My First Car: the Legendary AMC Pacer

MichelinRVBThis is a sponsored post for Michelin’s #FirstCarMoment campaign to raise awareness about the important role tires play in driving safety. Opinions are mine.

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First Car Moment

Sadly, no photos of the Bubble survive. But this Creative Commons image of a Pacer is sort of what it looked like. Imagine this, only MUCH bigger tires and a lot of rust where the paint should be.

My high school friends called it the Bubble. A grayish contraption of rusted metal, cracked plastic, torn fabric and glass — lots and lots of glass; 5,615 square inches of glass, to be exact. That was my first car: the 1975 AMC Pacer X.

It sat in the parking lot of our South Florida town home complex rusting away in the sun for months, a FOR SALE sign fading on the unnaturally enormous front dash. When I turned 16, my parents fronted $400 of the $500 purchase price, and I had myself some wheels.

Speaking of which, the one thing that actually looked safe on the Bubble was the set of HUGE racing tires that the previous owner had decided were necessary to complete the image of absurdity that was my first car. I doubt my parents would have allowed me to buy that car, frankly, if not for those tires.

The Pacer was a wide car. That was how it was pitched in the mid-1970s, in fact: the widest small car in the world. How wide? Well, check out this vintage Pacer commercial, which made much of the wideness.

My Pacer, the Bubble, was a rolling space capsule. I once fit 11 people into it, which I admit was not safe. But I was 16, and we all needed to get to whatever important destination we sought, and I remember feeling proud that the Bubble could accommodate so many. It was a rolling party.

Who cared if there was rust? What difference did it make that every time I drove through a puddle, the engine stalled until I detached the alternator cap and sprayed on a liberal amount of carburetor cleaner? How could it possibly matter that I could see the road pass below through small, rusted-out portions of the floorboard?

The car was mine, and so was the road. Simply, the Bubble represented freedom. And? According to a fairly recent documentary called the Unfortunate History of the AMC Pacer, my first car was revolutionary. Until it wasn’t.

I always thought, secretly, that I was ahead of my time behind the wheel of the Bubble. But I’ll be honest – like many teenagers, I abused that freedom a little. And I abused that car a lot. The bottom-heavy wideness of it – along with those huge, relatively new racing tires – might have been the only thing to keep me on the road at times.

Frankly, memories of myself as a teen driver are not sources of comfort as I contemplate the future of my own children behind the wheel. In retrospect, I should have been much more responsible.

My kids will certainly reap the benefit of my (sort of wild and crazy) first car moments, and Michelin has a few safety facts and tips to remind us about the importance of driving safety and to help me and other parents be sure our kids are as safe as possible on the road:

  • Automobile accidents kill more teenagers than anything else in America.
  • Driving on under-inflated tires or tires with poor tread can be hazardous; 12 percent of the 2.2 million accidents involving inexperienced drivers are attributed to under-inflated or worn tires.
  • Many of these accidents are preventable by paying attention to tire pressure and tread depth. Teach kids how to use a tire gauge and check tire tread depth, and have them check each measurement every month.

Summer is when millions of new drivers first experience the true meaning of the open road. So, it’s no surprise that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and National Safety Council say that statistically, the 100 days between Memorial Day and Labor Day are the most dangerous time of year for teen drivers.

Now is the time to remind your kids that no matter how junky or rusty their first car might be, there can be no compromise when it comes to safety. The video below is full of moving moments that depict the rite of passage when kids receive their first cars. As important as that milestone is for a young driver, it is important that they understand that safety is the priority, and that starts with the tires.

Disclosure: I have partnered with Life of Dad and Michelin for this promotion. I have received compensation for my participation, but my first car memories are my own.

First Car Moment

Yes, Wayne and Garth’s Mirth Mobile was a Pacer. Party on! Images: Creative Commons

9 Tips for a Safe, Fun Summer with Kids

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Shriners Hospitals for Children

We learned about summer safety and had a good time at the Shriners Hospitals for Children® On Track for a Safe Summer campaign event in Tampa. All Photos: Carter Gaddis


Our family was invited to Shriners Hospitals for Children® in Tampa to learn about the On Track for a Safe Summer campaign. In this sponsored article about our experience, I share a few tips on how to reduce the risk of accidents and injuries this summer, while still having a lot of fun.

Thunder rumbled and late-morning sunshine gave way to fast-moving gray clouds. It happens like that in Florida during the summer. If you’re outside with the kids, you keep one eye on your young ones and the other eye on the sky.

Most of the time, an approaching thunder storm is the last thing you want to hear on the playground. Last week, though, as my sons romped and climbed and slid and ran around the fantastic playground at the Tampa site of the Shriners Hospitals for Children®, the timing actually was ideal.

Shriners Hospitals for Children

Moments later, a brief, passing shower (complete with occasional thunder) forced us inside for a few minutes. Lightning in the area? Get inside immediately.

We were there to learn about the summer safety message of the On Track for a Safe Summer campaign. The sound of thunder interrupting their outdoor fun was the perfect opportunity to reinforce one of the most important things to remember about staying safe during the stormy summer months in Florida:

With thunder comes lightning. And when lightning is in the area, get inside immediately.

Here’s what I loved about that moment: My sons, 9-year-old Jay and 6-year-old Chris, did not need to be reminded.

“Dad, I hear thunder,” Jay said calmly, stopping his basketball game to peer through the trees at the quickly gathering clouds. “We need to go inside. Right now.”

So, inside we went. We waited long enough for the brief and isolated storm to pass us by. Then it was back outside, where all the kids played and had a good time in the sun.

I love what Shriners Hospitals for Children® is doing with the On Track for a Safe Summer campaign, because it’s a great reminder that kids can have fun without increasing the risk of injury. We aren’t “helicopter” parents by any means, but we do practice common sense when it comes to giving our kids the freedom to explore and play and learn about the world.

Shriners Hospitals for Children

Summer safety tip: On or near the water, wear a life jacket.

Last week at the beautiful medical and rehabilitation facility adjacent to the University of South Florida campus, the boys got to be Summer Safety Superheroes as they earned badges by completing their training in how to stay On Track for a Safe Summer.

The tips already were in our family’s common-sense portfolio, but the activities were fun and the reminders were welcome. To reduce the risk of accidents and stay as safe as possible during the summer, Shriners Hospitals for Children® recommends the following safety tips:

  1. Sun: Apply water- and sweat-proof sunscreen thoroughly to all exposed areas of skin before going outside during daylight hours.
  2. Swing: Always stay seated while playing on a swing.
  3. Slide: Go down a slide feet first, never head first.
  4. Playground: Never push or shove others while playing at a playground.
  5. Swimming: Always swim with a friend.
  6. Water: Wear a life jacket when boating or otherwise near the water.
  7. Mower: Never play on or around a lawn mower, even if it’s not running.
  8. Fire: Keep a safe distance from open fires, and never play around or in a fire pit, even if the fire looks burned out.
  9. Weather: As mentioned above, keep an eye out for bad weather and seek shelter when lightning is in the area.
Shriners Hospitals for Children

Even if it seems to be burned out (or made of cardboard), stay well clear of fire and let a grownup light it and put it out.

Shriners Hospitals for Children® leads the way in specialty pediatric care, including surgery and rehabilitation provided for children with orthopedic conditions, spinal cord injuries and burns. Treatment is not dependent on families’ ability to pay, which lifts a potentially debilitating financial burden from parents and caregivers who already have more than enough to think about when it comes to taking care of their kids.

Jay and Chris were impressed with the Tampa facility, particularly the video game lounge, the peaceful indoor courtyard lit by soaring skylights, and the big playground. It’s a comfort to know that right here in our community, there is a warm, caring environment where children who need special medical care can go and feel safe, loved and well-treated.

It’s a comfort, also, to know that Shriners Hospitals for Children® is helping to remind parents and caregivers everywhere that a little common sense this summer will go a long way toward keeping their kids as safe as possible.

June is National Safety Month, a great time for reminders about ways to help kids enjoy an injury-free summer. For more information about the On Track for a Safe Summer campaign and additional summer safety tips, as well as fun and educational activities for children, visit the campaign information page at the Shriners Hospitals for Children® website.

Shriners Hospitals for Children

This is a sponsored post written by me on behalf of Shriners Hospitals for Children®.

Bike Lessons

DadScribe

He’s afraid to fall, but he’ll figure it out. The training wheels are off.

We are going to ride our bikes around the neighborhood. It’s a nice morning for it.

A little muggy, maybe. We’ll have to keep an eye out for the puddles left behind by last night’s thunder storm. The sun is out and the occasional rivulet of sweat already can be seen to flow from under their helmets.

As I fill the tires with air, I think of the danger ahead.

Spills on the asphalt. A head-first flight over the handle bars. An unseen and unseeing car backing out of a driveway. A giant and angry dog off its leash, hunting for ankles to gnaw.

Wait … there’s a truck. It’s kind of big. It’s moving kind of fast. Looks dangerous. What’s it say on the side?

Charity Clothing Pickup

OK. They can stay.

I consider the danger and dismiss it. This is how we roll.

We pedal on.

DadScribe

Big brother is watching.

The older boy has dashed ahead in the impatient way of older brothers. He stops a couple of hundred feet down the street and holds his position. His helmeted head is turned toward us, his posture a picture of brotherly forbearance.

His younger brother is struggling. He will be 7 soon, but he has yet to commit to the bike. Training wheels still provide support – emotional, mental and physical.

I encourage and remind him to keep pedaling along the sidewalk. Don’t stop.

Keep pedaling.

Keep pedaling!

Stop!

He’s off the sidewalk, in the grass, but still upright. His bike’s front tire faces backward. He struggles to right himself, but does not call for help. He is determined.

I park my bike, call for his older brother to return. He pedals back, all pre-tween grace and elbows.

“You control the bike,” I say to the almost-7-year-old. “Don’t let it control you. Keep pedaling. If you keep moving forward, you won’t fall.”

I tell him this knowing he won’t get it. Fear of falling informs him. It’s a powerful motivator, fear of falling.

I remember how it felt. I also remember that the worst of it wasn’t the jumbled result or the painful skinned-knee aftermath.

The worst of it was the anticipation of the fall. The second-worst was that eternal instant of helplessness when gravity took over and I knew my next sensation would be pain.

Oh, yes. I remember that.

I also remember lying there on the sidewalk after my first bike crash, scared and frustrated, but aware that it could’ve been a lot worse. In fact, I had expected a lot worse.

It wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. A few scrapes here and there. No broken bones. No concussion-causing head trauma. I got up, rode off, crashed a few more times, and finally learned how to ride that bike. Then I built a ramp out of bricks and a board and pretended to be Evel Knievel.

He doesn’t know yet that the fear of the fall is worse than the fall itself, because the training wheels are there to keep him upright. I send him off down the sidewalk for a few test runs. He tries to balance without relying on the training wheels. He makes up a sing-song chant to remind him to balance: “Wiggle, wiggle. Stay in the middle!”

DadScribe

Determination.

He’s doing OK. Maybe he’s ready. We wiggle back home.

Off come the training wheels. Out comes the lower lip. His eyes get big and moist. He’s not ready. He’s ready. He doesn’t want to learn. He wants to learn.

We try a couple of times up and down the sidewalk in front of the house. His older brother yells encouragement and I hold the back of his seat, a living version of his detached training wheels. Up the sidewalk we pedal – only, he’s not pedaling. He’s afraid he’ll fall.

And of course, he will fall. Then, he’ll get back on and … fall again.

He’s learning how to ride a bike. Falling happens.

He’s learning. Getting back up also happens.

He’ll get it.

We’ll try again tomorrow.

Dad’s New Mealtime Wingman: Delicious, Convenient STOUFFER’S Fit Kitchen Entrees

Fit Kitchen

Me and my wingmen. After a day spent stomping around the theme park, STOUFFER’S Fit Kitchen is perfect for refueling. #ad

I have partnered with Life of Dad and STOUFFER’S® for this promotion. I have received compensation and product for my participation, but my opinions are my own.

I’m the dad. I work at home. I greet the boys off the bus after school.

I help with homework. I resolve the rare disputes. I shop for groceries. I cook supper.

And by that, I’m not only talking about grilling up a mean burger or whipping up a quick batch of macaroni and cheese. Although I do make a mean burger – just ask my sons.

No, when I say I shop and cook, I mean those things are primarily my responsibility at our house. I like to experiment in the kitchen, and I like to go big every now and then. It’s cool. I like to do it. I’ve even gotten pretty good at it, if I say so myself.

Again, don’t take my word for it. My sons brag about my cooking to their friends.

The 21st century equivalent of “my dad could beat up your dad” is “my dad’s omelets make your dad’s omelets taste like liquid cardboard.”

I’m the dad. I shop and cook, but I do much more.

We are out there, me and my boys. We hike through the Florida woods. We play soccer and baseball in the back yard. We swim. We ride bikes and scooters around the neighborhood. We walk for hours – and hours – through Florida’s theme parks under Florida’s hot sun.

Fit Kitchen

We could go out and buy all the ingredients for this delicious rotisserie season turkey entree at the grocery store, but it would take A LOT more time to prepare and there is NO WAY it would taste as good as this tasted.

As they’ve gotten old enough to roam, I’ve found that they have become the ideal wingmen for outdoor fun – and for grocery shopping.

Here’s where STOUFFER’S® Fit Kitchen meals make their entrance in our family’s little story. Our grocery list could include all of the ingredients necessary to make delicious rotisserie seasoned turkey with all the extras – turkey tenderloin medallions, diced red skin potatoes and sweet potatoes, cut green beans and gravy.

I could send the boys on a wingman mission to gather these ingredients in our neighborhood supermarket or farmer’s market. I could then spend an hour or more with the boys in the kitchen, prepping the food and baking it and hovering over the stove to make sure that all of the delicious and complementary flavors were combined in just the right way.

I could do all of that … if not for the fact that our family is busy. Like, so busy that even getting us all under the same roof long enough to sit down and eat dinner together is a challenge.

That’s why it’s nice that STOUFFER’S® has released its new line of protein-packed frozen Fit Kitchen meals. Every 14-ounce entree has at least 25 grams of protein, and it only takes five or six minutes to prepare in the microwave.

This is a substantial serving. I was pleasantly surprised to find that unlike with many frozen meals, the Fit Kitchen rotisserie seasoned turkey entrée tasted homemade – and didn’t leave me hungry after the last mouthful.

Now, will we eat these scrumptious meals every night? No. I sincerely love to get the evening meal ready for our family every night, and I enjoy showing the boys around the kitchen sometimes, too.

In fact, the six varieties of STOUFFER’S® Fit Kitchen meals inspire me to actually put the boys to work gathering ingredients and hanging out with me in the kitchen for meal prep.

That said, the reality is this: Like most families, our time is limited. Convenience wins at mealtime. As long as nutrition doesn’t suffer, that is. In that respect, these entrees are a win-win.

Plus, I doubt our turkey concoction would taste anywhere near as good as the Fit Kitchen rotisserie seasoned turkey. I mean … it really is tasty.

So, it’s nice to know that I’ll have STOUFFER’S® around as my new meal-time wingman when time is short but our family still needs a nutritious, delicious option to eat.

Fit Kitchen

I have a lot of fun with these guys, but I also feed them well. I love knowing that they will grow up with memories of me shopping for groceries and cooking, as well as hanging out and having outdoor fun.

 

Our Week with Kia Sorento: Road Trip Memories

I received a 2016 Kia Sorento SXL AWD on loan to drive and review for a week, courtesy of Drive Shop and Kia. Here are my thoughts.

The timing of the loan was ideal. What better way to really get the feel for a family car like the 2016 Kia Sorento than to drive that car hundreds of miles for a Memorial Day weekend excursion?

Kia Sorento

We made a lot of road trip memories during our week with a 2016 Kia Sorento.

We piled in on Friday afternoon and headed for Gulf County, a five-hour drive north of our home in the Tampa Bay area. A magnificent beach house awaited on Cape San Blas.

Our loaner Sorento had a 2.0-liter turbo gas direct injection, four-cylinder engine; independent front and rear suspension; and full-time all-wheel drive with lockable center differential.

Um … what?

I’m no car expert. I drive them, and I pay attention to things like how comfortable the seats are, how good the gas mileage is and how much space there is for packing. Our Sorento passed those tests with ease.

There also was the Kid Test, though. Would the boys like it?

Kia Sorento

The boys loved the backseat space and Kids Place Live on Sirius/XM.

Short answer: They loved it. The Sirius/XM radio was a huge hit — Kids Place Live became, in just that one week, an all-time favorite. They were fascinated by the navigation display and paid close attention to our progress on the real-time map. There was plenty of room in the back for them to be comfortable during our long drives up to and back from the Panhandle.

I can sum up the experience simply: By the time our loan period ended, the Sorento felt like our car. It took us to a place where we made wonderful memories, and we will always associate our family’s first trip to Cape San Blas with the car we came in.

I wasn’t asked to do this, and it isn’t associated with Kia or Drive Shop at all, but I felt compelled to commemorate our experience with the Sorento in video form. Forgive its sappiness. It’s not an actual commercial, just a genuine expression of how a family trip can bridge generations, and how lifelong memories are made on the road.

 

We Will Always Go Back to Gulf County, Florida

Visit Gulf County

This is a sponsored post written by me on behalf of Visit Gulf County for IZEA. All opinions are 100% mine.

Sunset at Cape San Blas …

The boys leap in sync over the lips of low waves that bubble off the Gulf of Mexico. Peals of laughter drift up the beach and skip across the soft sand to fall lightly upon the dune grass.

Here and there across the sand, quiet islands of humanity stir under portable cabanas. The light of the setting sun angles in and illuminates the glowing row of blue and yellow and orange and red and sand-colored houses that stand sentinel along the ridge.

Visit Gulf County

Sunset at Cape San Blas.

She spots dolphins off shore. An occasional dorsal fin cuts a languid, westward arc above the smooth surface of the water. The boys leap the ambitious waves and sprint with the dolphins along the shoreline, racing the setting sun to the horizon, laughing as the sky transitions from bright blue to dark blue to purple and orange and finally to red-gold.

I watch the boys and my wife and the dolphins and the golden sky, and I resolve: We will always come back to this place. We will always come back to Gulf County, Florida.

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Visit Gulf County

At Water’s Edge, Cape San Blas.

It was a sponsored trip, one of those rare and wonderful opportunities online writers are fortunate enough to receive every now and then. This one came via an out-of-the-blue email from a generous agency looking for a writing dad who could bring his family to this secluded place in the Florida Panhandle for a weekend in May.

Yes, I said. Absolutely, I added. We’ll go. We had been almost everywhere else in Florida, but never to Gulf County. It was time to remedy that.

Where. It is on the Gulf Coast, southwest of Tallahassee, east of Panama City. Its only population center is Port St. Joe, home of the 2014 Florida Class A state high school football champion Port St. Joe Sharks. The county consists of forest, marshland, gulf coastline and the scallop-rich St. Joseph Bay.

Visit Gulf County

The path over the dune from At Water’s Edge, Cape San Blas.

Getting there. From our home near Tampa, Gulf County and Port St. Joe are a five-and-a-half-hour drive north, through little Florida towns stuck in time – Spring Hill, Homosassa, Chiefland, Fanning Springs (at the Suwannee River), Cross City, Perry. Then west through the St. Marks Wildlife Refuge, along the edge of the Apalachicola National Forest, past Sopchoppy, Carrabelle and down Highway 98 where it hugs Apalachicola Bay.

Where to stay. We left on Friday afternoon and at 9 p.m. we pulled in at Cape San Blas, where we picked up our key and welcome packet from the after-hours check-in bin at Coastal Joe Vacation Rentals.

Our beach house was huge and yellow, like the mid-afternoon sun. It’s called At Water’s Edge, because that’s where it is – on the edge of the gulf, tucked behind the dune on Cape San Blas. There are five bedrooms and four bathrooms. There is a private pool, a wood deck in the back, and a wood porch that stretches the length of the eastern side of the house.

You can watch the sun rise over St. Joseph Bay from that porch. Later, you can sit on the other side of the house and watch the sun go down over the gulf.

Visit Gulf County

The At Water’s Edge pool was nice. Very nice.

There is a private path over the dune that opens onto a beach of white sand and gentle waves. It’s a place for sunsets, where dolphins dance with laughing children. When we left late Monday morning, it still was guarded by a mighty sand fortress of our design – not even the overnight tide had penetrated its walls.

I imagine that when we reminisce about this trip to Gulf County, we will think first of the house. Not because it was spectacular, comfortable and huge. It was all of those things, certainly.

What we’ll remember, I imagine, is the time we spent together at that house on the beach, in the pool, or sitting around playing cards or doing nothing. That, in the end, truly was what set this trip apart for me – the rare chance for the four of us to simply be together in a place where the cares and worries and schedules that waited back home could not intrude.

Visit Gulf County

Beth and Chris set out on our guided kayak tour of St. Joseph Bay.

Everything else fell away for a long weekend, and it was just our family and the house at Cape San Blas.

What to do. We had only one scheduled activity pulled from the extensive and detailed Gulf County Adventure Guide: an eco-tour of the St. Joseph Bay by kayak, with Dan VanVleet of Happy Ours Kayak and Canoe Outpost as our guide. The sun shined bright and the sky was blue on Saturday morning, but a strong wind blew from the south and east and made the going tougher than usual on the water for four novices like us.

Still, Chris (6) took to it like a natural. The next day, he asked if we could kayak across the entire length of the bay. By the end of our guided tour, Jay (9) was able to handle Dan’s sleek, pro-style craft on his own.

Dan, a former teacher who founded Happy Ours in 2000 with his wife, Debbie, taught us how to tell the difference between a St. Joseph Bay whelk shell and a conch shell. Dan also explained why male horseshoe crabs latch on to female horseshoe crabs in the water (yes, it’s related to procreation, but there’s more to it that we did not know).

Visit Gulf County

Dan VanVleet of Happy Ours Kayak introduces us to a King’s Crown Conch.

He also asked us one at a time if we knew why a bald eagle is called that. None of us knew, but I won’t spoil it – it’s much more fun to hear it from Dan himself.

We saw starfish and hermit crabs and, as we drifted along a little saltwater channel, Dan regaled us with the unfortunate history of the original town of St. Joseph. We learned that at one time, the forerunner to the current Port St. Joe was the largest population center in the territory of Florida, and the state’s first constitution was signed there in 1838.

Events in old St. Joseph took several disastrous turns after that, but the misfortune of Florida’s early white settlers helped make Gulf County and the St. Joseph Aquatic Preserve what it is today – a pristine, secluded destination where “real” Florida flourishes still.

Visit Gulf County

We found a starfish in St. Joseph Bay.

Back on land, Dan introduced us to his seven chicken friends – his “girls” flock quickly to him when he calls, and that delighted the boys no end. We bid Dan and Debbie goodbye, and promised to see them again on our next visit.

Saturday evening, we enjoyed a tasty supper at the Sunset Coastal Grill in Port St. Joe before heading back to At Water’s Edge to swim in the pool, to hunt for unusual seashells, and to watch the sun set.

Sunday, we explored the 2,516-acre St. Joseph Peninsula State Park, which takes up the outer tip of Cape San Blas. It was another windy, warm day, perfect for hugging the shoreline of St. Joseph Bay along the sandy Bayview Scenic Trail there at the park.

Visit Gulf County

Everywhere we looked at St. Joseph Peninsula State Park, we found natural beauty.

We then made the 20-minute drive around to Port St. Joe, where we let our curiosity guide us to the base of the Cape San Blas light. It was moved to its current location at George Core Park on the Port St. Joe waterfront from the cape in 2014, along with two former lighthouse keeper residences.

There was so much more we could have done. We had the chance to ride horses on the beach, something we’ll definitely do next time. We also could have taken a shuttle out to St. Vincent Island National Wildlife Refuge, a no brainer for a future visit.

Instead, we were drawn back to At Water’s Edge, where we ate hotdogs and chips for lunch and whiled away the afternoon by alternating between building sandcastles on the beach and cooling off in the pool.

Visit Gulf County

The boys on the beach at Cape San Blas.

At sunset, our collective sense of relaxation began to metamorphose into memory as we bathed in light refracted endlessly by airborne salt crystals and sea foam. We were lulled by the lapping low waves into believing it would never end.

And you know? It won’t end. It didn’t end when we drove away from Cape San Blas on Monday morning, and it didn’t end when we pulled safely into our driveway back home on Monday afternoon.

This was not how the story ends. It was how it began.

I know this, because we are resolved: We will go back. We will always go back to Gulf County, Florida.

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A video diary of our Memorial Day weekend visit to Gulf County:

 

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Frozen on Ice: a Brilliant Memory for Mommy and Son

Frozen on Ice

Beth and Chris enjoyed a special day at the Florida Aquarium and Frozen on Ice at Amalie Arena. Photo: Disney on Ice.

My wife, Beth Gaddis, attended a performance of Disney on Ice’s Frozen on Ice at Amalie Arena on behalf of DadScribe last week. Here is her recap of that show, which was the perfect conclusion to a perfect day of mommy-son memories for her and our younger son. 

By Beth Gaddis

“Good morning, good morning, it’s time to wake up,” I sang off-key as I headed into my 6-year-old’s room. I turned on the bedside light, spent a few seconds figuring out how the blanket got so wrapped up around his legs, then started to tickle him. It was our usual morning ritual, but this was no ordinary day.

It was Thursday, and for the first time in a long time, I was taking the day off.

“Wake up, Chris!” I found Olaf half-hidden in the blanket and put on an impromptu puppet show with the stuffed doll. “Hi, I’m Olaf, and I like warm hugs!”

Chris does not wake gracefully. Before the sun rises, he is a 6-year-old teenager, loath to stir without the proper incentive.

“No!” he shouted, squeezing his eyes shut tightly and rolling away from me, hiding his face in the pillow. “No! It’s not time to wake up yet. Just let me sleep.”

“Come on, Chris,” I said. “Today’s gonna be a great day. We’ve got the aquarium, and then we’re going to see Frozen on Ice!” I reminded him, engaging in a tug of war over the blanket.

That got his attention. Today was no ordinary day. For the first time in forever, this was a day for Mommy and Chris.

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Mommy and Chris, together at Frozen on Ice.

Mommy and Chris, together at Frozen on Ice.

Chris is a champ. As the younger sibling, he has spent a lot of time going to his big brother’s soccer matches and baseball games. He wears a lot of hand-me-downs and loves the games, toys, and books his brother has outgrown. We do a lot of family activities, but it’s not often that Chris gets to do something first or alone with his dad or me. He never complains; honestly, I don’t think he even thinks about it.

That’s what made this day so special. I met his school bus at the Florida Aquarium and chaperoned Chris and several of his classmates as they explored life on the shore and under the sea. Chris veered from being an independent first-grader laughing with his friends, to a little boy who would hold my hand as he studied the sharks.

He proudly introduced me as his mom, and looked to me as the expert on sea horses, otters, and spider crabs. My cell phone stayed firmly in my purse other than to snap a few photos. I turned off my work cell phone and focused just on this rare weekday treat with my son.

Frozen on Ice

One of Chris’ favorites was Marshmallow the Snow Monster. Photo: Beth Gaddis

That night, he and I piled in the car and drove off for another adventure: We were headed to Amalie Arena in downtown Tampa to see Frozen on Ice. We’ve been to several Feld Entertainment productions and loved them all, but this one blew us away. Chris was spellbound as he watched one of our favorite Disney movies come to life, climbing into my lap and craning his neck so he could see even better.

He gave the show the greatest compliment a 6-year-old boy can: He gave it his full attention. He didn’t ask to leave. He didn’t ask to play on my cell phone. He just remained rapt.

As we walked back to the car, I asked him what his favorite parts were.

He had a long list:

  • Kristoff’s flips and “awesome tricks”
  • The scary wolves
  • Olaf singing and skating with bumblebees, birds, and flowers (I think he really liked the bright costumes)
  • Marshmallow the snow man growing to monster-sized proportions right before his eyes
  • The trolls

Then he asked if we could see it again.

The next morning, he talked non-stop through breakfast, describing the show for his 9-year-old brother and peppering his commentary with “you’ve got to see it!” It was a true tribute to the overall awesomeness of the show – and an affirmation that while it’s cool to do something alone with your mom, it’s even better when you can do something as a family.

Next time, all four of us will go. The boys can’t wait.

Tickets for Frozen on Ice were provided by Feld Entertainment for review purposes.

Frozen on Ice

Sven the reindeer was another big hit at Frozen on Ice. Photo: Beth Gaddis

 

The Doofus Dad Stereotype is Still a Thing, Unfortunately

Doofus Dad

I don’t ask for credit for being able to take care of my sons while their mom is out of town. But I, and other dads, don’t want to be ridiculed as idiots, either.

Our older son is at a Friday night birthday party in the next neighborhood up the road. Our younger son requested a viewing of Frozen.

My wife, their mother, is – as of this writing – stuck on an airplane that is runway-bound while it waits out a nasty Central Florida thunderstorm. She is on her way to Cape Cod for a brief family visit, a weekend with her sister and mom.

That means it’s … it’s … just me and the (gasp!) boys. Oh, my God. What am I … what am I supposed to do? What’s … where’s … I …

Help! HELLLPPPP! I’M A DAD ON MY OWN WITH MY KIDS FOR THE WHOLE WEEKEND! I DON’T KNOW WHAT TO DO!!!!

THEY’RE GONNA DIIIIEEEEEEE!!!!! AHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!

HELLLLPPPPPPP!!!!!!

Yeah, right.

I got this.

Just like millions of dads all over the world would have it if their parenting partner went out of town for a weekend or longer. This is part of the deal. We cover for each other – when I’m out of town, she’s fine. And vice-versa.

If this is starting to sound familiar, that means you are probably one of the very, very small handful of people who used to read this journal in its infancy.

My goodness. I just checked the date of the last time I wrote a post proclaiming that “I got this.” It was May 16, 2012 – almost three years ago to the day.

Here’s a sample from that post, When Mom Travels for Work … It’s Cool:

“When MomScribe leaves, the boys and I miss her. A lot. She’s absolutely the straw that stirs. Over the long term, we’d be lost without her. (Ugh. I almost deleted that sentence, because it’s too painful to even contemplate.)

But listen … we’re fine. The boys get fed. They get bathed. They receive my attention. They get hugged and rough-housed with and loved. The only real adjustment is I get up a half-hour earlier so I can take my shower and get dressed before they wake up.

I don’t need MomScribe to leave me a check list. I already know how to call their pediatrician, if necessary. I know how to feed them, and dress them, and bathe them, and read a bed-time story to them. I know how to take care of them. They’re my kids. Of course I know how to take care of them. I’m fortunate in that I have an incredible partner, and there’s no way I’ll ever take what she does and who she is for granted. We need her, and even though that doesn’t change when she goes on the road, we’re fine for a while.”

Was that me, trying to make myself out to be some kind of special snowflake dad who is so much better at this than the rest of you? Hell, no. It was me refuting the antiquated notion that dads are imbeciles who are helpless without someone there to hold their hands when their parenting partners are not around.

A writer for Babble, Lori Garcia, expressed that same sentiment. Not three years ago. Yesterday.

Here is Lori’s salient point:

“Dads, I love y’all, but I’m not falling all over myself because you acted like a parent. You’re capable. You’re intelligent. You’re great at it. And you do it all the damn time.”

Hell, yes! We’ve made it! No longer must engaged, loving, competent dads be considered helpless buffoons in the absence of their partners!

This is great! This is …

Um.

I spent a good portion of this evening taking the losing side of an argument that I honestly believed was settled a while ago. After all, hadn’t I written about it three years ago? Hadn’t a lot of people?

Weren’t big brands taking notice that the tired, old doofus dad trope was done and dusted? Hadn’t Dove Men+Care raised the bar for everyone? Hadn’t we decided as a society that dads can (and should) Lean In, too?

Yes! We are beyond it! Aren’t we?

Here’s what I wrote in a good conversation with a group of less-naïve dads on Facebook. I reference the Babble story mentioned and linked above:

“I guess I’m as confused as Lori about why it would be (still) the majority opinion that if one parenting partner takes off for a while, the other parenting partner would melt into a puddle of confusion and despair about bath time and bed time or whatever. Yes, there are ‘red state’ ways of thinking about the family dynamic, but I want to believe that the old, tired way of thinking about these things is being overtaken by more enlightened ideas. At least in theory, if not in actual everyday, everywhere practice. No?”

No.

As I naively tried to argue in favor of progress, a fellow dad posted this ridiculous commercial from AT&T in the same private group: Piece of Cake. Basically, it’s a dad who is left at home alone with the kids and is so inept that only a magical AT&T app that controls everything in the house helps the husband and kids survive the mom’s absence.

It’s the first big-brand commercial I’ve seen in a while that relied on the doofus dad as the primary conceit. And listen – I am aware there are dads who are doofuses. I am aware that everyone forgets things and takes shortcuts and needs a little help every now and then with the kids and with life in general.

I also am aware that in our insular group of fathers who write and interact on social media – the Dad 2.0 Summit crew, City Dads and many others – we do not necessarily fall within the cultural perception of the usual. Maybe it just seems to me like it’s no big deal for dads to be “left alone” with the kids for a while because of the company I keep.

I’d like to think it’s beyond that, though. I’d like to think there has been progress. I’d like to think that it’s “normal” for a dad to be able to pick up his kids at the bus stop on an afternoon, drop off his older son at a birthday party, watch Frozen with his younger son, and plan a fun, productive weekend while his wife was enjoying a wonderful weekend with her mom and sister.

I’d like to think that. Until there are no more commercials like that silly AT&T nonsense above, I’m afraid my fellow fathers are right.

We still have a lot of work to do.

Disney’s Frozen on Ice: Yes, it’s Fun for Boys, Too

Frozen on Ice

Our boys loved the movie, and we know they’ll love the Disney on Ice production of Frozen, too. Photo: Feld Entertainment.

I thought we were past this. When I recently mentioned to a neighbor that I was looking forward to taking the boys to see Disney’s Frozen on Ice at Amalie Arena, the father of two young boys gave me a quizzical look.

Frozen, really?” he said. “Your boys like it?”

I blinked.

“Well … yeah,” I said. “It’s a good movie. They love the songs. I mean, so do I. I sing along with them all the time in the car.”

Turned out his older son had seen the movie, but just wasn’t that crazy about it. Fair enough. Not every kid will enjoy every kid movie. Just because Frozen is the highest-grossest animated film of all time, it doesn’t mean it’s compulsory viewing for every elementary school kid in the country.

But listen – I thought the gender question was settled even before the movie came out Thanksgiving week in 2013. My friend Whit Honea put it best with this piece on the Disney-owned website Babble:

Frozen is a movie about princesses, and it is full of action,” Whit wrote in his preview of the film, which he had shown to his two sons during an early screening. “It is a good film for boys. And girls. And anyone else that enjoys a great story.”

So, we’re going to Disney’s Frozen on Ice, and we know we’re in for a great story. On ice.

Don’t take my word for it. If you know the movie and you love the songs and story, I’m betting you’ll get chills watching this first-look video from the Disney on Ice YouTube channel:

Our boys are going to love Sven the reindeer and skating Olaf the snowman, but they’ll love the singing and magical special effects, too. I’m sure it won’t hurt, either, that the show includes appearances by Mickey Mouse and lots of other Disney and Pixar characters.

_____________________

As of today, there is some question whether Disney’s Frozen on Ice will take place as scheduled (Thursday-Sunday) at Amalie Arena. The Tampa Bay Lightning remain locked in a second-round Stanley Cup playoff series with Montreal, and if the Lightning win, there’s a chance the arena could be needed for NHL hockey. A contingency plan is being developed, and information will be posted at the Amalie Arena website as it becomes available.

For now, we’re planning on being there Thursday night, reliving our fondest Frozen memories and belting out the tunes together at the top of our lungs. Our boys love it, we love it, and no matter when it happens, we’ll be there.

Click here for show times and links.

UPDATE (May 12, 3:04 p.m.): I’m now told that the Thursday and Friday shows are safe and will take place as scheduled! The Saturday and Sunday shows are not confirmed as of yet, but we will know more later in the week.

The Wasp

The Wasp

This hitchhiker FREAKED us out after the ball game tonight. As far as I know, it’s still in our car. Unrelated news: I have just placed a well-loved, 2005 Honda CRV on the market. Priced to move.

The game and the season ended in triumph. My sons and I walked together in the dark back to the car, which was parked on a grass and gravel lot beyond the outfield. I had backed it up against a fence and left it under the low branches of an oak, Spanish moss dangling around the windows.

We were jubilant. Jay had reached base and scored a run, and Chris had only spilled water all over his shorts one time — he was nearly dry by the time the final out was recorded and the Rays were declared victorious.

When we got to the car, the boys and I began to pile in. We froze when Jay’s voice cut through the warm evening air.

“Dad! There’s a wasp in the car!”

Sure enough, hovering under the dim dome light in the middle of our 11-year-old CRV was an insect that looked large enough to carry our 6-year-old back to its nest to feed its ravenous brood of wasplings.

“Get out!” I cried. “Keep your doors open!”

The wasp, unperturbed, hovered there and mocked us with its waspishness.

Adrenaline is funny. It can save your life under the right circumstance. It also can cloud your thinking and compel you to do the EXACT thing that you should absolutely NOT do to extricate yourself from a compromising situation.

A hovering wasp in the center of your car on a warm Florida evening after a leisurely Little League baseball victory qualifies as compromising. The LAST thing we needed was a stung kid.

The kids agreed.

“Is it gone?” Chris asked. “Where did it go?”

We stood a generous distance from our respective car doors and peered into the dim interior of the CRV. The wasp no longer hovered. It seemed to have taken full advantage of all the open doors and windows and vacated the premises.

We did a thorough search — front seat, back seat, way back — no wasp. We gingerly settled into our seats and I lowered all four windows in case the wasp still had not gotten the hint.

After a while, we settled into the usual routine for our 10-minute drive home after a night-time ball game. The boys were given their marching orders — shower, pajamas, bedtime snack, brush teeth, get to sleep.

I cranked up a Phineas and Ferb song on the CD player and drove on.

A mile from our subdivision, Jay got quiet.

“Dad?” he said. “Can you get home as soon as possible?”

“We’re almost home, bud,” I said. “Why do you ask?”

“Because I’m still freaked out by the wasp,” he said.

I told him that wasp was gone, that it had probably been more afraid of us than we were of it. We didn’t need to worry about that wasp anymore. It was gone.

“Then what is that moving,” he said, “in the bottom corner of your window?”

Yeah. It was the wasp. Or a deer fly. Maybe a horsefly.

I don’t really know, but it didn’t really matter. Impossibly, it looked even bigger in the dark, crawling up the side dash about 20 inches from my vulnerable driving arms.

I swallowed, gripped the wheel a little tighter, moved subtly and slightly to the right in the driver’s seat, and rolled down the front windows again.

I laughed to mask my terror.

“Ha ha ha! Look at that! I thought it was out of the car,” I said. “Huh. Guess it was hiding. Well, it’ll be all right. We’re almost home. Ha ha ha! HA HA HA!”

The boys urged me to speed home, but I maintained the neighborhood-wide speed limit of 30 mph and never once took my eyes off the killer insect stalking me mere inches away. OK, no, I watched the road. But I also watched that wasp, and if it had made a suspicious move I was ready to jam the car into park and run for my life.

I told the boys as much.

“What do we do?” Jay asked.

“Pray,” I said, agnosticism momentarily forgotten. It’s true, after all: There are no atheists in fox holes or wasp-infested sport utility vehicles.

No one was stung. (Witness the power of prayer.) We pulled into the garage and the boys fled into the house. I calmly gathered my iPhone, a pack of gum and my wallet from the center console. I had to do so from memory, because I never took my eye off the insect. It just sat there, wasping, daring me to make my move.

I escaped and slammed the driver’s side door.

The boys were waiting for me inside.

“Is it gone?” Chris asked. “Because we just wanted to make sure it was gone.”

“It’s gone,” I said, laughing the laugh of an inmate pardoned at the last second — a little too hysterical, a little too relieved. Just glad to be alive.

“Get upstairs and put on your pajamas,” I said. “I’ll be up with your snacks.”

Oh, and hey. Totally unrelated — I have just placed a well-loved, 2005 Honda CRV on the market. Priced to move. Quickly.