Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Story flashback via the Moth

I love The Moth.  It's a nonprofit that features people telling true stories, live, on stage, without notes.  There's a podcast, the Moth radio hour on some public radio stations and both main stage events and "story slams".  A story slam is open mic format with a theme.  Any number of people sign up, and they pull ten names at random to tell stories.  Volunteer judges then score the stories.  The winner participates in a "grand slam" competition of all the story slam winners for the past year.  In Pittsburgh, about 300 people attend the story slam; I don't know how many people put their names in, but I'd estimate it at 20-30.  It can be a torturous setup.  Knowing that you might get to tell a story (that's supposed to hold the audience's interest and that will be judged) means that you have to prepare.  For me, that means writing the story out and trying to memorize it well enough to be able to tell it under the bright lights.  But it's like if you had a to cram for a final knowing that you then stand a 60% chance of not having to take it.  I've prepared before and not had my name called.  It can be an unpleasant emotional roller coaster.

My name got called last night, though.  It was my second time in 4 or 5 tries.  The theme was "wanderlust".  The story I told was a repackaged version of this post from August 2009.  Read on for a trip down CP memory lane.  

I don’t call myself a stay-at-home dad. It’s more accurate, but more complicated, to say that I work part time and have primary parenting responsibility. Almost as complicated as it is to work part time and have primary parenting responsibility. I cut down from full-time at my job when my son Charlie was 6 and my son Teddy was 2. The following summer I figured out that with my Monday, Tuesday, Thursday schedule, I could leave on Tuesday for a 5-day trip while using only one vacation day. My parents have a summer place in Maine. When I grew up, we’d go there for 2 or 3 weeks every summer. Making a run for the coast seemed like the perfect use of my new schedule flexibility. The fact that my wife would have to stay in Pittsburgh to work and that this would be a solo parenting adventure in the month that my boys turned 7 and 3? I was up for that; it seemed like a neat reversal of the '60s era "mom takes the kids to the Hamptons while Dad stays in Manhattan" family arrangement. It would be a downmarket version, taking a 12-year-old Honda Accord to a 6-room bungalow in a honky tonk Maine beach town, but I liked the parallels.

To be honest, I wanted to prove to myself, to my wife and to the world – which couldn’t care less – that I could take two boys 1400 miles round trip by myself. To not burden my wife, I packed everything we’d need by myself on Monday night. Clothes, beach gear, stuff to keep them entertained in the car, diapers and pullups for Teddy who was not quite potty trained. He was on that cusp between being a toddler and a pre-schooler, but he really leaned more toddler.

After work on Tuesday afternoon, I grabbed Charlie from the summer nanny, got Teddy from day care, and we set off east. About 75 miles down the turnpike, I realized I’d packed the brand new portable DVD player. and NO DVDs. [Forehead slap]. It would be a harder evening drive than I thought to my sister’s place in Queens.

We hummed across PA as you do and then confronted New York with printed google map directions, no smart phone, no GPS. These facts became important when I missed the Van Wyck expressway in Queens at 11 pm, 375 miles into the trip. My dad of the year nomination probably went out the window when I woke my three-year-old by yelling FUCK as I saw the exit ramp go by. I bungled my way around 1-3 New York boroughs acknowledging how nice it is to have a navigator - like, say, my wife - in the passenger seat in New York City. I eventually got to my sister's 1-bedroom, non-air-conditioned apartment in the throes of a heat wave. The air was thick and motionless. She slept on the floor in the living room while the boys and I sweated a lot and slept a little in her bed. Charlie concluded from overhearing me tell his mom on the phone that I'd "f-bombed my way across Queens" that "to f-bomb" means "to drive really fast".

On Wednesday, we met up with my brother and his kids in Boston and caravanned up to my parents’ place. I have some great pictures of Charlie and Teddy dead asleep on the beach. After the road trip and the stifling night in Queens, they were not raring to splash in the icy ocean. But we did have fun the next couple of days on the windy Maine beach that I grew up visiting as a kid. I savored sharing that place with my boys, my brother, my nieces and my parents. We got to have a joint birthday party for the boys with the extended family at the cottage. It was nice.

On Saturday, we drove down to my brother’s place outside Boston and spent the night there to get us that much closer to home for Sunday’s drive. We got up and out early Sunday aiming to being home in time for dinner. We made great time from Boston down through Rhode Island and Connecticut and across the Tappan Zee Bridge. Then we crossed into New Jersey, over three and a half hours without a stop. With kids that age, this was an amazing feat. I’d put Teddy in a pullup for the ride home to cut down on urgent bathroom stops, and he slept all the way from Boston to New Jersey. It was golden. I was pretty proud of myself. He woke up in the Garden State and soon after, I heard baffling splattering sounds from the back seat. Teddy was reminding me in the most graphic way that sometimes, he gets carsick. He threw up all over himself and his carseat. And some luggage. And his brother's video game. I pulled over on the side of I-287 and field-stripped him in the breakdown lane as traffic whipped by. I changed his pullup and his entire outfit. I scraped vomit off the upholstery with a plastic knife and sopped up what I could with leftover rest area napkins.Nonetheless, it smelled horrible in the car, and we had 300 miles to go.

Once we were finally back underway, Charlie said "now we're really going to have to f-bomb across Pennsylvania to make it home in time for dinner."


Anne H. said...

I remember this story but the added details are priceless! At the end I laughed heartily for quite a while. Well done and I'm glad your name was called.

Lauren Jackson said...

Fantastic! I wish I could've been there to hear it in person.