Which way to the woods?

I was playing with the boys in the living room one afternoon. The TV was tuned to one of the cartoon channels they require, even when they are paying no attention to it. A Thursday afternoon in August is a pretty good time for a sports fan to watch cartoons, so I put up no argument.

I wasn’t paying attention to the TV either, until a particular commercial caught my eye. It was a Public Service Announcement extolling the virtues of exploring the forest. At least I assumed it was a PSA, unless there are for-profit forests springing up around the country, which there probably are. I’m inclined to conclude it was a PSA, as the forest visuals looked pretty generic, there being no water slides or Disney logos carved into trees.

I like the forest as much as the next guy, so I was all on board with the sentiment. I was just about to think to myself: “What a pleasant tribute to America’s forests” when I heard the final line of the ad. The voice-over advised me to go to a particular website to find a forest near me.

"Some day there will be some kind of talking box that would tell me what this thing is. I'll just poke at it while I'm waiting for technology to answer all my questions." (Image: Russell Lee/US Farm Security Administration)

“One day there will be some kind of talking box that will tell me what this thing is. I’d better poke at it while I’m waiting for technology to answer all my questions.” (Image: Russell Lee/US Farm Security Administration)

My jaw dropped. Really? I need to go online to find the woods? Is this what America has come to?

Okay, it is true that I practically grew up in the woods, so all I had to do was go out the front door to find acres of trees. But honestly, people in other walks of life are having a hard time finding the woods without the aid of computers? The very idea makes me sad.

My son is five years old. When he walks out the door of his house, he sees other houses all around. Yet, I am confident he can take me to the woods in any direction I choose. Yes, he might need the aid of a car to get there, but he doesn’t need the Internet. He is the Internet of finding the woods, because he’s a child.

If you’re having trouble finding a forest near you, you don’t need a computer; you need a kid. Kids have a strange and magnificent instinct for recognizing trees. If you are unsure what that clump of three-story-tall plants is, just ask a kid. They’ll help you figure it out.

camping online

A forest. I found it on the Internet. And I didn’t even have to put shoes on. That’s what I love about the Great Outdoors.

Or you could Google it. That’s probably more convenient, as it eliminates all that burdensome white noise of wonderment.

I don’t wish to leave the impression that children are good for only this one thing. They are not one-truffle pigs. In many respects, they are just as useful as computers. In case your search engine is giving you mixed results, here is a short list of things kids can help you locate.

  • Dirt
  • Mud puddles
  • Dog poop
  • Diamonds that are probably quartz but just might be shattered glass
  • Bugs (dead or alive)
  • The meaning of life

But there’s probably a web site to help you find each of these things, too. So, either way . . .

Don’t expect William Henry Harrison to do you any favors

Spoiler Alert: This post contains spoilers regarding the outcome of the War of 1812. If you have not yet seen this war and don’t want the ending ruined for you, proceed with caution.

My smoldering annoyance with William Henry Harrison burst into open flame recently. You see, we couldn’t find New Baby’s birth certificate. Our natural reaction was to curse the name of the late Mr. Harrison.

No friend fo mine

William Henry Harrison: trouble maker. I’ve taken the precaution of blocking him on Facebook.

History buffs may recall that old Billy Harrison was President of the United States for 32 days, or even that he was governor of Indiana during its short pants youth as a territory, before it grew up into mature statehood.

Those are fine accomplishments, if you’re into that. But I will always remember William H. Harrison as the commander of US forces at the Battle of the Thames. This battle took place in southern Ontario in 1813. The good news, if you are cheering for the US in the War of 1812, is that Harrison’s army won the day. The bad news is that it didn’t do a thing to lessen the amount of paperwork needed to cart a family, by the most direct route, from Michigan to New York in 2014.

But it could have.

The Thames battle site is right in the middle of that aggravating little strip of Canada that hangs down into the Great Lakes between Detroit and Buffalo. In 1813, Harrison won control of that area. He could have stayed there and maybe moved the border crossings off to the north so that we could scoot through without having to wait in line to reveal to a complete stranger the intimate details of our vacation plans. Then we wouldn’t have had to turn the house upside down searching for a single slip of paper we had no hope of finding. In the end, we wouldn’t have had to drive through Ohio and add hours to our already too long road trip.

War of 1812

The area in question is the off-white bit that separates the Michigan Territory from New York. The battlefield is the dot marked #4.

Harrison could have accomplish these great things, but he didn’t. He packed up his army and went home. He probably didn’t even give a single thought to the inconvenience this would cause me and my family. I begin to think he did it out of spite.

We collected all the boys’ birth certificates in anticipation of pleasant encounters with border guards. On the morning of departure, Big Brother’s was there; Buster’s was there, but New Baby’s was missing. This odd disappearance might as well be blamed on Harrison’s ghost as anybody else. Why he carries his vendetta beyond the grave I don’t’ know.

As we were standing still amidst Cleveland road construction I conceded that he’d won this round.

Death of Tecumseh

Another result of the battle: Tecumseh was transformed from feared Shawnee war chief to popular lawnmower engine. (Currier & Ives)

Serious historians may suggest that my animosity toward Harrison is misplaced. After all, the Treaty of Ghent restored the original boundaries, regardless of the placement of armies at the close of hostilities. So even if he had homesteaded southern Ontario, it wouldn’t have made any difference to me. The historians may be right, and this is why I’m also pissed off at the negotiators who approved the Treaty of Ghent. They were jerks too.

Come on, Canada. Let’s deal. There must be something you’d take in trade for the right-of-way between Michigan and New York. I think we have some nice tropical islands: sun, sand, and surf; and you wouldn’t even need a passport. Think about it. Call me.

Road trip: Hell on wheels

In the past month, we’ve taken two road trips of no less than nine hours each way. If you’ve ever traveled with three boys under six, I apologize for any PTSD symptoms I may be awakening within your psyche. But you probably get the shakes whenever you see a minivan careening down the highway, so I’m not completely to blame for your tremors.

out for a drive

Hang on. It’s going to be one wild ride.

We tried driving through the night. The darkness did coax the children to sleep sometime during the third go-round of the Peppa Pig DVD, and we were not brought to a complete standstill by the many thousand construction zones we navigated. But these benefits were dampened by the parents’ exhaustion at daybreak, making the first day more hangover than vacation.

Driving during the day brings a spiritual brand of exhaustion. This weariness stems from whining children and repeated episodes of Sponge Bob. It doesn’t matter that you maxed out your library card renting movies for the trip; they will only watch two, and you will consider the second one a blessing.

Some parents eschew the practice of placating children with movies or electronics. They say such devices are figurative opiates that drug the children rather than engage them. They may have a point, which I would help them prove if I could get away with feeding the boys literal opiates on the trip. But until that enlightened day, their high-minded theories will have to remain untested.

ready for the road

“Everyone take a nice big sip of ‘sleepy tonic’ back there. Daddy needs to concentrate on the road.” (Image: Russell Lee/US Farm Security Administration)

There are many rest areas on the highways, conveniently located between the places where a kid needs to pee. I don’t mind him peeing into the woods alongside the road; it’s probably cleaner than the rest area bathroom, but that just means there will be different reason to pull off at the rest area.

Did I mention that long drives summon the Type A personality from the depths of my dark soul? I yearn to cut time off the trip. You don’t do that by stopping at, and in between, all the rest areas.

All the construction zones encountered on our highways would lead one to expect an improving quality of road. That is, until it becomes apparent that 10% of the zones have someone working in them. The other 90% are there to help us practice merging. We got lots of practice when our six lanes funneled down into a single lane. Standstill traffic has a magical effect on sleeping babies; it wakes them, in a wrong side of the bed kind of way. It makes older children ask questions that trapped parents can’t answer.

“Why are we stopping? What’s in front of the this long line of cars? Why is the road closed if nobody’s working on it?” And the ever ingratiating: “Why didn’t we take a different road if this one’s packed with cars?”

Being stuck in traffic with seven hours of road ahead of you is awesome and these questions just add to the fun.

So relax and enjoy the banter. You’ll get there . . . eventually.

My vacation in handcuffs

So we took the family to Washington, D.C. and this happened.

the middle one did it

“That’s him, officer! The pitiful-looking one with the puppy dog face!”

Though this is not a real police lineup, there were several times during the week when I wished he were in police custody so that the rest of us could enjoy our vacation in peace. At the attraction where this picture was taken, his aunt bought him a set of toy handcuffs. For the rest of the day, including the duration of our visit to the Air and Space Museum, he handcuffed me to random objects. He could have done us all a favor by handcuffing Buster to the stroller, but Buster’s wrists are too small to really pinch painfully in toy handcuffs. And it’s no fun wielding the authority vested in shackles if you can’t cause pain with it.

Buster spent the bulk of his vacation chasing Big Brother and screaming for the latter’s toy handcuffs. Buster can bust out one hell of a shriek when a brother doesn’t surrender the toy he wants. I’m sure some fellow hotel guests can back me up on this. But his parents did a pretty good job of keeping the high notes contained within normal waking hours. Those kids you heard yelling in the halls all night were a totally separate group of poorly raised children.

New Baby did an admirable job of keeping himself quiet at night. The long days of touring the city made him sleep hard, followed by some hard waking up in the morning. None of us boys in the family wake up easily, and by the looks of things, New Baby will be no exception.

morning

“Oh my God! Where am I?”

always morning

“What time is it?”

morning still

“I did what last night?”

glorious morning

“Oh man! Could I ever use a milk toddy right now.”

After finishing the difficult work of waking up in the mornings, we spent our days seeing the sights, some familiar, some new. But for all the things we saw, the best part of this trip was discovering that D.C. has some pretty decent pizza.

I am a northeast native, living in a Midwestern world. The people here have learned not to speak to me of pizza unless they wish to unleash the condescending snob within. I can find merit in all things Midwestern, except pizza. It hurts my heart whenever I hear Big Brother say, “I love Domino’s pizza.” If he only knew.

It never occurred to me that D.C. would be the first step in his education. Who knew they’d have pizza reminiscent of the northeast? All of us, even picky little Buster, ate and ate and ate many delicious slices. And nobody’s mouth found a leisure moment to blaspheme the holy meals with talk of Domino’s. There is hope for us yet.

After my traditional confrontation with one of the conscientious workers inside a subway booth, it was time to come home. I guess I won’t have to worry about overdosing on pizza again for a while.

After carting three kids around the big city for a week, the wife and I could sure use a vacation.