Escaping to a special place

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In times of great stress (or boredom – think long meetings), I have a place I escape to mentally. Actually, I have about five such places. Four of those are just rooms I like. Relaxing places. Calming places.

But one of my mental escapes is an event.

It was February 2006. My then 12-year-old daughter, H,  and I had decided to go see Coldplay in concert. And it was the first real fun thing we had planned to do since my wife had died almost a year and a half earlier.

We had both been Coldplay fans for several years. H  had never been to a concert, and I hadn’t been in years. In fact, it had been almost 15 years.

So we bought our tickets and headed to Houston for the weekend. We actually took off on a Thursday afternoon, so we’d have more time to spend on our trip. Of course, H didn’t mind missing school on Friday (but don’t call her school – I counted it as excused). On Friday morning, we made our way down to Galveston. It was a full day, and one I’ll never forget. We spent the day just hanging out, walking the beach, talking, eating out, taking in the sights of Moody Gardens and an IMAX movie, and just enjoying time away from the daily routine.

And it felt good – even though it was almost identical to the trip I had taken almost two years earlier. When my wife was sick, we had come to Houston’s MD Anderson Cancer Center. And we had spent a day in Galveston doing many of the same things On that day, we had talked how we needed to bring our daughter here, how much she would like it.

We spent part of our day Saturday at the mall, before I demonstrated my adept ability at getting lost in a big city. We drove around listening to a Coldplay song, “We Never Change,” and arguing and laughing over what the actual lyrics to one line were.

Cover of "Parachutes"

Cover of Parachutes

We got to the concert a bit early and were some of the first to find our seats. There was some guy walking in the row behind us who had dressed to look just like Chris Martin, the lead singer of Coldplay. How stupid, I thought. Turned out he was Chris Martin. How stupid, I thought . . . of myself.

The concert was everything we hoped it would be. We enjoyed every song. And we both felt great after the show. They didn’t sing the song we had debated about earlier, but they did play most of our favorites. The next day, we drove home on a beautiful sunny February day, both still excited and talking about the show.

It was a great show, and, more importantly, it was a great bonding experience for us. Over the last few years, we’ve gone to several more concerts. All of them have been fun. But that first trip together is still my favorite. And it’s a trip I continue to take on a regular basis.

9 Reasons why your kid might not be the doctor’s favorite patient


Stethoscope (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve been dealing with a sick kid all week. He’s got all the typical symptoms doctors look for before pronouncing judgment – cough, fever, waking zombie-like in the middle of the night, demanding a wide variety of drinks, and commandeering the tv so that you’re stuck watching Sponge Bob rather than something intelligent, like pro rasslin’ or something.

And while having a sick kid is never good, taking them to the doctor might be even worse. I don’t like going to the doctor, and I like taking my kids even less. It’s kind of a last-resort thing. I usually try to cure them at home (No, I’m not a doctor, but I did drive by a Holiday Inn Express last night).

Ok, I know my kid might have some peculiar habits, but he’s not a bad patient. Right? Well, that’s what I thought. But when the kid ahead of us left the examing room with a sucker, and my son was only given the bill, I knew something might not be quite right.

So here are 9 reasons why your kid might not be your doctor’s favorite patient. Not all of these happened on our most recent visit, but we’ve down most of these roads – sometimes more than once.

1. Your kid smells like garlic toasts because that’s all his diet has consisted of for the last three days.

And in our case, there wasn’t any answering questions about said diet. My son just opened his mouth. Pretty apparent. Yet, sadly, his diet of garlic toasts, Sprite, and a sporadic peanut-butter cracker is actually better than what he normally eats.

2. Your kid’s medical history is written in handwriting that’s worse than the doctor’s.

Ok, this isn’t really your kid’s fault. But in our case, I didn’t win my son any points in this area.

3. Throwing up around or on the nurse.

Ummmmm . . . Ok, no explanation here.

4. Your kids is more in-depth than the doctor.

This is the result of having an OCD – and embracing that fact.

Dr: “It looks like you’ve got a fever of 101.”

Kid: “Actually, it’s 101.2, and it’s fluctuated between 99.5 and 102.7. That’s probably been caused by an infection of my . . . ” And so it goes.

5. Your kid knows more details of the illness than you do.

In reply to how long have you been sick, I said 2 days.

“Dad,” my son said, “it’s actually been three and a half days. Remember, I started feeling bad at 10:17 Sunday night, and then . . .” and so it goes some more.

6. Your kid throws up on the doctor.

See number 3.

7. Your kid tells the doctor the exact medicine and foods you’ve let him eat since being sick.

Ok, so maybe the Benedryl wasn’t needed for fever, but hey, my lack of sleep seemed more harmful to my son’s health than any infection he might have.

8. Your kid doesn’t smell good.

To paraphrase Mr. Carlson from “WKRP in Cincinnati”: “As God is my witness, I thought you were supposed to keep kids away from water when they were sick.

9. Your kid picks up the bill at the end of the visit.

Ok, this didn’t actually happen. But in times of great stress, we can dream, can’t we . . . ?

I’ve already got 8 dogs in the fire

As a former high school coach I used to cover used to say, “There ain’t nothing worse . . .” That’s the best way to describe kids being sick in the middle of the night. (He wastaking medicine actually talking about playing his team’s biggest rival, but that’s another story).

And yes, there really ain’t nothing worse than sick kids in the middle of the night. And I was reminded of that just a couple of nights ago.

It always starts with that terrible call in the middle of the night, “Daaaaaad!” You’re hoping it’s a dream, but it usually never is (but really, if that’s your dream, is your life really any better?). I’d already been warned on this night, though. At bed time I got the rundown – “Dad, I don’t feel well, sore throat, headache . . .” and then the ominous “What if I need to throw up tonight?” Eeeeeeeek! And the answer “Could you quietly get out of bed, go to the bathroom, clean up any mess, and then get back in bed” just doesn’t seem to work.

So when I got the call last night, it wasn’t a terrible surprise. The thing that always amazes me is that kids, while they’re sort of awake during all this, they’re also sort of asleep. It doesn’t seem to affect their sleep routine at all. But me, I’m pretty much wide awake for a while, and the next day I’m doing the Zombie Walk through all of my routines.

But you do get some interesting conversations sometimes. Like last night, when he was asked if he needed anything, my 9-year-old replied, “No, I’ve already got 8 dogs in the fire.”

I have no idea exactly what that meant, but I think it meant I’m already busy/overwhelmed – and can you kindly leave me alone. How can you not like an expression like that? It’s already one of my favorites.

(On a side note, when my daughter was that age, she had an expression. Whenever I would tell her something more than once, she would reply, “You’ve said it a hundred time, and I’ve heard you a hundred times.” I thought that was funny, but I also kind of resented it because I always made a mental note to myself to never tell her anything more than 56 times!)

So there we were, middle of the night, my son sick, and I realized we had no medicine. So I made the midnight run to Wal-Mart. There’s always something interesting about a trip to Wal-Mart in the middle of the night. I always feel like I’m wandering through a post-apocalyptic world, what with all the empty aisles and no waiting to check out. And I always think to myself, “I really need to consider doing ALL of my shopping at this time of night,” which, thankfully, I never follow through on. As I checked out, I picked up a mandatory Sprite; I think it’s a law that when kids throw up they have to drink it. I’m not sure it makes kids better, but the thinking, I think, is that if they continue to throw up, the mess is clear and so much easier to clean up.

Back at the house, Ahhhh. It felt good. Sleep and healing would be here soon.

It turned out not soon enough. As I gave my son some medicine, he asked how long it would take to work. About 5 minutes or so I said, hoping to calm him down.

FIVE MINUTES! Ooohhhhhh. I can’t wait that long!!!!!

Darn. I’d forgotten I needed to convert my ADULT TIME timing into KID TIME. A fatal error.

Plus, I’d also forgotten I was dealing with someone who already had 8 dogs in the fire.

Dad, can I ask you a question

question markI don’t know what it is about kids and questions. I think all kids tend to ask a lot, and my nine-year-old son is right up there with the best of them. My son often shoots them out with machine-gun speed, and they can range from the weather to his future to sex. Luckily for me, the answer isn’t as important as the next question.

I try to be patient, but sometimes it’s hard. A typical day goes something like this . . .

“At a blood drive, what types of blood do they take?” Well, that’s a good question. I think they take all kinds.

“What does conspicuous mean?” Conspicuous . . . hmmmm . . . well that means t-

“What’s a saloon?” Ummmmmm . . .

“What’s a laxative?” Well, that’s something you take wh-

“What’s the weather going to be like?” The weather looks fine.

“Are we going to have a tornado?” No, I don’t think so.

“Do you need oxygen for a fire?” Ummmm, yes, I think so.

“Is it going to storm?” There might be a small stor-

“What’s your least favorite thing in the world?” Hmmmmm . . . That’s a tough one, I guess it wou-

“If I live to be 60, do you think I’ll still have hair?” Ummmmm, maybe?

“Is there going to be a tornado?” No

“Do you promise it’s not going to be bad weather? Yes, I promi-

“When I grow up, do you think I’d be a good lawyer?” Of course, you would.

“Do you think I’d be a good doctor?” Yes

“Do you think I’d be a good salesman?” Well, ye-

“Where do babies come from?” Well . . . ummmm . . .

“Do you think, when I’m older, I’ll be a good driver?” Of cour-

“Is there going to be a tornado?” No!

“Why don’t adults want to talk about where babies come from?” Ummmmm . . .

“Is the U.S. good at soccer.” Well, not exactl-

“Are we going to have a tornado?” NO!!

“What’s your least favorite thing to eat?” Well, hmmmmm . . . I guess that would be=

“You’re sure we’re not going to have a tornado?” YES! I’m positive!!

“Can we get a dog?” Uh, no.

“Dad? Yes . . .

“I love you.”

Ok. Maybe the patience was worth it.

My dad can be obnoxious sometimes

Splattered Sauce

Splattered Sauce (Photo credit: picsishouldshare)

One afternoon in my office, a student I had known for a few years made an interesting comment about me. “Mr Trout,” he said, “you eat, breathe, and sleep Marketing.”

For better or worse, that’s probably true. I teach marketing. I take on markeitng projects for local businesses. And sadly, I have marketing so in my brain now, that it’s often hard to separate it in my everyday life. Now as handy as this might sound to you, it kind of annoys my kids sometimes. Especially my daughter.

How does that work exactly? Well, here’s an example.

Once, way back when, my daughter and I had been eating in the cafeteria of a hospital. Not just cafeteria food, mind you, but we were enjoying the fine cuisine of Pizza Hut. Now I like to eat, but even I couldn’t put away all the pizza and bread sticks we had ordered. So with to-go boxes packed full, we began making our way back upstairs to the hospital room.

But as we were waiting for the elevator to come down, a terrible thing happened: I dropped a big cup of marinara sauce. Dropped. Red marinara sauce. On the shiny white floor.

At that instant, a nun turned the corner and began walking down the hall toward us. Without even thinking, I looked at her and said, “My daughter can be clumsy sometimes.”

Was that wrong of me?

My daughter just looked at me, mouth hanging open. The nun looked at me, looked at my daughter, and shook her head as she walked by.

And me? Well, how could I not feel good about such a quick PR save. And I was nothing but honest – my daughter can actually be clumsy sometimes. Of course, she’s probably not as clumsy as often as I am.

Ok, maybe it wasn’t the best thing I could have said. But really, not only did I provide a plausible (although, admittedly, untrue) statement that could explain the fact. But I also provided us a story that we’ve (or at least me and my son) have laughed about for years.

And my daughter does laugh about it. Well, sometimes, anyway.

I’m feeling sick – can you get me a taco?

The One Thing (album)

The One Thing (album) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We all want to teach our kids how to do the right things. How to act in different situations. But there are a few things I don’t want my kids to learn from me.At the top of that list would be what not to eat when you’re sick. I’m not sure how it’s happened, but I’ve gotten so off course in this area that even Scotty from Star Trek couldn’t help me find way back.

I think it started late one night about 20 some odd years ago. It was around 11, and my wife was lying on the couch, so sick to her stomach that the only thing she asked for from me was a bucket. The only thing, that is, until she asked me to go to the store and see if I could find something (ANYTHING) that would help.

Now keep in mind, 1993 wasn’t exactly prehistoric times (although when you think about the music of Michael Bolton being popular, you might think so), but in the small-town days before Wal-Mart Supercenters, it kind of felt that way. So instead, I found myself wandering the aisles of E-Z Mart in the small town of Horatio, Arkansas. I found what I needed, but while I was waiting to check out, I noticed one of those packaged cinnamon rolls with icing and raisins. And I remember thinking, “Mmmmm. A cinnamon roll sounds really good.”

So back at home, my wife is on the couch, puking in a bucket. And I’m sitting almost right next to her eating my cinnamon roll and drinking a coke.

And now, like Pavlov’s dogs, every time someone says they feel sick, I immediately start craving a cinnamon roll.

But it didn’t stop there . . .

The foods I crave when I’m sick are beyond bizarre. On the first day of any sickness, I crave Taco Bell. I can be hunched over the toilet most of the morning, but as soon as lunchtime hits, BOOM! – I’m craving tacos and burritos. I hate going to get food when I’m sick because I know what people would think if they saw me in the car. “Hey, isn’t that Mark up there in the drive-thru at Taco Bell. He’s not sick at all!!!

By the second day, I’m past this craving and have moved on – usually to pizza. My daughter, as I’m sure you can understand, thinks this is just a weeeee bit strange. And, if you can imagine, often REFUSES to go and purchase these foods for me!

AND I can always tell when I’m about to become sick. A day or two before, I start craving frozen pot pies. (Really, though, what other rational reason could you have for craving a pot pie?). And yes, I do purchase one. And yes, I admit, I do eat it, too.

Don’t worry. I’m never going to try to convince my kids to embrace my diet when they’re sick – I keep plenty of crackers and chicken noodle soup on hand for those occasions. But I also keep a cinnamon roll on hand, just in case . . .

Confessions of cheeseburger-for-breakfast eater

English: The Jr. Deluxe Burger from Sonic Driv...

English: The Jr. Deluxe Burger from Sonic Drive-In. Contains a beef patty, lettuce, pickles, onion, tomato and mayonnaise on a bun. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There’s something almost magical about an after-school snack. Not for me, although I’m usually tempted, but for Sam.

If it was up to Sam, the after-school snack would be part of the Bill of Rights. Actually, if you were to ask him, he would swear that it’s already there. No day is complete without the A.S.

If it’s at my office, I usually try to take him something. But every so often, I let him “splurge” on a snack from the vending machine. Somehow, he  always picks MY FAVORITE SNACK AVAILABLE IN THE MACHINE AT THAT MOMENT IN TIME. It’s an uncanny talent.

At home, the snack isn’t as important as the drink – every snack (every meal, in fact) must be accompanied by a BIG glass of milk.

You’d be proud of how good I am in the afternoon. I’m so good in the afternoons when it comes to snacks, that they could put me on one of those posters for healthy eating.

But only in the afternoons.

Because in the mornings, I’ve mastered the before-school snack. Most times, I make it myself, and it’s usually something like a turkey sandwich or peanut butter sandwich.

But my favorite breakfast in the whole wide world is a cheeseburger. I try real, real hard to not have those very often. And I’m usually pretty good.

But one of the first things I realized when Sam started elementary school, was that there was a Sonic Drive-in just a few short blocks away. Sonic is my favorite fast food place. And they serve a full menu ALL DAY. In fact, they’re one of the few places where you can get a cheeseburger before 10 in the morning.

The jukebox in my mind immediately began playing CCR: “I see a bad moon rising . . . ”

Now that I’m through with school for the semester, the temptation doesn’t seem as great. So far this year, I’ve been able to just take Sam, and come straight home.

But I have noticed a new promotion at Sonic – about a million different milkshakes. And even worse: they’re half price after 8. Maybe we should switch from after-school snacks, to midnight snacks . . .

I’m always up for a good (or bad) Lifetime movie

I almost always enjoy getting to work. For one reason, I enjoy my job. But even more than that, by the time I get to work, I feel like my day is already made.

I think a lot of parents probably feel that way. It’s sometimes so stressful to try to get everything done in the mornings and get to work on time (or at least within the neighborhood of on time), that it’s just a relief to have made it out the door without having killed anyone.

This was even more true when my son was younger. I don’t want to make the kid sound bad, but he made that girl from The Exorcist look like one of the kids from the Brady Bunch. His head didn’t spin around, but there was a time or two when I’m pretty sure some green stuff did escape his body.

And he used to talk in the third person. So you’d get some awkward sentences like “Sam can’t like this kind of cereal!” or “Sam doesn’t want to get dressed!”

I guess it’s the time element in the mornings that makes it more stressful. It never seems like that in the evenings.

But evenings provide their own problems. So many times I’ll have the very great intention of working on project XYZ. I’m not going to let ANYTHING stop me! We get home at a decent time, maybe 5 or there about, and then about six and a half minutes later it’s already 8, and I haven’t gotten anything done except feeding people and maybe cleaning up a bit.

And by then I find myself tired, mentally and physically, and about the only thing I want to do is plop down and let my brain atrophy on some mindless tv. There’s nothing like a good Lifetime movie in a situation like that. Like I’m always telling my students, those movies are hard to beat. I love them! Mainly because it doesn’t matter if you turn it on five minutes into the movie, or an hour and a half into it, you can figure out the plot in about 10 seconds. They’re all about the same: there’s a GOOD woman in some kind of trouble. There’s a very BAD man. Sometimes there’s a good man who tries to help her. There’s usually another woman who is a friend and helper of the main woman. Sometimes, they’ll try to throw you off by having the main woman be BAD, but usually they stick with the usual formula.

And ALL of them are (say this in a very dramatic voice) Based on a TRUE STORY! My daughter and always laugh about this, figuring they take the slimmest of actual events and then hang the rest of the story on it. A man goes to buy milk – Based on a TRUE STORY! Or a woman drives home from work – Based on a TRUE STORY!

Back to reality, sometimes I really wonder how anyone ever gets anything done. I guess I get stuff done, but sometimes it takes longer than I ever imagined.

And while my son no longer is a candidate to play the villain on the big screen, he can still make my head spin around from time to time.

But then, on those occasions when I get to pick him up from school, and I see him running out, running to me with a big smile on his face, excited just because he gets to see me . . . it’s times like that when I know everything else can wait.

Of Peanut Butter and Taco Bell

I’ve been making school lunches for almost as long as I can remember. It goes waaaaay back. That’s because both of my kids are pretty much very picky eaters. I’ve never known this to be a problem for me, which is one reason why I’m always in need of losing about 10 pounds, but that’s another story.

With my two kids about 10 years apart, it’s given me plenty of time to look over school lunch menus, offer the better selections to the kids, and end up reaching for the peanut butter.

Peanut butter. Sigh. . . Where would we be without it. All these lunches over the years have involved peanut butter. PBJ sandwiches for my daughter, and peanut butter and crackers for my son.

Nightly meals haven’t been much better. They’re just as picky there. But I found that I could often trick my daughter into eating when she was young, simply by changing the name of the dish.

Taco Salad, which was always refused, became one of our most popular meals when it was transformed into SUPER NACHOS. Mmmmmmm.

And my daughter hated chicken pot pie, but loved Chicken Mulan, named after the character from the Disney movie. I found that food names with Disney characters were almost always an immediate hit.

This ploy, however, never caught on with my son. First, you have to understand that he was a pretty good eater until one day when he was 2, and suddenly pushed his plate out of the way. He has basically turned down the initial offering of any non-chocolate food since then.

Adding to the mix was a period of time when my daughter decided to become a vegetarian. To paraphrase Samule L. Jackson in Pulp Fiction, “My daughter’s a vegetarian, which pretty much makes me a vegetarian.” But I was an unwilling member of this group.

The funniest thing was when we went to taco bell. My son only likes tacos with meat only. My daughter wanted tacos with no meat – just a shell, lettuce, and cheese.

I always tried to figure out a way to save mone with these orders. Since I was basically just ordering the stuff for single tacos, I tried to come up with some plan that would allow me to take the meat off one, and add it to some shells that I imagined I had deftly hidden in my pockets. But I was never clever enough to pull that one off.

Instead, every time I approached the counter, I began, “This is probably one of the strangest orders you’ve had today . . . ”

I was always just a little bit relieved that I never had to order a taco and then request, “Could you add peanut butter to that?”

DO . . . YOU . . . SPEAK . . . ENGLISH

I’m getting a pretty good idea of how travelers to a foreign country must feel. People look at you a bit funny, and they tend to talk very slowly.

I’ve found myself to be the foreigner when it comes to traveling to my son’s elementary school. I pretty much did the same thing when my daughter was the same age. And I refused to not do it just because I was single. I mean, giving in like that would mean that cancer won, right?

And so, I try to make it all happen – go to everything, be involved at their schools as much as I could. This could range from going to band concerts and spelling bees to reading to a classroom full of kids.

In recent years I’ve found myself helping in my son’s classes as room “mom.” It’s been a fun experience, and somehow my son hasn’t been too embarrassed. I think he’s too young to know just how dorky I am.

But the funniest part is the looks I sometimes get from the real moms. They can see through me, knowing that I often don’t have a clue what I should be doing with my own kids, much less a classroom of 20-25 seven-year olds.

I often get the look of someone who has come from the other side of the planet, their speech slowing down so that even I can understand.

“CAN . . . YOU . . . BRING . . . COLD . . . DRINKS . . . TO . . . THE . . . PARTY?” I’m asked very slowly and deliberately.

Cold drinks, I think. And the first thought that goes through my mind is, beer? No, wait, that can’t be right. Then I slowly catch on, and agree. Then quickly making scheduling a reminder in my phone so that I don’t forget.

Isn’t that all of us though? All of us as parents have to learn on the go, learn as life is speeding past us. It would be great if parenting came with an instruction book, with all of the answers you would ever need at your fingertips.

But instead, we’re all left as parents to learn as we go, make the best decisons we can, and pray that we don’t screw up our kids too much.

And sometimes we appreciate those times when we’re in that foreign land, and people slow down enough to give us a chance to know exactly what we need to do.