Sunday, August 30, 2015

The Gap

Me: Alright kids. Tonight there's going to be something fantastic. Let me give you a hint. It starts with "p" and ends with "orn."
Evelyn: (blank face)
Owen: Ha ha you said pee.
Me: That's right kids - popcorn.

"Mmmm salty..."

Quite often I have this moment where I want to describe something about growing up in England to my kids, but it's actually quite inappropriate at the same time. For example watching the footy and having the impulse to tell them that yes the crowd are singing, "the referee's a wanker." Or when having my son help me look at stuff to make for lunches while I'm at work and him asking me what I'd do for lunch when I lived in England. And instantly remembering how I'd pop out of the office across to the pub across the street. Which in the US sounds mental. And while perfectly innocent and normal would sound deeply odd if my son mentioned it out loud in school here.

My son then asked me, "so you lived in England until Mommy was in charge of you?" Interesting analysis there. Then he quickly thought to himself and said, "she's in charge of someone else now." Quite. At which point my son said that when he's older he'd like to marry someone from England. I asked him why and he said he doesn't like the way his teacher sounds. And that he does like the way my friend does on the phone. Which is somewhat fair enough. Except his teacher is Vietnamese. Of course being five meant his brain rocketed off to an entirely different tangent and he enthusiastically asked me, "remember when that fly went in your ear and it tried to eat your brain daddy?" Which tweaked his sister's attention and she offered, "yeah and it stole all your information." Then she randomly veered onto a joke I made eight months ago that I moved to the desert not just for them. But because I can't swim that the desert seemed like a good place to be - and now ironically everyone spends five months out of the year living in a swimming pool.

And then something very odd happened. My daughter made the face and body language of someone with something on their mind. And she asked me if I would ever get married again. I told her maybe. Didn't give her any details or anything like that. But told her I'd very much like to. Then she told me she didn't want me to be lonely. It's moments like that when you aren't sure whether to explain a complex situation. About how when I was married I was extremely lonely. Or that I'm not now, most of the time. And that sometimes you can be with someone in some capacity not even doing anything and it fills up your whole soul. The nuance of the two situations is not easy to explain. Still it's a bit odd to have an eight year old say they're concerned you might be lonely. So I had to do that thing where you quickly decide as a parent whether this is something you need to sit down and have a ten minute talk about it. Or breezily chat so that the situation seems easy and not a big deal. I opted for the second because you can easily transition from that into the first.

After asking her why she told me her mother has been talking about getting remarried. So I told her that sounded like a good idea. That her mother seems pretty happy and her boyfriend seems like a really good guy. And that they've been together for a few years so why not. Then I left it hang there while she figured out her thoughts. And she said out of the blue, "I don't really like living here." She went on to say she really likes my new apartment. And that she can tell where she is relative to her school and friends at this place. That she likes her school very much. And being able to swim. But that Arizona is too hot. That she can't do anything because it's so hot it makes you tired. I asked her in the lightest way possible if she actually was worried about me being lonely or if it was something else. And she said no, she was just sad sometimes that Arizona is too hot and she doesn't like it. Because it means she doesn't get to go see anyone or do certain things. And that makes her feel lonely sometimes. So surely I feel lonely too.

It's very interesting to me that people have intense emotional feelings that seem to be rooted in something. But without really analyzing it it's sort of missed that it's rooted somewhere else entirely. And therefore you can't really understand or fix the issue. So here was my daughter asking me an emotional question about how I feel. When what she really meant was she was holding a feeling of her own she didn't really know how to fix. I talk a lot about how in the midst of my own divorce that I realized I held a lot of conclusions to things without really looking to see if I was actually answering the actual questions. And then had a small epiphany that revealed that I absolutely was not. Coincidentally after my kids left New York I went to chat with a counselor. And they underlined that perfectly. That most people keep repeating themselves and feeling a sense of emptiness or unhappiness about an issue. Just hoping it'll change. A lingering frustration that things aren't feeling right, or better. And it's because they haven't really looked at the actual question they've been asking themselves and determined it's the wrong question to ask. It's the wrong starting point. And that you need to address that. And until you do honestly you can't resolve so many things beyond that point.

The irony of my own situation was I went to school specifically to learn about what defines men and women and how that's presented in culture. But more so how there's a gap between what people identify themselves as and how that is acted upon or shown. Specifically that the bedrock of relationships is that everyone is seeking true intimacy. Not sex. That's a common error. Not a partner to share a lifetime with. That's what a lot of people end up doing. While shared experience is valuable it's not something that makes you feel whole. The fundamental thing that people crave is an actual shared intimacy. The knowing that there is an openness that is nurtured by an other person. That they take genuine pleasure in what makes you happy - whatever that is. Simply - that they love you for who you actually are. In all the ways that you innately feel happiness from.

I say this a lot too. You own your own sense of happiness. You decide if you're happy. You decide if you're attractive. You own you. But when you enter into a relationship the contract you essentially enter into is to let someone into your heart and soul and allow them to impact it in lots of different ways. And that there is a responsibility then not to abuse that. But that what so many people confuse is that it's hurtful to not take up that offer when it's offered. And that creates a giant, gaping hole. People attempt to fill that gaping hole with all kinds of things. But the hole is still there and they can't figure out why it feels like something is just wrong. Not letting someone in is at least a choice. The other person not even wanting to come in and share is infinitely more painful. I knew that's what my marriage was from very early on. And yet we kept avoiding that. Papering over the hole with moving house. With kids. With stuff. One of us closed off. The other not even interested in the first place. Doomed to failure is how people might read that. And that's sort of wrong. Not supposed to succeed in the first place might be more apt.

My son is five. He gets upset, mad, confused and sad about things - and then forgets why. But he still feels those things lingering afterwards. Hence why after he moved 2000 miles away and then I arrived that he carried around a fear that his dad might move away again. My daughter is eight. And she spent part of today expressing concern that I might be lonely because sometimes she feels that way. And my ex wife and I spent just under fifteen years feeling emotions that we couldn't/wouldn't fix because we didn't want to address the actual causes in the first place.

So today - even though it's currently 104 degrees - I'm whisking the kids off to wander around a pet store. Get out and about and do things. Then later my daughter has a pool party. During which my son and I will pop off home and hang out together while she eats pizza and shows people the dance to Watch Me Whip that she's been doing constantly for three days. And I'll attempt to show my son the footy highlights and see if he doesn't get instantly bored by them. Maybe I'll let him put on an old England shirt that's so big it looks like a 19th century nightgown. That might persuade him. Although like me he seems quite happy to plow through Pinterest and Etsy and window shop. And eat some popcorn even though I'm not a fan.

Seems like a decent Sunday afternoon.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

The Duck and The Pixie

Owen: They put fireworks in your milk at school daddy.

One of the best gifts I've given my kids is creativity. On the one end of that scale is a wonderful imagination. To be able to have fun just making anything up and having fun with it. My daughter still holds that dear and I love it. No opportunity is missed to take the slightest stimulus and turn it into something hilarious. Such as her contention (after buying shoes for her toy dog her grandparents got her at Build-a-Bear - what a shocking money pit that place is) that somewhere in the mall is a store for dogs where they can dress up their humans. But the genius being their toy humans end up doing dog stuff - like eating out of a bowl or shitting in the garden. Didn't think it was the right time to bring up the fetish club two blocks over and how both those things are half-price specials on a Thursday night.

Anyhoo - I love that imagination. Her brother though has taken that flight of the imagination to the other end of the scale and quite often just talks endless bollocks. And instead of a cheeky laugh and the understood notion that it's all for fun insists it's true. Such as the fireworks in milk thing. He scowled when I suggested that wasn't true. He also insisted one of the kids in his class is a dinosaur. And - more troubling - confessed that he'd persuaded one girl at school that there's such a being as the Poo Pixie that works very much along the same lines as the Tooth Fairy. I can't imagine the level of disappointment in that girl's house this morning when her parent's discover she's had a shit under her pillow. Followed quickly by the kid's despair that doing so didn't earn her twenty five cents. The thing, is I'm somewhat sure I've joked about the Poo Pixie in the past to him. Which might mean that is actually my fault. I mean I am aware that apropos of nothing I will spout utterly inane nonsense to almost anyone when I think of it. For example I remember in work on Friday someone mentioned the new James Bond movie. And instantly I started rambling that now Bond is grittier and Bourne-esque that presumably a side-story of the new movie will involve Daniel Craig contacting all the women he's knobbed in the last four films to inform them he's got an STD and they should probably get checked. It's just that while it's obvious I'm having a laugh that my son might actually think it's funnier to claim that sort of nonsense is actually true.

My kids have been at school for just over two weeks. My daughter is - as expected - loving it. My son took to it like a duck to water. He gushed and gushed about doing crafts, playing in the gym, being invited to parties and getting to talk endlessly about Minecraft to people who simply can't get away. He wore a huge, happy grin that first week and a half. Especially as his teacher kept remarking what a shockingly good boy he was. But then a funny thing happened. It's as if someone sat him down and said, "This is cool right? Loads of new friends. Fun stuff to do. Pizza for lunch every damn day if you want it. Here's what The Man isn't telling you though. You have to do this for the next thirteen years." At which point he presumably (and continuing the water-fowl theme) muttered the very English phrase, ".....well fuck a duck." His unspoiled, perfect-child record has a few plummets from a One Star (basically the teacher couldn't ask for any better) to a Three. Normal and expected. It is only week three. And it's not like he's showing signs of mentalism like the kid in my daughter's Kindergarten class in New York who threw a pair of scissors at the bus driver. Scissors he'd stolen from art class. And then when he saw the buses pull up out the window had legged it out of class specifically to chuck them at the driver. And that was at the end of the year. I'm serious - that kid was so resistant to any rules laid down in class that he may actually have fucked a duck just to get out of helping put the toys away.

Anyway - the point is that it is expected. It's quite an adjustment. And as stubborn and driven by emotion as his sister is (translation: has been known to instantly flip into Cthulu-levels of murderous, demonic rage) he is a lot more stubborn. If he doesn't want to do something then he won't. His sister is driven even more by pragmatism. She can be tormented by her emotional side. But she'll know that from a Big Picture perspective that she may have to just do things she doesn't especially want to. Hence choosing friends with bullied kids because it just seemed unfair. And knowing she'll endure crappy treatment but being okay with that temporary sadness because in the end two people will be happier in the long run. Of course she had to work and age to get to that. When she was five there were inexplicable moments when she'd vault over the couch to rip me apart like a bread roll. Which made the dichotomy between her unbelievable good behavior, weird superhero-levels of intellect and unexpected eruptions of satanic rage even starker. This is a girl who - and I swear there was no indication or logical reason behind it - was once given sour gummy worms whilst in the back of the car by her mother and instantly started throwing them at her and screaming, "why does everybody have to be mean all the time."
Owen though - he's five. Once that emotion wells up he's paralyzed. I used to mention often how years ago he'd get chocolate or cream on his fingers and be absolutely unable to move. Mouth clamped open like a hypnotized snake. I'd find him stood in the kitchen - trying to alert me with his eyes whilst at the same time trying not to let the melted chocolate know he was calling for help lest it go batshit and heaven forefend claim another finger - stood statuesque until I cleaned him up. And no reasoning whatsover could release him from the horror of knowing his finger was dirty. "You could just....lick it off?" The number of times I made this point whilst looking at a terrified boy traumatized by the near-fatal melted-chocolate-on-finger nightmare he'd just endured. With chocolate smeared all over his face (apparently that didn't count though). Of course then he'd go outside and sit in an enormous mud puddle and literally pour buckets of river water and mud down his underpants. Consistency wasn't important, apparently.

Still I've been told by his teacher that a couple of times he's become upset and nobody can get him to do anything. And any persuading or demanding goes from pointless to problematic when he just breaks down in an emotional heap like a teenage Brony kid who has just discovered that his hormone-driven fourth wank of the day ended up landing on his favorite Twilight Sparkle plush doll. Evidently the only person who can snap him out of that standing-still and boiling into a sobbing mess is me. And then only by getting right down to his height, telling him it's okay and he's allowed to feel what he's feeling - and then he still has to let out the angry, crying, flailing-limbs intensity of five year old's feelings. 

And as his Dad I want to go help him. I don't want him to be tormented. Stood in his classroom knowing he doesn't want to do something because it sounds scary. And because someone is making him and his Dad said school really isn't all that scary that everyone is mean, Dad might be a liar and that can't be true but right now it feels like it and all all he wants to do is go home. But that can't happen. Not for hours. And this horrible feeling might happen every day. For thirteen more years. But I also know that the best thing for him is to suffer a few more of these episodes and learn that it's okay. It's a really weird thing to know as a parent that a major element of growing up is learning that sometimes pain is necessary and that you are going to get sad - and that it's how you deal with it that counts. Written like that it seems warped. I only realized that feeling overwhelmed to the point of sadness isn't a weakness about five years ago. And as a nearly-forty year old adult there are plenty of moments where I've thought that I just can't take it and I want to run.

And then last night we sat and did homework. I'll just briefly say it's shocking how much a five year old gets. It's at bare minimum 45 minutes a night. But during that - as he sat on my lap on the floor - he became so happy when he could read a word he didn't know a month ago. Clearly felt such a level of achievement when he knew how to solve a problem. Moved from being slightly annoyed that even after school he was still expected to do work, to feeling really happy that he knew how to do it. And that I got to see that he can too. And that's the point. So often the pain, the sadness, the discomfort - it's all worth it. It's all a part of growing. I'm no different at my age. There's lots that's uncomfortable. Lots that seems insurmountable and confusing and too strung out. But  it's okay. It's just dealing with it, thinking things through, making choices and knowing that someone loves you beyond words and that in itself will help you get through those moments.

Plus I go back to work tomorrow and I'm fairly confident I can convince someone that the Poo Pixie is totally real by the end of the week.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Crazy Eights

Son: Have you ever been inside a horse Daddy?

My daughter turned eight this past weekend. Not wishing to sound like an absurd cliche but quite how the hell that happened is anybodies' guess. I vividly remember it like she was just born. I remember her being a week old and thinking how odd it was that a week and a few days before she didn't technically exist (sort of). I remember falling asleep on my way up the stairs from being so exhausted that first fortnight. I remember starting a new job as a civil servant in Bristol when she was exactly two weeks old. And her spitting up on my work clothes every morning and I didn't care at all. I remember her mother actually had boobs. Actually come to think of it that was absolutely ages ago.

Anyway - she's gone from this pink malteser...

"I swear I can smell toast...?"

And turned into this four years ago...

And now somehow is this....

Reading a book about feelings.
And she might be eight years old but the way she thinks is astonishing. For example for a brief period last year she was bullied in school. Why? Because some kids would pick on a few other kids at school and at her after-school club. Which she found inherently mean - so she made friends with the bullied kids. Right into the sight line, basically. But despite it making her very sad at times she knew it was right. She had so much conviction about it. Even after some kids stole her shoes and threw them in the bin. So much so she wrote a letter - all by herself after learning what a petition was - to her school principal asking to start an anti-bullying club. This week she finally got to talk to the principal about it. Then her class made posters for it. Today every class in the entire school made some. And she just told me that that tomorrow in every assembly she's telling every year of school why she started it. And that if any kid in school is being bullied to come find her and they can be friends. That girl blows my mind.

Not that I'm remotely comparing - but this week my son invented the pignana.  I'm sure you can figure out what it is. He was quite pleased with himself when he came up with that. "You can eat the pignana peel because it's bacon!" Actually to his credit he won a "golden ticket" for being such a good listener this week. And got a card and prize pencil for being the best behaved all last week as well. His highlight of the week was a toss up between playing Pacman Tag in P.E. (which seems to involve bashing everyone with a pool noodle) and learning about a Trojan horse. Which he liked a lot. Quite why week one of American schooling involved learning about that is a mystery to me. Plus it lead to him asking me, "have you ever been inside a horse Daddy?" Which he said with the kind of suspicious inflection in his voice as if to suggest there is a very unpleasant rumor going around his school at the moment. Possibly based upon the fact that we used to live quite near Ilion, NY - where judging by local news reports almost everyone has been caught doing that at some point.

Waiting for Before School Club. Owen clearly dressed like a Masai Warrior.

Anyhoo - a few days ago I was stopped - with kids in tow - by a well-meaning pair of people outside a grocery store. They wanted to advise me on how my voting in the next general election would not just vastly change my life and community, but also change the course of history (they actually said "correct the course") to ensure my children's future was no longer in danger. Obviously at this point I pushed out my very best Hugh Laurie and gushed back, "gosh that does sound exciting!" It didn't take very long for me to get to the fact that alas I'm not allowed to vote before the two ladies' suspicious eyes looked me up and down - confused that I didn't look like their notion of a criminal - and wondered if they should call Sheriff Arpaio immediately. I politely added that I was English and not a citizen - therefore not given the right to vote. My daughter enthusiastically chipped in that she's English too. Bless her. I then smarmily mentioned the irony in the fact that even though I've lived here on and off for fifteen years I basically live under a system of taxation without representation. I just wish I'd been witty enough to threaten to chuck as much Mountain Dew as I could carry into the nearest harbour. But instead Owen kept punching me in the arse and yelling, "pizza!" so my sense of cool quickly evaporated.

I'm still totally cool though. Just ask my kids.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

A Distinct Lack of Nom

So Gav - what was the point of posting photos of yourself the other day looking like a bit of a twat?.

Every parent has encountered that frustrating situation where they've told a child something repeatedly. And yet later it transpires that they don't seem to have heard it at all. Weirder is that they can actually tell you what you told them. They heard you. They just chose to not actually listen to it. Actually balls to that. Everyone knows what that feels like. Children or not. 

Mavis had been diagnosed with Dildo-Ear a year earlier...
At the end of 2011 and beginning of 2012 I wasn't very well. My marriage was dead and I'd given up on it. So had my ex wife. For a very long time we'd taken it turns to completely give up.We were never really committed to the idea of it. Because if you hold something tightly it hurts a lot more if you ave to let it go. But for some time we both hit the same grip of apathy. Eighteen months. Eighteen months of avoiding someone. Avoiding each other. In truth it had been much, much longer than that. Years of crossing each other in the driveway. Knowing that the other person was home. So leaving. We just avoided each other. For a very, very long time every evening had been the same. Put the kids to bed. Get up. Pour a drink. Sit alone. A room twenty by fifteen with two people in it at opposing ends. Certainly not together. Two people can grow incredibly distant when they share the same space. And we liked it that way. It worked. Silent. Never a word said. Because talking might mean accidentally talking about the problem. And the inevitable end. So we settled for what worked. A functional, unspoken marriage of convenience. She went to work. She went out of town. I looked after the kids.

There are only a handful of people who know this. But  if you aren't honest about your scars you can't come to like them. Even love them, in a weird way. In 2005 I was living in Buffalo, NY and I wanted to go home. So I went. We didn't own anything. We had no kids. And it was the first time that I knew my marriage was over. I called it homesickness. I wanted something else. Anything else. So I went home. And I lived by myself for six months. Still married. But in effect it was done. No paperwork signed. No actual discussion had. But we both knew. Mostly. Six weeks after getting home I remember standing in a phone box in the pouring Bristol rain and having the actual conversation. Knowing in a few weeks it would actually begin to officially end. Somehow it didn't. Somehow instead we decided to have a baby. 

In the Fall of 2011 - quite honestly - I felt as if I'd lost control of everything. Not for the first time. I couldn't even fake it anymore. And if I'm entirely honest I was probably exhausting to be around. Luckily - that didn't happen much. When I was with my kids it was different. They were my energy. But outside of that - I really did feel as if i'd lost control. Except for one thing. I could run for fucking miles. Every day I'd get up around 4am, get dressed and go. And then I would run at least fifteen miles. Pitch black. Muggy and pouring with rain. Feet of snow and -20 degrees. Didn't care. I was going running. And then - when the kids mother came home - I'd do it again. My diet consisted of a pot and a half of coffee and a ridiculous amount of apples. Or as I referred to it at the time - Arsehole Fuel. If I was having a snap-hunger (which would happen every few days because I just wasn't eating) I'd eat tortilla chips and a few slices of cheese. No meat. No sugar outside the coffee. No alcohol. No anything, really. How the fuck I had the energy to run is anyone's guess. 

I became obsessive. Could I run a marathon at least once a week in the morning before I had to be home to take care of the kids? Damn right. - if I left at 3.15. Then something really odd happened. I knew I was leaking weight. I had - in the Spring - been 180 pounds even. A little round. A little soft. A little unpleasant to look at (shhh). A few months later I remember being stunned that I was dropping fifteen pounds a week. None of my clothes fitted. Not a single thing. And for a very short period I felt attractive for the first time in many, many years. And at the same time I was absolutely, completely, utterly miserable. I was overwhelmed by life. Scared that I knew I was a good dad. But knew that if my ex wife and I dared to actually talk to one another that everything would and should change. So instead I ran. 

In February 2012 it didn't work anymore. The running didn't help. That modicum of fake-control just wasn't there. And then one day I was picking my daughter up from school and her teacher asked me - with the most polite, sensitive concern you can imagine - if I was dying. That's quite a question. But my daughter's teacher had seen me go from a relatively, happy-seeming guy to a gaunt, pale, skeleton with exceedingly troubled eyes. From 180 pounds to just a touch above 125. I turned into this.

The problem with that guy is I don't know who he is. I don't like how he looks. I certainly don't like how he felt. And I hate that stare. I do remember how he felt. Like a faint echo. Like distant feedback. A very, very faint, remnant of white noise. I had to go through why he felt like that. Picking apart everything. And realizing that he held on to so many things because if they were let go then who knows what could happen. He was opinionated. Stubborn. Ignorant of why he believed most of what he thought he believed in. He had convictions that he bitterly held onto - without any knowledge of why they were there in the first place.

But here's the good news. I got to figure why I felt like that. I got to understand who I am and why I think certain things. Understand why feelings well up before an actual thought process has taken place. Even weirder - actually managed to make quite a few of them go away. I got to know who I actually am. Warts (no - not that kind) and all. I got to love my own scars. And by all accounts, I quite like me. I'm happy with me. For the past ten months I've been exceedingly happy. I mean - I might have mentioned that it's a bit hot. But I'm good. And if you knew the people in my life the way I do, I can promise you that you'd be good too. I don't run at all. I do hike a bit. But that's just glorified walking. I'm in decent shape. I like a damn good margarita. I smile an awful lot. 

The thing is, one of those people in my life that makes me smile in a way I never imagined has mentioned several times that I don't appear to be eating very much. And for someone who talks about food a lot that doesn't really add up. Add that yeah - you look alright and all - but that I'm looking a little....lighter. And while they said it with genuine kindness and love, I sort of shrugged it off. Because I feel pretty good. Then randomly I was waltzing about my house in my knickers and I caught my reflection. And for the first time in a very long time I thought that maybe I'm not looking as healthy as I thought. Lean, yes. Fit, definitely. Muscle, yep. But there was something. So I weighed myself. That hasn't happened in a very long time. And it turns out I haven't been listening. It's a weird feeling when you realize you're fifteen-twenty pounds lighter than you think you are. And weirder still when on the whole you feel pretty good. Then suddenly the fact that my day consists of two huge iced coffees, one meal and whatever tipple I fancy at the end of a day became really obvious. And it's usually an indication that there's been something on my mind.

So as weird as this sounds - I'm going to eat. And this is some sort of accountability. If you say out loud or write something down there's a lot more weight behind it than it just swimming around in your head. I like food. And I love going out to eat. I just haven't been doing any of it. But now I will be. And I am definitely listening.

Fatty is coming home.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

The Teenager

My five year old is a teenager.

Since getting back from his NY vacation my son has been different. I was curious how three-to-four weeks without me or their mother would effect the kids. Staying at camp with the old in-laws and aunts and uncles just shy of a month would mean a lot of kayaking, fishing and fun. But then again it would also involve an unhealthy amount of Judge Judy, suspicion of anyone who drinks wine that doesn't come out of a box and rambling conversations about the biggest threat to America being a shadowy army of gay, Mexican Muslims that Obama and the Clintons created during one of their secret wanking-on-the-flag sessions, So far the kids haven't brought up anything odd.

Owen though has changed. First and foremost he seems to have entirely lost the ability to look without using his hands. Add to that he is utterly obsessed with punching his family members in the arse. Me. His sister. Apparently his grandparents. His mother hasn't mentioned if she's escaped unscathed. But more than that is when learning that he's off out somewhere - anywhere - he's been putting on an outfit. Being five you'd imagine that would involve shockingly, mismatched clothes, a cape and a plastic sword. But no. He's been dressing like a fourteen year old.

"Daddy you're so totally awkward."
He's proving a few things there. To start with no man in my family should wear a hat. We look ridiculous. All ears and hamster cheeks. Granted that's just me and him. And he looks better than I ever do. I do own a few and I look like a Grade-A bell end. Winter hats are fine. Baseball cap not so much. I do own a hat that I'd love to say makes me look like Indiana Jones. When I put it on I imagine I look like as cool as this.

Then of course I'll see my reflection and it's quickly apparent that I look like an Amish Hipster. As for my son in his teenage-boy gear he appears to be of the view that looking cool is better than being comfortable. It was just shy of 110 degrees when that photo was taken. Quite often if we're driving somewhere we'll  see one of the locals who seems to be entirely immune to the weather and is striding about dressed in jeans and a coat. I'm utterly baffled by this. People from head to toe in denim at noon. I don't even want to think about the river of sweat pooling in their gussets - and neither should you. My kids - despite being in Arizona over a year now - still think those people are mental. And yet Owen has been making the effort to change into those clothes at every given opportunity.

You might not know this, but I used to wander about in leather pants, an atrocious fake-fur coat and quite a bit of makeup on. I had my ear, eye brow, bottom lip and one nipple pierced. I dyed my hair all kinds of ridiculous colors. For a period I'd tie silly, little knots with rubber bands in it. In hindsight I looked like a gay, emo polar bear. Not seeing it?

Two things. No - I wasn't dressed up for anything. I believe that was just a weekday. And secondly - that's a man. Yes. I know. In that photo I think I was 23. Disturbingly that would be fifteen years ago.

Anyway - about three months after that photo was taken I took out all my piercings, got (slightly) less ridiculous hair and that coat was mailed straight back to Scott Weiland. But what's somewhat interesting is that to the people I knew then if they ever think of me that's probably what they see in their mind's eye. Recently I showed that to someone I know. They absolutely refused to believe that deviant, pervert was me. Especially after finding the other fella is a man. Partly they didn't believe it because I'm an Englishman living in America. And for some daft reason that means I emit a sort of professorial, intellectual, semi-effeminate, reserved nature. Mostly that's down to the accent and too many movies with Colin Firth in them that make it to America these days. But also partly because these days I look like this.

I know what you're thinking. What's the point here Gav? Is it just that you've evolved from what appears to be a disturbingly camp, ferret-wearing fetishist at a Rocky Horror Picture Show concert? Is it that even though over fifteen years have passed between those two photos that you don't appear to have aged at all LIKE A MOTHERFUCKING VAMPIRE? Or is it that despite dressing like a pervert in the first photo and rather normal in the second, you still somehow look suspiciously dodgy now?

Well really it's that I just find it interesting that my kids have met umpteen people in the last week and what my son has been wearing will have created an instant impression in people's minds. To be fair my son is five. So it doesn't have a massive impact. Not as much as if I'd shown up to Meet The Teacher night at school in those crotchless jeans, white fur accompanied by a transgender mate of mine. Would have been even odder if Owen had showed up like that. But instead I showed up in a shirt and tie (and some pretty delicious shoes, let me tell you) and Owen dressed like that. And because most other people were in shorts and t-shirt I still somehow probably looked that little bit different.

But there was this sudden moment I hadn't really expected. I felt like his dad. His first moment at real school. It's inevitable really as a divorced parent that every now and again you realize you must look like Weekend Dad. Even though you have 50/50 custody and entirely shared responsibility. Buying them a pizza on a Saturday evening just reeks of that. But taking him into that school felt good. He felt cool. And weirdly - so did I. Because there's nothing actually cooler than being a decent parent.

Except Indiana Jones. Balls to my kids. I'm off to fight Nazis.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Back In Town

My kids come home today.

At the beginning of July my kids went to stay at their grandparents in upstate New York. And today they fly back. Obviously I had the typical parent reservations. How on earth am I supposed to be apart from them for that long? What if they need me? What if they go rabid-mental and the local community don't know how to stop them rampaging through the Adirondacks? And more importantly - what if they need me? My ex-wife's family have been doing this for nigh on fifty years. All the kids in the one extended family have been sent to "camp" for the summer. And despite a very fleeting thought that this could be the most evil joke imaginable, I did really want them to go. Mountains. Kayaking. Swimming in the lake. Lots of kids around. Fun (ie: eccentric) relatives. Camping. Green stuff. They'd no doubt have a fantastic time. And by all accounts they did.

I'm very pragmatic. And yet I did still think for a second, "....if they are secretly being moved two thousand miles again I don't know if I can handle that." And despite knowing that my son wasn't talking on the phone because he's five and just doesn't do that, I still held that sliver of fear. Which was an interesting thing to find out. I'm well aware of how much it hurt when they left. And the scars still held over from that. But I wasn't as aware as I probably should have been that I was afraid it would happen again.

Several years ago I had to stand in front of my kids and tell them the worst thing they'd ever heard. Telling kids of that age that their parents are getting divorced is a painful experience. Partly because you can see the confused anguish spread. Partly because there's that knowing - this isn't just going to hurt today. It's going to hurt for awhile. And partly because you have to try and convey to them that this is the right thing to do. Absolutely the right thing. I remember my daughter understanding what it meant a lot quicker than I thought she would. And I remember my son going through a very quick series of crippled hopelessness, being angry and weakly trying to push me because I was the one doing the actual telling. And then needing to be hugged. It was fucking horrible. All that absolute conviction of knowing it was absolutely right that this marriage was over still made sense. Because when you get to that point when you have kids that's precisely what gets you over that dread. That you know now that you believe that and that you are fucking well going to help the kids understand that.

Last November right after I arrived in Arizona my son was on my lap and furrowed his face up the way he does when he he has a fundamental question to ask. Not the stream of silly questions we ask each other. Not stuff about school or friends. But wanting affirmation from his father - because then it must be true. Then he asked me if I was going to move away again. That was agonizing. To hear that was how he made sense of the entire thing. Despite every conversation we'd had. Despite every time I'd tried to avoid any level of emotion and explain that his mother is moving them across the country because she really does think it's for the best. She'd certainly talked a lot about why Phoenix would be better for them. And how she was moving for work. For the weather. And yes - it was also where her boyfriend lived. And yes Daddy has some very, very hard choices to make - but if he thinks about it he'll move too. Because there is always one "best" option. And if he chooses not to take it then he made the choice. And no And me having to answer the kids questions about why mommy thinks its a good idea and trying to be as honest as possible. And coming up completely short when he'd say, "but you're my dad..." and waited for me to explain why it was still a good idea. And yet here we were and he presented the entire thing as I had been the one to move two thousand miles away.

When I pick them up at the airport it'll be bed time. So we'll be heading back to my place, climbing into bed ("The Cuddle Cave" as my daughter calls it) and I'll be squeezing the utter shit out of them.

Not literally though. Seriously. Behave.