Little Hoss pushes her brother out of the way, a hard shove and his socks slide away on the hardwood floor in the kitchen. He responds with a fury that only a 10-year-old little brother can.
"Hey! I want to push the button!" Then he pushes her back. She leans to her left but holds her ground. To give up now, to succumb to the shove, would admit that her little brother might not be so little anymore.
"No! I'm doing it! Go away!" Little Hoss says. It's direct and to the point. It's what older siblings say to younger ones so that there is never any doubt who is in charge.
However, with kids that are still not teens, tactical thinking is not their strong suit. They have forgotten about the toddler. It's easy to forget about him if he decides to let you. He's small, doesn't even come to my waist yet.
"Me! Me! Me! I want to do it!" Then he throws himself into a tangle of shoved legs like they are an 8/10 split and he's a 14-pound ball. He crashes into someone's knee and falls on his butt. Gets himself up, seems to throw a dirty look at everyone at once, and then starts pushing lower halves.
The dog comes crashing in because he's the dog and something is going on. Screaming, yelling, wrestling: all things that the dog wants to be a part of. The dog jumps up on my daughter who pushes him down, charges the 10-year-old who dodges him, and then licks the toddler because licking is awesome.
The problem is not that there is a battle royal in front of my computer sitting on the kitchen counter. The problem here is that they are collectively pushing me. Dad is getting smacked around like I'm a pinata. And you know what, I want to push the button. Screw-off. I wrote the book. I want to be the one that sends it off to the publisher.
All this is a bit surreal a the moment and it's a memory that I don't want to forget. A quick twitter pitch, a hopefully funny query letter, a partial request--all that leads to a full manuscript request from someone that isn't my wife. Someone is going to read the book. After they read it, then they will decide if they want to publish it.
I've looked back over this blog from the last year. It's fun to mark how everything has come about. I spent a lot of time hiking in the woods thinking. That's where the outline was formed, dodging spiders and accidentally sneaking up on people having sex in their cars. It's where I explored themes, came up with the first line, decided where I wanted the book to end. That shit took almost three months. But somewhere in those woods and besides those ticks, I decided fuck it. If I'm going to write, then let's get serious about it.
And so I did. The first class on writing I ever took was taught by my kid's elementary teacher. No shit, seriously. Go look up the blog from last year. I joined communities online, began to research on the business side of things. I joined a writers group--with my stomach in my throat and a nervousness that made me jittery enough that I could phase through walls. I have never been as scared as when my first piece was read out loud to 12 strangers that had no idea who I was. I've had guns pulled on me, not as scary as that first time getting your work read out loud.
It's weird hitting 20K words on the book and not realizing it. I kept a schedule to write (some of the best advice I ever got). I wrote in the morning for an hour, entertaining the toddler with juice boxes and cell phone videos. Then another hour or two at night when I finally put everyone to bed. On days when the toddler went to preschool I would hit four or five hours straight of keyboard pounding. I wrote in a castle. That was awesome.
Then having my wife print off what I had written and bringing it home as I never had a thought to print anything out. I hadn't even known I had hit 20K words. Holding that first manuscript in my hand and feeling the weight of it, holy shit this was real.
My daughter made a cover for the book. I have it still and plan on framing it. She's awesome. My whole family came up with a working title: No Changing Tables In The Men's Room. My son's told me to get back to work. Really. My older son is a beast of a time manager apparently.
All that leads to getting requests for a full manuscript. Professionals are now reading my book. Like, more than one. It makes me want to vomit and dance at the same time. Maybe they will like it. Maybe they won't. I don't know. But it's ok because this is just the start. And I want to remember the start, really really badly. My stories don't ever seem to dry up and there is so much more to tell.
So I want to push the button to send my book out.
The fight is going good and I'm a bit concerned as they are getting closer to whacking the computer. That would probably put it in the sink. That wouldn't be good. Or maybe it would? Afterall, even though I wrote the book, the truth is that the kids provided the stories. What happened at the Mormon Jail would have been boring without them. And who eats grave dirt and licks windows? My kids do. A T.V. pilot would have been boring if it was just me going around cleaning things. And without my wife, none of this would have been possible. None of it at all.
I realize that it's not my book at all. It's theirs. It belongs to the kids who ran like nuts through a state fair. It's my wife's who always asked me when I was going to write again. It's the twist ending that I call my toddler. This book belongs to all those other Dad's that had the adventures with me and kept me humble. It's to them and their kids who ask me "Where do you want to go again? Are you sure? Ok, we are in." I'm just the guy that got lucky enough to tell the stories.
"Ok, everyone gather up," I tell my kids. They stop fighting. I pick up my toddler and put him on my hip. Umph, he's getting big. I can actually feel his weight in my arms and wonder how much longer before I can't pick him up anymore. I gave that up with the older kids years ago. I miss it.
I tell everyone to put a finger on the return key, the magic black button that sends the book out into the world.
"Push," I tell them.
And it's gone. It's not our book anymore. It's everyone else's.
"No, you don't. You love it," I tell her. Primo argument. Immediately tell your wife how to feel and I'm sure it will work out for you as well as it did for me. Seriously, don't ever take my advice. It's pretty terrible.
"Not a chance. I hate it and I won't sit on it," Hossmom says.
"Yes, you will." You should also tell your wife exactly what she will do. I promise that this will work out as well for you as you telling your wife how to feel.
She won't even touch the car seat cover. She is barely looking at it. She tries to turn her head because I'm guessing the awesomeness of the white flames is too much to take. But she can't look away, try as she might.
"Give it a chance, baby. Don't hate. Procreate."
"I hate that as much as your new car seat cover."
But she laughs. If I can get my wife to laugh then I can get her to sit on the car seat cover.
$2.99 from the thrift shop. Captain American blue and adorned with white flames like we are riding to our destiny. Professionally embroidered edges and custom fitted over the arm rest. It was the best three bucks I've spent in years. I didn't even know I needed it until I saw it. China makes the best stuff.
"You need to take this off the driver's seat. I'm not going to be seen riding to the school picnic with this thing on," Hossmom says.
"Baby, baby, baby. Don't let other people dictate to you. We don't care what other people think," I say.
"I need for the other parents to think that we aren't meth dealers," Hossmom says.
"Baby girl, let us shine together. You, me and the car seat cover. Let's be the sun and not a black hole."
"You call me baby one more time and I'm going to throat punch you."
"No, you're not. You are a pacifist. You don't believe in hitting."
"I'm rethinking that."
I get it. I know what's going on. Hossmom is jealous of the tacky beautiful. The blue is too powerful. The fabric flames are too hot. She's afraid that her own beauty will be extinguished next to the car seat cover. I need to reassure her.
"Honey baby," I say.
"Hoss," Hossmom says.
"I mean Honey girl. Not baby. Honey girl." I think I almost got throat punched there. "Honey girl, you're prettier than the car seat cover. You know that. I know that. It brings out the brown in your eyes, the curl of your hair. It does other stuff that I can't describe because sometimes your beauty is too much."
"It brings out CPS is what it does," Hossmom says. "And it's not safe. It goes over the seatbelt latch. It's a death trap. If the police pull you over, you are going to get arrested for having bad fashion sense."
"I got great fashion sense."
"Little Hoss picks out your shirts every day. You got nothing."
"I got you and a car seat cover."
"Not for long."
"We are running late," I tell my wife. "We have to go. Just sit. Just feel it about your buttocks."
"I'm going to buttocks you," Hossmom says.
"I'm game. Baby."
Crap. That was a mistake.
Anyone need a bitchin car seat cover?
I'm driving. I can't see what you are pointing at.
"That thing. Over there."
It's a thing.
"What time is dinner?"
After soccer practice.
"What's that thing?"
"What time is soccer practice?" My nine-year-old asked.
In an hour.
"What time is dinner?"
After soccer practice.
"What time is soccer practice?"
"Can we be called the Red Dragons?" One the kids on the soccer team asked.
"What about the Orange Macaroni?"
We are already the Dragons.
"What time is soccer practice?"
We are at soccer practice.
"What time is dinner?"
Ask your parent.
"What time is dinner?" My daughter asked.
I'm cooking it right now.
"What time is Bubba Hoss's soccer practice?"
We just got home from soccer practice.
"What are you cooking?"
You can see me cooking. Just look.
"Is it almost done? What time is dinner?
"Dad," one of my kids asked.
We just had dinner.
"What did we have for dinner?"
"Mom texted, says to not forget the chairs."
I know. I'm packing the car as fast as I can. We can leave for the drive-in when your mother and grandmother get here. About 5 minutes.
"Will there be time to have dinner before we go?"
"Dad!" one of my other kids asked.
"Don't forget the chairs!"
I know! Don't ask about dinner or we are not going.
"Hoss," My mother-in-law asked.
"Did you pack the chairs? Don't forget to pack the chairs."
"Have you guys eaten dinner yet?"
Yes. We are good to go as soon as Hossmom gets home.
"Daddy!" my toddler asks.
"Don't forget to bring my chair!"
I got it!
"Honey?' My wife asked.
Right here. The car is packed and ready to go. How was work? Wish you didn't have to work late today. It's been a long one.
"Had to finish up some stuff. Did you pack the chairs?"
YES! I PACKED THE DAMN CHAIRS!
"Are you ok? Why are you getting so angry? Calm down."
I am calm.
"Ok. I'll grab the kids and my mother from the house. Maybe we can stop on the way to grab a quick dinner."
--And that's the moment I lost it.
Can I hit my daughter with a head of lettuce? She’s about four aisles away, right behind the strawberries, next to the cantaloupes. It’s a pretty good distance from me and of course, I’m no longer sure of my aim. Getting old sucks. My arm isn’t what it used to be and I think I need glasses. But barring all that, yup, I think I can make the throw.
She’s standing next to her brother. If I’m lucky, I could get some ricochet and catch him in the face. A two for one kind of deal, an 8-10 split with a prayer. I would need to take off the plastic though from the head of lettuce which I don’t think I want to do. I would have to buy it then.
Little Hoss’ hands are waving in the air, her face snarling. The hands are going to create a little bit of a defensive structure, a weave of flurry that makes it pretty much a wall. Her brother, the nine-year-old has his hands moving around while he talks, too. Without meaning to, they seem to be working together.
I don’t know what they are saying. That isn’t to say that I can’t hear them. I can hear them just fine. Everyone in the God Damn grocery store can hear them. The cashiers and the stock boys can hear them. The people in the next town over can hear them. I’m just not listening to them. The words shoot toward me, pummel me, the anger in them. There are acquisitions, excuses and blame all being passed around. The same shit that we’ve been dealing with since 7 this morning.
“You are being too loud and I can’t sleep,” my daughter accused her brother this morning.
“I’ve got the TV on mute. I’m not being loud!”
“You are being loud and now I can’t sleep!”
And on and on it went. It troubles me that they were being loud while arguing about being loud. When they are that screamy, that early in the morning, I don’t think they realize what is happening. At that point, they are being loud enough to wake me up. Then, from nowhere, I hear the toddler scream and start to cry. When did he get up? At what point did he enter the fray? Seriously, what the hell is going on and why is he crying. I can only assume that he saw a battle going on and would not be denied glory. Head first he would have charged, yelling his battle cry so that the gods of Valhalla would hear his woe.
I might be able to hit the toddler with a kiwi.
It’s going to be tough though. He’s not as tall as the other two and his head doesn’t reach above the little half shelf they are all three standing by. And let’s not be cruel here, a kiwi might be a little harsh. It’s hard, like the apples that I held moments before while considering what I’m going to do about the arguing today. That’s why I switched to the lettuce. Heavy enough to throw with a good solid center to keep it flying straight. It should break away on impact which should lessen the blow. I'm a responsible parent.
Can’t use romaine lettuce. There’s plenty around me, the fresh kind, not the prepackaged stuff. But it’s going to catch too much wind and not go very far. An orange is too bright, they might see that coming. Carrots have points, I don’t want to put an eye out. I just want to knock some sense into them. I have a whole arsenal of fruits and vegetables at my disposal. And with them oblivious at the other end of the fruit and vegetable section, I have time to be choosy.
Tomatoes. I have plenty of tomatoes right around me. Tried and true tomatoes, the fruit flinging projectile of angry mobs for centuries. I could use the big old fashioned tomatoes and get some easy juicy splatter. But then I might hit someone else, collateral damage of the sample lady night to far away from them. The Romas are intriguing. A tomato with a bit of aerodynamics to them. I think the vine-ripes are not going to be very good. Unless I can find a strong vine, then I can use it as a bolo. I like that idea.
Something happens. I can see the toddler’s head start jumping up and down. His little blond hair barely visible over the strawberries. Little Hoss is more animated and it looks like she is actually stomping her foot. Bubba Hoss appears to be all in. Nine-year-old righteous anger, right there on his face as he points at his older sister and younger brother. Escalation. That's what I’m seeing here. Ok. We can do that.
I pick up a watermelon, a very unripe one, and walk closer to my children. The watermelon is heavier and I need to get within range.
Little Hoss has her first cell phone. Is 11 too young? I don't know, I've been fighting this for at least two years. There was a time that I was of the opinion that "You aren't getting a phone until you are at least 16 and engaged to a nice young boy that requires no dowry." My wife thought that maybe that was too harsh. So fine, I switched my opinion. We could marry her to the church.
"Honey, you are not religious. Like, at all."
"Quiet woman! I'm making fatherly decisions!"
"You don't even say God Bless You when someone sneezes."
"Make me a sandwich!"
Those were some pretty rough conversations. She's 11 though! I mean 11! She's at that age where she still likes to snuggle with me on the couch. Little Hoss will occasionally play with some Barbies if no one is looking and her toddler brother is with her. She still calls me Daddy. Not Dad--Daddy. She's a little girl, my sweet pea, my destroyer of everything quiet. A phone is crazy talk, the thoughts of a loose father with loose morals. A man that is willing to thrust his daughter out into the world without any preparation at all.
And she's a little girl that requires training bras. She's a little girl that likes boys but won't talk to me about it because it embarrasses her. I can hear her whisper with her friends and cousins but the conversation ends as soon as I enter a room. Giggles follow me when I leave. She's a little girl that understands fractions and her introduction to Algebra. A little girl that wants to stay home by herself when I take the boys to soccer practice. My sweet pea, my little girl that doesn't snuggle with me on the couch as much as she used to.
Fuck. She's not a little girl anymore.
She goes to girl scouts and volleyball practice. She goes into the store and uses my debit card to grab a gallon of milk. She is going to start staying home for a bit by herself. In fact, there is a shit ton of time that she spends not around me at all. Little Hoss has built herself a life outside of me. She is starting to gain independence.
We were finally able, thank you Jesus (see, I pray!), break away from our cell phone provider. We switched to antoher carrier. When we did, because of a great deal they were having, Little Hoss got her very own phone. It was free and like every responsible father, I could not turn down a good deal. Nor can I turn back time.
We gave her the phone and she immediately left me. The string between us cut with a text. She jumped on the couch and her fingers began moving faster than court stenographer. She would send me a text: Dad, what's Aunt Shell's number? I would text back. Dad, do you have my cousins numbers? I would send them to her. She is out in the world, the cold fucking world that preys on kids.
First off, how the hell does she even know how to work a phone? How does she know how to text?
"All my friends have phones, Dad. So does all my cousins."
Thinking about putting my daughter into a convent has blinded me. I should have prepared her better to be out there. She has google on her phone. There is internet on that thing. There are chat rooms and in one of them lurks Chris Hanson.
So my wife and I sat my daughter down that night and had "the talk." It used to be that having "the talk" was just going over sex. Dad puts his pee pee in Mommy's Ho-ha. They wrestle a bit and eventually your mother thanks God and it's over. A baby eventually comes around.
But now, so much different than my own childhood, "the talk" has to encompass a whole shitload of issues that I never had to. We have to go over inappropriate texts--both of the bullying kind and the dick pic kind. We have to go over people in chat rooms, how some may not be the people they claim to be. That she should never go into chat rooms at all and, to be honest, I'm not sure they even exist. But just in case, we have banned them.
We talked to her about digital predators in digital white vans promising treats and love if only she would meet them somewhere. My mind reeled, it ran from one nightmare scenario to another. And I laid it all at her feet.
I invited my wife to tell my daughter of some of the inappropriate things that people have said to her. It's a world that I have no experience. It's rare that as a young teen anyone would say anything to me other than my dad telling me that masturbating should only be done in the bedroom, put your junk away son. That was our talk. Uncomfortable but hey, at least it was quick. (HA). Hearing my wife's stories, I now have a whole list of people that I have to track down a beat up. So Mr. Old Man from 1988--I'm coming for you. Eventually. I know that you were somewhere in Indiana at the time. We got a score to settle.
Cat calling, conniving, false promises, predators. All of it.
"Does that really happen, Dad?" She asked me. She called me Dad.
"Damn right. Not if you were in a convent but it looks like that's not an option for us. So yes, that happens And sometimes it happens a lot." My tone was serious, more serious than I think she is used to from me. That's when the sniffles started.
And to drive the point home, in my over protective father mode, I pulled up Reddit. I went to a subreddit called /r/creepypms--which is not what I thought it was when I first saw the name of it. This is a place where women of many ages post all the creepy shit that people send them. I didn't let my daughter read them of course. I just showed her how many there are, page after page after page.
That's when the tears started.
So my daughter has her phone. There are rules, of course, No texts without me knowing and only to people that I know. No apps unless I know what they are and give approval. Child safety talks, precautions. My wife and I have complete and total access to the phone whenever we deem it appropriate. All that and more so that at least we are sending her out into the world fully padded and with a safety net. And of course, if anyone from 20/20 ever contacts her, she should immediately come to me.
At the end of the talk, I sat down on the couch. Tired, exhausted, nightmares fresh behind my eyes. She came and sat next to me. She leaned over and put her head on my chest, I put my arm around her.
"People are weird, Daddy."
"I know, sweetpea. Now show me what a Bitmoji is."
The tent was hot, the kind of hot that makes certain male body parts stick to other body parts. No breeze at all, just the constant sound of my nine-year-old snoring. Soon, his sister began talking in her sleep. Something about braces, it’s been on her mind a lot over the summer. How can it be so loud on a camping trip in the woods? It’s supposed to be quiet where only the sounds of the insects chirp you off to a nice sleep. I didn’t sleep at all and woke up the next day wanting to take a nap.
Our next trip was to Houston. Three kids, a mother in law, my wife all packed into the van. Eight hours the first day that turned into ten hours because that’s what happens during road trips. The next day of driving was only supposed to be four hours. The traffic jams in Houston decided to extend that by two. You could measure how long we were on the road by how loud it was in the back. We started off with soft voices, easy conversations. We ended with screams and accusations of “You are on my side!” It was the same way going back.
Boy Scout camp was held a week after we got back from Houston. More camping. Still hot. Louder though, so much louder. What’s louder than three of your own children? 20 boys that aren’t yours that have discovered the joys of farts, running and fidget spinners. It’s impossible to read a book, to really get into it, with that much chaos going on. Then we gave them knives. Now there was a bit of blood mixed in with the loud.
In Mid July, we took a trip with friends to the lake. They have a house that they get the use of once a summer. Right there on the lake, hidden behind some trees with a big porch where you could sit and listen to the yelling of our families. There’s also a little amusement park nearby which is great for adding scratching metal sounds as you walk. If you wait up at night a bit, say around midnight, you can finally get to that quiet. The park shuts down, all the kids are asleep and a glass of whiskey on that porch can be heavenly peaceful. However, Bacon Hoss had an accident at the amusement park that required four stitches on his eyebrow. He didn’t sleep very well. By the next morning, when I went back on the porch, it appears that the bugs enjoyed my leftover whiskey very much.
Every year, at the beginning of August, we take what has now been called the “Dad’s Trip.” The name implies that it’s only dads, five of us actually. It’s not. The five dads do come, but so do our children. In total there are 21 of us. We pick a direction and try and find what there is to find. We visited a replica of Stonehenge which allows the children’s voices to bounce off the rock so there is an echo. We saw Johnny Cash’s boyhood home, a quaint little cottage in northern Arkansas that is perfect for making 21 voices compact and grating. We ended that trip at a vacuum museum, that’s a real thing. A vacuum museum has a lot of vacuums. A lot. From every era. The kids decided that now they liked vacuuming and turned most of them on. My ears rang for a good hour after we left.
Yesterday the kids went back to school. They had new lunch boxes, fancy new shoes, and bright smiles. The day before I asked them if they wanted to do any more adventures, perhaps camp one more time. The kids ran from me, even the toddler. I put them on the bus, wished them the best of luck, and went back into my house.
Quiet. No sound but the A/C kicking in. I sat down and looked at the black screen at the T.V. There were no jumping thuds from upstairs. I didn’t hear anyone laughing at all. The dog was asleep on the couch, not a single time did he bark or try and chase anyone around. I checked my phone, no one had called. I should put away the camping gear but the garage is quieter than the house. Outside, there was a garbage truck but it was far off. I could hear its engine rev and then fade as it went up the hill. There were no hugs, no sounds of tears being dried and nobody asked if I wanted to play with them. The silence is louder than the screams.
I miss the noise.
It was my mistake, my miscalculation. I forgot that when dealing with a multinational corporation that you should always bring a bucket of blood first. It’s got to be a full bucket too, not just some half bucket shit. And not the blood of a cow. Hell, no. It’s got to be from your own veins, a deep cut that reaches your soul so that not only do you give blood, you give your very fucking essence.
And forget about getting anything actually done, just a hint of customer service without that blood. They are going to get that one way or another. My request was simple, but I didn’t bring the blood. I want to change cell phone carriers please.
“Sure, no problem! Let me just press some keys on this computer a bit,” the rep said to me.
“What does pressing keys do?” I asked.
“Oh, absolutely nothing! I just like the sound of it. Now, did you bring me any soul tainted blood?”
“No. I did not.”
“Hmm, well that’s not good. It looks like I can’t help you. Maybe you can call back 10 or 12 times and then we can think about helping you.”
I tried getting smart after the 4th phone call. They caught me.
“Sir. Sir! Calm down. This is only the 4th time you’ve called and we still don’t have a blood deposit. Please call back many more times before we will help you.”
My request was simple. I just need my phone unlocked so that I can switch carriers. A simple phone call, right? We are not under any contract, have had the phone long enough, no problem. Yeah, there are problems.
On the 7th call.
“Sir, your phone is already unlocked.” I could hear this person, Athena, eating children while talking to me.
“No, it’s not.” I’m checking the website now. The new phone company has checked. Nothing is unlocked.
“Sir, I’m showing that it’s unlocked.”
“It’s not unlocked!”
“Are you saying that our computer system is wrong!” I could hear Athena gulp down the limbs of the children and wash it down with the tears of a puppy. “How dare you, sir! How dare you!” Then she hung up on me. Seriously, that part is completely true, as well as the children eating bit.
I tried begging on the tenth phone call.
“Please! (sob) Please, for the love of God! Help me! Unlock my phone! (sob)”
“Are you crying? Any chance you can gather those tears into a plastic bag and mail them to me, at your expense of course.”
“Yes, yes, whatever you want. Please just unlock my phone. I want to quit the phone company. Please.”
I took to social media. My wife posted to social media. I called again and again. I talked to supervisors. I performed satanic rituals to summon phone unlocking gods. I prayed to whoever would listen only to find out that no one was listening. I emailed the CEO. The fucking CEO. I have not gotten an answer back.
With a scratchy voice, deprived of the will to even eat a donut, I once again called after yet another email denying that my phone was unlocked while also assuring me that it was unlocked in the same sentence.
“Beth. Beth. I need your help. No one can help me Beth. Please, unlock my phone so I can switch carriers. Please Beth. I can’t go on, can’t.
“Oh, your phone is unlocked. No problem. It’s been unlocked for a whole week actually. You could have switched at anytime. Isn’t that super?” I hear Beth smile through crooked and evil teeth, the sound produced makes your heart flutter unevenly.
“What? Beth? For realsies?”
“Yup. For real. Your blood deposit went through just fine. Took a while but we got it. Thank you for your business.”
Fuck you, Beth. Fuck you.