We’re Right Behind You Dad

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When I was a boy, we moved from the city to a farm near my grandparents.  Our little trailer house was nestled right between three things that often kept me awake and worried after dark at night.  They were a dilapidated hundred-year old two-story house to the west, an even older (and only a bit smaller) barn to the east, and an ancient cement cellar with a heavy metal door to the north.

By day, these three places were a boy’s adventurous dreamscapes and were replete with hidden closets under creaking staircases and musty smells and scratch marks from who knows what kinds of animals.  There were boxes of old newspapers and various pieces of archaic furniture in the old house’s nearly collapsed attic and large leather harnesses and ropes and pulleys hung from wooden slats of the dark stalls that lined each side of the old barn.  The dimly lit cellar was a great place to think of spooky stories to tell my younger sister and an even better (and brave) place to hide in a game of hide-and-seek.

By night, these three places were another thing altogether.  They represented every scary movie that I had ever heard of (and I only knew of a few at this point in my young life) and seemed to surely be the birthplaces of every monster and ghost and eerie sound that the world of a young boy’s mind could muster.

By day, they were my Mt. Everest.  By night, they were my Legend of Boggy Creek.

Today we visit the old house, the spot where the barn once stood, and the musty cellar with my children and I tell them of the feelings I had when I was their age.  I keenly remember the experiences, the sights and sounds of it all, as the memories come flooding back to me – the fun and the fear and the courage and the weakness and the dark and the light, the dreams and the nightmares.

While we were searching through the ruins of these familiar places, I noticed that when we would enter a particularly dark or cobweb-infested area my youngest daughter would say, “We’re right behind you dad.”  And then…they would only take a step after I took a step.  They would only move ahead after I moved ahead.  They would only laugh after I laughed.

And it all makes me think – I was only taking a step because I knew they needed to take a step.  I was only moving ahead because I knew they needed to move ahead. I was only laughing because I knew they needed to laugh.

Then as a boy, I remember how it felt to try to navigate my courage and my fear, my dreams and my nightmares, all at the same time…for myself.

Now as a father, I know how it feels to navigate my courage and my fear, my dreams and my nightmares all at the same time…for them.

 

The Physics of Childhood

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“If you want your children to turn out well, spend twice as much time with them and half as much money.” – Abigail Van Buren

How do things move?  It is one of the most basic questions that can be asked in regard to the science of physics.  In early childhood, movement is everywhere and is itself such a normal part of a child’s life that getting them to think in a developmentally appropriate and imaginative way about such things  and how they move is not hard at all.

When I was young, the physics of childhood flourished in me through an assortment of toy cars and later bicycles and go-carts and trying to build just the right ramps to turn each of them into the General Lee – the starring car of my favorite television show when I was a boy.  I remember the way it felt to get my bike just inches off the ground as it lifted its front wheel into the air from my makeshift ramp.  I was in heaven and imagined myself flying across rivers flanked by “Bridge Out” signs all along the way.  Some 30 years later, I can still remember the thrill of all that playing and working and experimenting!

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So tonight the girls and I decided to take a walk down the toy aisle at our local Target.  I was especially intrigued with their Hot Wheels assortment and the girls and I soon picked out the coolest 3-lane racetrack that I had ever seen.  The girls each chose two Hot Wheels (at only .97 cents, this must still be the cheapest toy in the store!) and we headed home to do some racing.

In my mind, the best part about Hot Wheels tracks are their interchangeable styles, which gives way to some of the most interesting configurations and layouts you’ve ever seen.  I dared the girls (ages 8 and 13) to find a way to bring every set of tracks (we have six separate playsets, four of which we inherited from my gracious nephew Zachary!)  together to create one colossal PHYSICS event!

After more than two hours of thinking and talking and hypothesizing and experimenting and failing and succeeding (and a little Motown music in the background to keep the mood up) – and some very funny debates between the two of them that ended at one point when my 8-year old said, “It will never work,” to which my 13-year old responded, “Don’t say another word” – it was time to bring it all together and see the domino effect that would start with 3 cars colliding into 3 more cars and so on until the final car hit the finish line.

30 Hot Wheels and 22 feet of track later the physics of childhood keeps moving along – right before my eyes and among my kids “the scientists!”

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