Aging with Character

New post at Gettingoutmore.org. Another one about aging.

In our minds’ eyes we all think we are a certain age. When I dream I am usually right around the 17-24 year old mark. I’m not even kidding. Nobody roams through their dreamscape with the aches and pains and scars of a 40 plus year old.

Sometimes these moments all catch up with me. I catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror and see a lot of grey in my beard. I no longer have the thick nearly black hair, full of long curls or otherwise. This weekend, I shaved my beard and noticed older skin underneath. The stubble is coming back in already, more salt than pepper.

I’m 44. And I freakin’ love it…

To read the rest, click the link here!

The hard turns of life

Eighteen years ago today, a baby was born.  7lbs and 10oz. of wriggly, wrinkly, cheese-covered joy.  The entire world was open to him, any conceivable possibility was his to explore.  He was born over three weeks late.  He was supposed to be a September baby.  He was born to two people who already disliked each other.  None of that was his fault.

For the next 18 years, he got to see his parents fight.  His sister was born just a little over a year and a half after he was born, so she got to see us fight too.  And their brother further down the line too.

I remember the tough times with my son.  He cried a lot.  Sometimes all night.  He was a colicky baby.  He would often scream all throughout dinner if he wasn’t being held, much to the displeasure of anyone else in the restaurant.  But there were moments when he laughed too.  A chubby baby with such a capacity to just giggle and laugh, I’ve never met anyone so ticklish.  You didn’t even have to touch him to get him to double over, laughing from the intent to tickle him.  He fought nursing.

He used to roll from place to place, so stubborn not to crawl.  One day, about a week after he learned to crawl, I stood only a few feet away and he just stood up and took his first steps.  His first word was “Da-da”.  He was obsessed with letters and for Christmas one year, when he was just a little over two years old, one of his presents was a set of foam letters to play with in the bathtub, which he just kept repeating the names for over and over again until he had to go to bed.  By three he had taught himself to read.

He read everything.  In time, he became more withdrawn.  He preferred his books to the company of his sister, but they were still very close.  He didn’t care much at all for the herd of dogs and cats we had around the house, but he did take interest in the parakeet we had.

He loved Teletubbies and Boo-bah (which he called Bee-bah), and the Wiggles.  We all used to sing with Halloween and Christmas albums in the car.  He really liked Maroon 5 and Switchfoot, and singing off-key to his Kidzbop karaoke machine.  Making mixtapes of “fresh music”.

I was there for every milestone, from his first breath, first tooth, first word, first steps, first day of school, first cold brought home from school, first trip to the ER for problems breathing.  Doctors appointments.  Asthma and allergy treatments.  He used to hold my hand, just clutching one or two of my fingers as we crossed the street or walked through the store.  He used to cackle with delight at weird things like the Winnie the Pooh game on his V-Smile gaming console.  In time he graduated to Playstation and then to Xbox 360 and beyond.  I taught him how to ride a bike, which he would ride to school and I would carry home every day at lunch during my lunch hour, when I took him to school.

He had a few friends when he was little at school.  It seemed like everyone knew him whenever we walked through the halls at his elementary school down the street.  Until Second Grade, his teachers said he was so bright and that he was their favorite student.  His second grade teacher couldn’t have been more opposite to this attitude.  But she disliked my daughter and youngest as well.

Past then, the mark of being a difficult troublemaker followed him.  His curiosity wasn’t encouraged.  He was chastised for reading constantly.  He didn’t know the names of any of the kids who all knew him.  He acted out.  He had meltdowns.

Things at home degraded.  We were poor, and I was the only source of income in the house.  Things got strained, but that is more my story than his, though he was affected by it.  The word Aspergers was thrown around and soon the school had an IEP on him to treat him as such.  Some things improved.  Some didn’t.  He still doesn’t have an official diagnosis, but it seemed to help.

Five years ago, just a few weeks after his 13th birthday, I left his mother, whose mental state had become too much to deal with.  I wanted to give all three of my kids a somewhat normal life.  He couldn’t handle the contrast and left to live with his mom full-time a year and a half later.  The familiar chaos and demands were more comforting to him, it seemed, than a quiet home with structure, discussions, and no yelling and screaming.  He wasn’t being interrogated anymore going back to his mom’s if he had no information to surrender.  As far as I know, he became a surrogate dad, picking up where I left off with chores, discipline, and raising his brother and sister.

Then there were the CPS visits.  The reports of abuse and neglect, not just made against me, which I have spoken of in length, but at his mother’s house as well.  Cries for help that the local government does little to nothing to address.

I haven’t spoken to him in nearly four years.  It was “his decision” to not return to my house one April morning.  I am nothing to him now except a piggy bank for his mother.  She refers to me as a “sperm donor.”

All I hear about him now comes in snippets.  He’s a Senior in school.  He goes by his mother’s last name.  He wants nothing to do to me.  His story, in my mind, is now only memory or rumor.  He doesn’t sound happy.  That baby who was born with all the possibilities in the world has been hammered into something someone else wanted for him.  He has no friends.  He escapes reality in books and social media and video games.  His brother and sister have often told me, “I know you lost a son, but I also lost a brother.”

This is his last year of high school.  From what I have seen, his grades are awful.  His options are more limited now than being a helpless, fussing baby in a blue knit cap, his new lungs dragging in every breath and the moments of his life adding up as the days remaining began to tick down, like the rest of us.

I miss my son, Gabriel.  Named for an angel, one of the sweetest people I have ever known.  Sensitive, brilliant, odd in his own way.  I still love him, even though I no longer know him.  The little guy I remember lives on in my memories.  I hope that one day, that feisty creature rekindles something inside my son and he can find his own path, as was supposed to be what he got in life.  Even if he and I never meet again, I love him, and I wish him the very best.

I pray for that kid every day, and hope that one day he finds his way.  I hope at least I planted some seeds in his heart that lived, which will grow and help him become the man he can still be.

Happy 18th Birthday, kiddo.  May you find everything which is good in life, and may it be yours one day.

 

Why I Quit Cub Scouts

No, this isn’t a post about something that happened 30 years ago. I’m talking about last week.  So to be more specific, my son and I quit Cub Scouts.  Still weird?  Oh, buckle up.  It gets better.

Let’s start off by saying this:  I was a Boy Scout.  I even achieved the rank of Eagle Scout, which a while back, actually used to mean something before they were handing out the rank like participation ribbons for the three-legged race on field day.  It used to mean that you not only held true to the tenets of Scouting, but also performed community service, learned skills, survival, self-sufficiency, pride in your achievements, and also what it means to lead as well as follow.

Popcorn

Scouting is different now.  At the younger levels, it is not what it was when I was a kid.  It’s all about using cute kids in expensive uniforms to advertise excessively priced popcorn.  The Den gets to keep a percentage, but in reality, it’s as much a racket as Girl Scouts with their cookies.  In my opinion it is nearly exploitative.

Core values, learning skills, learning, growth, development, and community service are secondary to $20 bags of what is basically Cracker Jacks.  Or more apropos, Poppycock.  Last year, nearly every “Leadership” meeting was about popcorn sales.  This pressure for the kids in the Den to sell at least $650 in popcorn per kid.

So, stomping around on the few weekends I have with my son to sell crap wasn’t how I could or wanted to spend what time I could.  With pneumonia.

And it isn’t limited to Cub Scouts.  Schools employ the same bullshit tactics for funding each year from take and bake bread knots to expensive wrapping paper.  The method is the same, send the crap home with the kids and the parents can take it to work to be parasites on their workplace, family, and friends.

The Bad Touch

With the exception of the Catholic church, almost no organization has become synonymous with child molestation than Scouting.  In all my years as an active member of the BSA to my recent stint as a parent involved in Scouting, I haven’t seen it happen.  But the organization is so hyper-vigilant about rooting out child predators, that the whole thing hangs like a cloud over Scouting.  Kids even take a yearly brush up on how to recognize grooming, predation, and all of that each year.  It kinda makes a person wonder how frequently it happens in the organization to have that much awareness of it.  Like what the hell is going on here levels.

Ever hang out with someone who keeps talking about child molesters?  Yeah, it’s a lot like that.  Not fun at all.

Helicopter Parenting

Helicopter parenting is not only encouraged in Cub Scouts.  It is the status quo.  Parents have to sit through the meetings with the kids the entire time, participating in activities, all of that.  Probably for a couple of reasons, the first of which being molestation.  If your kid gets molested, you can’t blame them because you were there the whole time, or should have been.

The other reason is crowd control.  Parents are expected to keep their kids in line the whole time.  But you know, if everyone was doing their job as a parent, trusted people in positions of authority wouldn’t have to worry about the ADD afflicted kids who may as well have been crafted in a lab from squirrel DNA might actually sit the hell down and listen.  I blame Adderall.  I blame electronics.  I blame parents.  And I just don’t feel like watching kids bounce off the walls while all the parents are sucked into their phones.

For those parents not sucked into their phone, the meetings became total chaos of kids acting up for the attention of their parents who were always willing to indulge them.

Creepy McCreepsters and their Spawn

Or worse yet, the extra creepy parents hovering around their kids, making me have to take note of who is especially touchy or groomy of the kids in the vicinity.  And the spoiled kids whose parents doted on them disrupting everything for an ounce of unearned attention every five seconds.

For the most part, the parents aren’t friends.  We are all in the same room for the same reason.  Our kids wanted to do this and now we can’t just let them do it, we have to micromanage them as they do it.

Once more unto the breach…

I got my Eagle Scout award many years ago.  Why am I doing all this stuff to get my Bear patch now?

Ask not what Scouting  can do for you…

They actually handed out a checklist of things we as parents can provide.  Not really a list of what we would like to provide.  Four wheel drive vehicles.  Boats.  Camping equipment.  Hand tools.  Carpentry tools. All that kind of thing.  You know, so they know who and how they can exploit.  It’s less of what they were asking for than it was how they were asking for it.  Sorta like when a neighbor borrows a weed whacker.

Last year, I agreed to being an assistant Den leader and quickly found out how much more of my time Scouting wanted out of me for my troubles.  It became a major time sink, which in my life of working two jobs, raising kids, and trying to get a career in travel writing off the ground was a bigger problem than I hoped it would be.

The worst part, nobody really even acknowledged that I was a Den Leader.  I was just the dad who helped at the meetings.

Personal issues

  • Coordination of time. There were also logistical problems involved.  Mainly my ex-wife has no intention of doing anything for our son while he was in scouting.  So, he wound up missing half the meetings and many of the weekend events and activities.  I had to pay for uniforms, travel, supplies, etc.  And deal with her promises to Leadership that she would allow our son to participate.  Which she never delivered on.
  • Money.  This stuff is expensive.  From $50 for uniforms the kids outgrow to gas money to get to events, to events in other towns like baseball games, the zoo, camp, etc.  It adds up quickly.
  • Time. Possibly the rarest commodity.  Combined with school projects, family time, and a split parenting schedule, it was hard to find the time.  Especially with meetings two or three times a month after school, then Leadership meetings twice per month were we mostly talked about popcorn sales.
  • Kids will be kids.  Friendships come and go, and one of his friends in Scouting has decided he doesn’t want to be his friend anymore.  So, he doesn’t really want to be around that kid if he isn’t going to play nice.
  • Feeling out of place.  As an adult, I have discovered that you won’t get along with everyone.  But here, man, it was a lot like high school.  Anytime I opened my mouth, on such matters as camping, hiking, Scouting, they looked at me like I was the weirdest motherf**ker who ever lived.  My expertise was not welcome (you know considering I’ve been camping, hiking, etc. most of my life).
  • Popcorn. Most of the time I felt like the only thing that was welcomed was my ability to serve in the Popcorn Army.  It is as bad as exploitation of Girl Scouts to sell overpriced cookies which do very little to actually fund the troop/den/etc.
  • POGs.  A lot of the leadership was constructed of desk-driving career military POGs who couldn’t pass a tape test to save their lives, but continually reminded the rest of us how important they were because they were military every goddamned minute we had to be around them.  These are the same kinds of people who love Monopoly because of all the rules and never improvise or make up their own bits.  Fun.
  • It’s TOO fair.  Take for instance the Pinewood Derby.  What should have been ten heats of racing cars down a track turned into two three hour events because every car has to run on every track and be averaged in the spirit of “fairness.”  Jeez. Sometimes you win.  Sometimes you lose.  If you can’t handle that, then this world is going to be very hard.
  • Guilt.  Maybe what kept us going as long as we did was the guilt.  You do things for your kids, even if they put you out of your comfort zone.  That part was fine, but for the same reason so many parents stick their kids in lacrosse or soccer or other activities.  But really, after the clusterfuckery of the most miserable campout ever* we were done.  But, how do you say that to family who were supportive of Scouting when you were coming up?  Such as a grandma who keeps sewing the patches on her grandson’s uniform?  Well, to be honest, sometimes as a parent, you just have to call it, and say, “We aren’t having fun anymore.”  After all, it’s not them who have to sit through the meetings.

Loss of interest

My son just got bored with it.  The last award he got he just didn’t even seem to care.  I thought, why are we even here if he doesn’t want to be here?  So, we plan on doing a lot of other things with our time that aren’t selling popcorn, watching a bunch of hyperactive children with helicopter parents, or working on awards the parents are doing most of the work on anyway.

The hardest pill to swallow

So, I guess my son didn’t want to do it anymore, and I am the one who wound up quitting for the both of us.  But that’s not even the worst of it.  Having been an avid Scout when I was a young man, I felt like the organization had become something I no longer even recognized.

The Scout Oath and Law are mumbled by parents and kids at the beginning of every meeting.  I don’t remember either of them mentioning popcorn, but it was the main focus of the whole thing. It wasn’t ever supposed to be about selling popcorn and it sure as hell wasn’t about the parents being around constantly.

I loved being in the Boy Scouts of America.  It saved my life as a young man and it helped me to get out of my house and into the outdoors or at least get experience doing things as a group, individually, etc.  It helped me learn how to lead and how to follow, and it gave me a lot of skills I still use today.  One of those being how to recognize something that doesn’t sit right with me.

This isn’t the same Scouting that I knew and loved.

Sometimes you gotta roll the hard six

So, as a parent, it’s good to make sure you kids have great experiences which hopefully broaden their minds and build on character, but sometimes, it’s okay just to throw on the brakes and say “I’ve had enough of this.”

Where was the self-reliance?  Where was the sense of achievement?  Where in the hell was the fun?

Sorry, Scouting.  It’s not you.  It’s me…no, it’s you.  You’ve changed.

*Soon to follow:  The Most Miserable Campout Ever.