolves knew the spinning birds well. Their loud rumbling shook the mountains, and their sound could be heard long before they were seen circling like giant hawks overhead. It couldn’t be chance that several of their pack had been struck with metal rain whenever these thunderous contraptions hove into the sky above them.

Little Scout hadn’t mentioned it, but they had laughed him out of the cave as soon as he started to give his report of these green vehicles rolling into the valley like a train.

“Are you certain?” Lark asks. The pack gathers around him. Their trust for Beulah’s nose, eyes and ears far outweighs that of Little Scout, and many of their other Scouts, for that matter.

“Tis true,” she says. Her spring meanders tend to stick close to her den, on a hillside just above the Mad River. She saw the trucks, maybe seven or eight of them, with their spinning bird on the largest one. “I couldn’t range far enough to tell you.”

“No matter,” Lark says to this. “But have you seen them leave?”

“Not that I’ve witnessed, no,” she says.

The wolves look at each other with fresh concern. It is strange to see such a concerted human activity going on this early in the season. The moon has completed more than three full cycles since the longest night, and the road is still traveled mainly by people in cars. These rolling boxes bear cut planks of trees on each roof, that the humans use to slide in ridiculous fashion down the snow-covered hillsides. Until the snows recede completely and the trees begin to gather water from the ground, the road is the only way in and out of the valley, at least for the people.

If the trucks and their flying machine haven’t been seen heading back down it, they’re still here.

“Thanks, B,” says Lark. Wheat and the rest of the wolves nod. “We need to talk with Little Scout. Quick Scout, we’ll need you to go find out about that coffee instead.” Quick Scout, an almost white wolf with black paws, barks and darts out of the clearing. Wheat picks up the bag. They nod to Beulah and run in the other direction, toward their den.

Beulah looks at her three growing boys browsing the young fir saplings. The wolves are known to be fierce protectors of the valley, and what bothers them should bother all. It hadn’t occurred to her to be concerned until seeing Lark’s furrowed brow. She feels a new pressure, like the barely detectable breeze before a gathering storm.

“Boys,” she says. “Let’s head back.”

Moms, Dads, & Kids Are Going To Occupy Your World: Deal With It #sorrynotsorry

Kids Are Going To Occupy Your World: Deal With ItUPDATE – In light of this article about a diner owner in Maine who snapped at a baby girl, this needs to be repeated:

We’re going to be in your malls. We’re going to be in your restaurants. We’re going to be in front of you (and behind you) at the supermarket. We’re going to be in your way. You may have to wait while we find keys, a wallet, or buckle in before backing out of our parking space.

You’re going to have to learn not to vulture a family with kids in a busy parking lot. Not sorry.

We’re going to annoy you on your morning jog, at the beach, on a mountaintop, at your favorite spot by the ocean, at the bandstand, at the campground. You’re going to have to hear us at the post office, at the bank, at the ballgame. Sometimes you might smell something, too.

You’re not going to like what we do or don’t do regarding discipline. You’re not going to like the way we use technology, pharmaceuticals, and promises. You may think you know better. You don’t. You may think we need your advice. We don’t.

You’re not going to agree with how old or young our kids are before we let them do things you’d never allow. You can rant all you want about how it was when you were a kid. You can rant all you want about how parenting is a lost art and kids these days are wilder than ever.

You can judge all you want. Parents know the first gift they’ll receive is the judgment of others. The judgment of the ignorant.

Even parents will judge each other, oblivious that the parents they harshly judged at CVS will be judging them at Dunkin’ Donuts minutes later. Their kids are not your kids. Their family is not your family. Their situation is not your situation, yet everybody thinks they’re more expert than everyone else.

That’s why you’re going to have to deal with it.

It’s not like parents always know exactly what they’re doing. It’s not like parents don’t judge themselves and second-guess their own decisions. But we’re way ahead of the situation compared to you.

And no, we’re not ‘just going home’. We’re not keeping the kids indoors until they’re 21. We, like you, need to shop for groceries. We, like you, need to visit a department store. We, like you, need to get fresh air and enjoy nice weather. We, like you, need to appreciate art and culture. And we’re going to do it during business hours.

Sometimes we let the kids stay up too late. Sometimes we let them play video games and watch TV. Sometimes we let them eat Oreos for breakfast. And sometimes we let them run wild at the playground.

Sometimes we pick them up and soothe every scrape, bump and bruise. Sometimes we tell them to toughen up. Sometimes we teach them manners when their soccer ball invades your picnic. Sometimes we forget. Sometimes we notice your furrowed brow. Sometimes we ignore you purposely.

Sometimes they’ll interfere with your dog. Sometimes they’ll wreck something you value. Sometimes they’ll actually do something that harms you or yours. Sometimes we’ll know what to do when that happens. Sometimes not.

That’s your opportunity to make your judgment known, so go ahead. We’ll take it under advisement.

But too loud at the park? In your way at a supermarket? Too slow in a mall? Too much time on an iPad? Too wild at the beach? Too ungrateful? Too forgetful? Too impolite? Too sensitive? Too sure of themselves?

That’s what they are. They haven’t been here very long yet. They’re kids, and they’re just learning how to share their world with you.

Oh, you thought it was yours?

It’s not. You’re just going to have to deal with it.

Why Not Be Awesome?

This morning an interesting question was put to me at the gym: “You think that jacket makes you awesome?” The jacket in question; my 2015 Boston Marathon jacket. I considered a bunch of different answers, but in the interest of immediacy, I just went with, “Yeah,” as I headed for the door.

Now, maybe the person asking has several reasons to be awesome himself, but just chose not to wear it this morning. Maybe his car is emblazoned with bumper stickers declaring his membership in country clubs, his awesome grandkids, his service to his country, or his political persuasion, etc. Or maybe his Facebook profile is thick with “Likes” of all sorts of favorite movies, albums, stores, cars, and whatnot. In all likelihood, we can bet he’s got something, somewhere that he shows off on a regular basis.Tom in a whitewater kayak

And why not?

There’s something wrong with a culture that suppresses declarations of awesomeness. If I choose to be awesome, and you choose to be awesome in a different way, why the heck would we begrudge each other the chance to show it off?

Is it our American-ness that causes this? Or is it a global human trait? In this country at least, we’ve been on a depressing lowest-common-denominator cultural spiral for a long time. I mean, let’s face it; our culture has become like a Ford Taurus. Nothing special, does the job, doesn’t cost too much, doesn’t attract attention, or rock the boat.

(I mean, seriously, who thinks America produces a true luxury car?)

We don’t celebrate anything unless we can profit from it. We don’t create anything without a profit motive. We watch television shows about people jumping off rooftops (again, with a profit motive), or cunning political machinations, celebrities getting ‘fired’, entrepreneurs sniveling before loudmouthed capitalists, and even a long-running cable series about guys who write television ads. We don’t sneeze unless we can show a positive P&L.

Here in Boston, you see that with the negative reaction to the proposal for the 2024 Olympics. Remember when we used to celebrate the fact that athletes from every country competed on the field in a metaphorical pursuit of global peace? Remember when we launched fireworks and light shows just because? Now if it doesn’t sell enough Coke, iPhones and Adidas gear, the pencil pusher in all of us runs a spreadsheet to see if the margins are worth it.

We’ve become a nation of boring, no-fun, uninteresting, joyless people with no time to celebrate and no tolerance for those who do. We’re only focused on the financial payoff. “Money makes the world go ‘round.” “Greed… is good.” “Winning isn’t everything; it’s the only thing.” It’s like the 1980s never ended. There’s plenty of wealth, but we’re impoverished in every other aspect of life.

Balance sheets and negativity should be left at the workplace. Wherever your awesomeness comes from, I say wear it, declare it, & share it. I guarantee it won’t be from something where you ran a financial projection before you started.

Historic Boston Traffic Jam Caused By Ducks… Yes, Ducks.

Historic Boston Traffic Jam Caused By Ducks... Yes, Ducks.By TOM BISHOP
Instigative Reporter | 04.01.15 | 6:52 AM

BOSTON – If you were caught up in yesterday’s little traffic tie-up, you were probably wondering if there was a water main break, a Bruins parade, a record snowfall, bridge painting, a train accident, and conventions for both political parties all at the same time. Or maybe it was the Friday of July 4th and you didn’t know it.

But in truth, it came down to none of that. The whole thing was caused by a few ducks.


Around 7:20 in the morning, Storrow Drive’s six lanes were blocked in both directions by a family of ducks making a crossing. This came after the ducks stood on the curb loudly quacking, startling drivers from their iPhones long enough to lay on the horn. Bystanders first reported the commotion near the Hatch Shell, and finally lone beat cop Michael McMinehan took it upon himself to hold traffic for around three minutes while the ducks waddled toward Mt. Vernon Street.

But that, as they say, was just the beginning. The short backup soon extended beyond Leverett Circle and gridlocked the West End, causing traffic on both decks of I-93 to slow to a crawl. This became a parking lot in the tunnels, the Tobin, the Southeast Expressway and of course, the Mass Pike. The citywide congestion calamity lasted well into the evening.

Boston Police Commissioner William B. Evans said at an afternoon press briefing, “Unfortunately, this was a situation nobody could foresee, unless you’ve been driving in Boston at any time in the last, uh, ever. We discovered that the officer habitually fed these ducks, and he is on indefinite unpaid leave while we investigate.”

So that’s one family going without dinner for awhile. What about the ducks? “It looked like a mother and maybe eight ducklings,” said a boating trainer at the Community Boating boathouse. “We try to educate people to give a wide berth to the wildlife here, especially in the spring. But they normally don’t cross Storrow. We thought that was kind of amusing.”

Not everybody was amused, however. Runner Julie Martino said, “The friggin’ things almost tripped me.” A driver, who refused to give his name, said the traffic made him late for an interview at John Hancock, saying, “I shoulda squashed ‘em.”

If you thought the surface roads were safe, think again. As the critters made their way through the city, they continued to interfere with pedestrians, commercial establishments and delivery and construction crews. Boston Police department dispatcher Margaret Clancy was forced to dispatch officers to Beacon Street to block the intersection with Charles, allowing the animals to enter the Public Garden. This caused gridlock throughout the Back Bay that lasted several hours.

“This did real damage to the local economy,” said Boston Mayor Marty Walsh. “We estimate that businesses suffered $10 to 15 Million in lost revenues. And that doesn’t count additional expenses for safety personnel and construction overruns.”

So look for that bill to come later, Bostonians.

The incident even made the national news. On CNN, coverage steered away from a missing radio-controlled plane owned by a ten year old in Minnesota, to the unfolding traffic nightmare in Boston. Wolf Blitzer mused, “Could these ducks be receiving signals, maybe something we can’t hear, from outer space of something, causing them to act this way?” while talking to a dumbfounded representative from the Audubon Society.

Nancy Grace, once of CNN but now on some other cable channel, had a different axe to grind, “I know she’s a duck, but why would a single mom imperil her children like this? Crossing a busy highway? And once again, where was DCF? Where was the father?”

Dr. Phil would also like to know, “If it turns out that for the dad to just run off for a whole week while mom has to herd the kids across a deadly obstacle course is a normal duck thing, I’ll take it back, but this seems like a passive-aggressive form of abuse or worse, maybe even purposeful and murderous.” He is reportedly trying to book the ducks for an upcoming episode.

On Fox News, the situation was cause for national security concerns. “If we find out that ISIS has sent these ducks, and maybe others, to infiltrate our cities, I can’t imagine the fallout for the White House here,” opined Laura Ingraham.

Rush Limbaugh had other culprits in mind, “The tree huggers are just beside themselves with glee, my friends, and I’m telling you, they’re shipping in crates of critters. I call them Animal Qaeda.” PETA was unavailable for comment.

On A&E, producers are already planning a reality series about the ducks to air this fall, to replace the faltering Duck Dynasty.

In a late-evening conference call, President Obama chimed in, “I’ve spoken with Mayor Walsh and city leaders to offer my heartfelt sympathy for the people of Boston. Today is a reminder that we exist in a fragile civilization, which must be protected, supported, and shared with all wildlife.”

Not for nothing, Mr. President, but yesterday was not a day drivers in Boston will remember with sharing in mind. Unless we’re sharing a plate of roast duck.

Tom Bishop can be reached on Twitter at @myleftone

A Letter to my Children

A Letter To My ChildrenDear Riley and Connor,

I may never again get the chance to sit down and do this. You are two active, precocious, lovable, beautiful children who create your own energy together, the way an intense fire creates its own whirlwind. You spin and fly and run and think, and the threshold where I can no longer keep up is rapidly approaching.

Before frustration causes me to forget what I believe when it comes to parenting, I wanted to put my promises to you in writing.

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