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.

Let’s play 20 (thousand) questions

If you are the father of a new baby boy and you are feeling a little left out because junior only seems to have eyes for Mommy and her rolling hills of milk and honey, take heart. Your day will come. Your day will come with a suffocating vengeance. Junior will cover you with love, elbows, knees, and incessant questions before you know what hit you.

Boys start climbing up and down Daddy as toddlers. This isn’t so bad. Toddlers aren’t very heavy. Yes, they have sharp corners, but there is usually not enough force behind the pointy parts to cause Daddy any serious internal damage. More importantly, toddlers don’t ask a steady stream of questions just to hear themselves talk. They may talk a steady stream of gibberish at you, but all you have to do is smile and nod to keep them happy.

a horse of course

They’ll ride you like an army mule.

Five-year-olds are a different story. They can get to be heavy. We’re talking a serious bag of rock salt here. Their love for Daddy can be a painful one. Worse, five-year-olds are full of Daddy questions. These are not to be ignored, even if the answers are right in front of their faces.

I’m not talking about the occasional, meaningful question – the one that lets a boy put together the pieces of his world to help it make sense. I’m talking about the “narrate the world to me as it passes so I don’t have to pay attention to anything on my own” questions.

Our five-year-old likes to watch history documentaries, especially those dealing with the World Wars. I like watching them too, so this isn’t a problem – until his mouth starts running. For the life of me, I can’t get the boy to understand that if he would just shut his pie hole and listen to the program, most of his questions would be answered before he asked them.

Moreover, his endless questions make it difficult for me to hear the TV, meaning I have more trouble answering his questions. That is, when his question is something more complex than the ubiquitous, “Are those Germans?” That one I can usually handle without the narrator’s help.

I’ve missed out on a myriad of fascinating tidbits of history answering the “Are those Germans?” question. But the boy occasionally asks a thoughtful question. It’s just too bad he can’t write these down to ask after the program.

WWI German artillery

Yes. They’re Germans. Now can we remain quiet and listen to the program for 10 seconds?

In an awkward oversimplification, I have categorized Nazis as the “bad Germans” for him. This leads him to the very reasonable question: “What happened to all the good Germans.” I only wish I were smart enough to answer that. This boy has a strong sense of right and wrong, and great pride in his German heritage. It pains me that I can’t reconcile these things for him. Even his good questions give me fits.

The good news is that I only have to hem and haw over the deep questions I can’t answer for a few seconds before we fall into our old, comfortable give and take:

“Are those Germans?”

“No. They’re Italians.”

“Oh. How about those? Are they Germans?”

“Nope. Greeks.”

Meanwhile, the unheard narrator drones on with his superfluous facts, far less important than labeling everyone in every picture.