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

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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.

__________________________

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.

__________________________

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.

____________________

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.

 

 

Here, We Play

Somewhere in America, a baseball game was called on account of rioting. Here, we play. 
 
Somewhere in America, a father won’t call the police to report breaking and entering. The police might not be on his side.

Here, we play and never give a second thought to riots or severed spines. Cars and pharmacies burn in Baltimore. Here, we question the eyesight of the tired old man in blue behind the plate.

Out? Safe? Ball? Strike?

That matters … why?

Somewhere in America, a mother still fumes after slapping her son silly in his mask. Here, now, I wonder if that mom ever got to watch her son play left field or power forward. I wonder, sometimes, how we can just play on when somewhere, the world burns.

The music plays between innings, and the little kids dance while the pitcher takes his warmup tosses. Somewhere in America, a kid is warming up his arm to throw a brick at the indifferent world. 

And the world, momentarily aroused, casually catches it and throws it back.

Free-Range Parenting: Knowing When to Let Go

Free-Range Parenting

I asked our 9-year-old son if he thought he and his 6-year-old brother were old enough to walk the mile between our home and the neighborhood community pool without me or Mom.

He shook his head “no” before I finished the question.

“Maybe in one more year,” he said. “But right now … it’s a mile.”

He paused to marvel at the magnitude of the word, the vast distance it represents for a third grader, the incomprehensible here-to-thereness of it.

“There’s so much chance of bad stuff happening along the way,” he continued. “Like, what if there’s a snake or something?”

Yes. Exactly.

What if the mean streets of our suburban Central Florida neighborhood were over-run by an army of hungry Burmese pythons, on the hunt for new meat after eating all the rabbits and deer in the Everglades?

Or something?

Something like aggressive, stinging fire ants, which can swarm up a small child’s leg in an instant and inflict dozens of painful wounds.

Something like reckless high school-age kids tearing around the neighborhood like idiots on modified, rocket-propelled golf carts.

Something like a careless driver flying along far too fast to see two little boys alone crossing the road.

Something like open bodies of water – retaining ponds, drainage creeks and golf course lakes.

Free Range Parenting

Actual alligator sunning itself near the sidewalk connecting our house and the community pool. It looked hungry to me.

Something like the alligators that frequent those bodies of water. (Seriously. They’re everywhere. See photo.)

Something like a bad person looking for an unprotected kid to take.

Something like an over-zealous “good Samaritan” watchdog poised to place a panicky phone call to an over-zealous law enforcement agency that stands ready to over-zealously protect the children of the world from parents who have the gall to allow their kids to walk alone on a public sidewalk less than a mile from home.

It’s a jungle out there, right?

No. No, it’s not. Not here.

It’s a pleasant, 15-minute stroll, with broad sidewalks attended by shade trees the whole way. Wide strips of low-cut St. Augustine grass form a green, well-tended barrier between the walkways and the occasional passing minivan.

It’s a nice neighborhood. It’s a safe neighborhood. It’s the kind of place where friends respond gladly to neighbors in need. Crime is low.

This is home.

Yet, even in this idyllic setting, danger lurks behind every swaying palm tree. The seemingly tranquil stretch between our driveway and poolside actually is a battle scape.

In my mind, at least.

Listen, we trust our sons. They have proven worthy of that trust time and again. They are growing up well and confident.

But they’re kids, and we’re parents. They don’t yet possess the capacity to deal with crises — or even minor conflict — without adult supervision. It’s our job as their parents to help them learn those skills, and part of learning means failing at it. We understand that, but we’re not going to be irresponsible about it, either.

So, when they play outside, they must do so within shouting distance of the front or back doors. If they plan to go inside at someone else’s house, they must let us know where they’ll be and for how long.

When they want to go swimming, we take them to the pool. One day soon they’ll ride their bikes or walk that mile alone, but not yet.

Does a cautious approach make us helicopter parents? Are we over-protective? Too risk-averse for the healthy emotional development of our sons?

No. We aren’t over-protective. We are risk-averse, admittedly, but who in his right mind is risk-agreeable when it comes to their own kids? We aren’t Free-Range parents, either.

We are, simply, parents.

My wife and I are doing everything we can to prepare our kids to live life well. We also are doing everything we can to make sure they enjoy a happy childhood, and we’re in no hurry for that to end.

Confession: My greatest fear is that something catastrophic will happen to one of my sons, and I won’t be there to help them.

I’m not paralyzed by this fear. I don’t sit in the dark and rock back and forth, contemplating the horrific potential of the havoc rendered by the forces of darkness.

But the fear is there. I can’t deny it. It might not be rational, especially when you consider the statistics behind this recent Washington Post headline: There’s never been a safer time to be a kid in America.

Still, I want to protect them. I need to protect them. It’s more than a sense of responsibility or duty. The compulsion is visceral. It’s fierce. It’s real, and it’s not going anywhere soon – if ever.

This urge to shelter them from the harshness of the world is something I’ll have to work through as a father. As they grow, so too will I.

Part of being a parent is learning when and how to let go. It’s gradual, sometimes imperceptible, but eventually – they let go of their need for reassurance. They no longer feel the urge to look over their shoulders and make sure we’re still there. They let go and move on, alone in the world but ready for what comes.

When that happens, I’ll have to be ready to let go, too.

Not yet, though. Not just yet.

Maybe in one more year. But right now … it’s a mile too far.

Free Range Parenting

One day, he won’t look back to make sure I’m there. I need to be ready for that day. I’m glad it’s not here yet, though.

Baseball Still Cements Our Generational Bond

0pening Day 2015

We walked out of the Tropicana Field rotunda and into the late-afternoon St. Petersburg sunshine. Behind us, muffled by concrete walls and thick glass, a celebratory fog horn sounded.

“That’s a Rays home run,” I said to my dad and Jay. “I’ll bet it was Longoria. And we missed it.”

A quick check on the iPhone proved it was Evan Longoria. But because we left Monday in the top of the seventh, we missed his Opening Day home run. No matter. It wasn’t about what we missed.

It was about being there together.

Jay said nothing. He was tired and glad we were on our way home. That was OK.

My older son enjoyed most of our visit to the Trop Monday for the game between the Rays and the Orioles. But baseball hasn’t grabbed him like it did me and dad.

That’s partially on me, I think. After so many years around the game as a young player and, later, as a sportswriter covering the majors, my relationship with baseball is … complicated.

Baseball

Three Gaddis generations arrive at Tropicana Field for the Opening Day game between the Orioles and the Rays.

I love the game. It’s in my soul. I’m a Hall of Fame voter and a reformed seamhead. I don’t live and breathe it like I did when it was my job, but I have the privilege now of luxuriating in the sport. I watched thousands of games in person over the years, all over the world. Now, most of my baseball viewing takes place on my couch at home.

Still, as I did when I covered the game, my mind follows, unbidden, pitch by pitch. It happened again Monday.

Why did he start this batter with a breaking ball? Is his great stuff today the norm, or is Opening Day adrenaline in play with that 97 mph heat? What was the math behind this drastic defensive infield shift? He’s got him 1-2 … does he try to bury a slider here or come back with a four-seamer on the hands? Is he confident enough in his new changeup to use it critical situations?

That’s how I used to watch a game, looking for turning points, mentally filing away questions to ask in the clubhouse either immediately afterward or during a casual, pre-game conversation later in the week. That’s a lot of thinking. It’s exhausting, frankly. I find I enjoy the game more at this point, now that I can change the channel whenever I like.

I will always love baseball. I will always watch it. I will always read about it. I will write about it, on occasion. That’s me, though. My sons? Their interests reflect their generation, and that means baseball is not front and center – a Nielsen annual report on sports media in 2013 showed that half of baseball’s audience is 55 and older, while only 7 percent is age 2-17.

So, it’s a cultural shift. But it was also a personal decision in our household. As my sons reached playing age, I didn’t want to be the dad who forced his athletic interests on his kids. I wanted to give them space to gravitate toward their own passions, like my parents did for me. Jay enjoys soccer, so his first baseball season was postponed until now.

He’s improving every day and has loved every minute of being part of a baseball team. I’d be lying if I said that isn’t a thrill. His younger brother will soon begin to learn the fundamentals of the game, too, and seems to be excited about it.

Baseball

He plays for the Rays (not THE Rays, but still), and now he has a memory of attending a Rays opener with his granddaddy and his dad. And of green cotton candy.

Still, given the choice between playing an hour of Minecraft and going out to the ball park to work on throwing, catching, hitting and running, there is no doubt the boys would choose their iPods.

The iPod equivalent when I was a kid was the Atari 2600. Rather than spend hours battling Donkey Kong or Space Invaders, my friends and I were more inclined to ride our bikes to the field and hit balls until the sun went down.

It just happened that my interest in baseball intersected with my dad’s. It’s a shared bond, still, and it was special to me to attend an Opening Day game with my dad and my older son.

We sat in section 309, row P, slightly up the third base line. The players were tiny. The seats were small, but not cramped. The temperature inside the dome was pleasant, as always.

The Rays were trailing, 4-0, when we left. They lost 6-2, but that’s OK. It’s a new season, a new team. They’ll figure it out.

Around the fifth inning, Jay looked up at me and said, “When are we going home?” He did look tired. His cheeks were a little flushed and his eyes drooped. He gripped his bag of green cotton candy loosely.

I asked him to hold out for a couple more innings. Besides, didn’t he want to see Evan Longoria hit one more time? The All-Star third baseman – the only Rays player my 9-year-old third grader knows by name – had struck out twice to that point. Jay perked up for both Longoria plate appearances, once tugging on my sleeve and saying, “Dad, it’s Evan Longoria.”

So, yes, he enjoyed the moments. He’ll remember sitting there high up in section 309 in his Rays jersey and TB cap, eating green cotton candy and standing, hat in hand, for the National Anthem while a giant American flag shaped like the lower 48 states was unfurled in center field.

He would’ve remembered Longo’s homer, if we had seen it, but c’est la vie. It wasn’t about what we missed Monday. It was about being together for the occasion, me and my dad and my son, enjoying the freedom to sit and watch and to leave when we wanted.

It was about baseball, a game that still cements our generational bond, a game that still matters.

High Anxiety: the Price of Parental Expectations in Youth Sports?

Parental Expectations and Sports

Our older son expresses his high anxiety during a recent youth league baseball game. Clearly, he’s wilting under the weight of parental expectations.

An Ithaca College study published this month in the Journal of Applied Sport Psychology confirms again that we, as parents, have absolutely no idea what we’re doing.

This is especially true, according to the study, for parents of kids aged 6-18 who participate in competitive swimming, tennis, gymnastics, bowling, wrestling, cross country and indoor track. Probably baseball, soccer, football, basketball and hockey, too, but they haven’t gotten around to observing team sports, so they don’t yet have a gauge on how stupid we are when our kids play those.

What egregious parenting gaff has been revealed now? How are we damaging our kids who play individual (and probably team) sports?

We place expectations upon our children. And that, apparently, is bad.

To be clear: I agree to an extent, but reject the notion that expectations are to be avoided in youth sports. I’ll explain why in a minute.

According to the study, parental expectations in youth sports are bad because the more ambitious the expectations, the greater the level of anxiety (pregame jitters) exhibited by the kid athletes. Similarly, the more parents wanted their kids to out-perform the other kids – in other words, the more the parents cared about who won – the less a kid was able to concentrate during the competition.

The reverse was true, too. The study found that the more ambitious the kids’ goals were, the higher the levels of anxiety experienced by the parents.

Hey, that’s fair. If we’re going to mess with our kids’ minds, they have every right to mess with ours right back.

Look, I’m all for managing expectations. I’m all for maintaining an even keel, especially when it comes to my kids and sports.

We enrolled our kids in YMCA soccer for years. Every player got a trophy. There were no standings. The score was kept informally, and no one knew (or cared) who the champion was at the end of the season.

There are parents and academics who believe that kind of athletic competition is a waste of time, that it defeats what they consider the purpose of kids participating in competitive sports. Their idea of meaningful participation in youth sports is that learning how to win a game at a young age can prepare their children to “win at life” as adults.

I wrote about my objection to that way of thinking about youth competitions in 2013 – After School Activities: Just Let Kids Be Kids. The bottom line for me was that the skills required to win a youth athletic competition only very loosely translate to the skills necessary to succeed in any profession except professional athlete and maybe coach.

Perhaps a kid can learn social skills as part of a team, but excelling on a field of play at age 8 is not a predictor of a corner office with a Fortune 500 company.

Still, now that our older son is well into his first season of competitive baseball, you’re darn right I have expectations. These expectations are fundamental. They are not negotiable.

  • I expect him to learn how to catch, throw, run, slide and swing a bat well enough that he won’t get hurt during the course of a game.
  • I expect him to pay attention to his coaches during practice, and that he’ll listen to me when we’re playing catch in the back yard.
  • I expect him to treat his teammates and his opponents with respect.
  • I expect him to learn the rules of the game, and I expect him to remember what he is supposed to be doing at all times on the baseball field – and if he doesn’t remember, I expect him to ask his coaches or more-experienced teammates.
  • I expect him to finish his homework before week-day practices and week-night games.
  • I expect him to have fun.

Now, I understand what the Ithaca report meant to condemn. There are parents who take sports too seriously, who live and die with every moment on the court, in the pool, on the mat or on the field. If pushed too far, that can be tough or even impossible for a kid to handle emotionally, and it’s not a good way to teach. It’s certainly no fun for anyone.

What I’m not wild about with this study is that it attempts to caution parents that any expectation has the potential to heighten the level of anxiety for a kid athlete. Furthermore, this is automatically assumed to be a bad thing.

I submit that parents should set reasonable expectations regarding a child’s participation in youth sports. Those expectations should be explained clearly and parents should be sure that their kid understands exactly how to live up to the expectations.

My expectations are reasonable, but I also acknowledge that trying to live up to all of those – including the part about having fun – might present a challenge for my sons. So be it. Growth happens when we confront our anxieties. We either overcome them or succumb to them. Either way, we learn.

Give a kid goals and watch him or her excel.

And that’s part of the job as parents, to present challenges for our kids to overcome. Overcoming those challenges might not put them on the path to a career as a high-powered executive, but it will help them learn how rewarding it can be to live up to – and sometimes exceed – expectations.