The worst angry dad moment one could imagine

The first 2013 home football game at Appalachian State didn’t end well.

I’m not referring to the game, a huge upset loss to visiting NC A&T. That was bad. But this was worse. I had to fuss my eight-year-old daughter out. And I did it as only I could – as terribly nerdy as possible.

“Thanks for ruining what was a fun night!” I snapped at her, as we walking through the low-lit stadium parking lot. We were alone. Fireworks exploded behind us as part of a special post-game show. “We’re not seeing fireworks. We’re not on the field. We’re going home, thanks to you!”

She never responded. She just cried. We were halfway to my truck.

It all started as the game ended. Soon after players and coaches exit to locker rooms, ASU allows fans access to the field. They can pose for photos, play catch, or run around as obnoxiously as possible until
officials decide it’s time to close up shop.

We always hit the field. The kids love it. It’s a highlight of the game experience.

As the clock ticked down, my 6-year-old son was psyched. He had his football and his kickoff tee. He was ready to attack the field goal posts. He loves kicking on the field. It’s his kidnip.

My eight-year-old daughter?  She wants to meet cheerleaders and do cartwheels. Right now she’s …. um … uh .. where is she? … she was, uh, she was just right here.

“Honey, do you see your daughter anywhere? Where did she go?”

She wasn’t with us. It took three minutes of scanning the crowd below to find her. She had, on her own, left our seats near the top of the stands and headed into the student section. She was alone standing by the gate to the field, waiting for her cue to ski-doo.

Before I could react the wife marched off. A couple of minutes later mom and daughter return. Mom looked angry. Daughter looked vindictive. Son was oblivious. He was too busy in mental la-la-land, a huge
smile on his face.

As she returned to our seats, my daughter angrily grabbed for the iPad she had been playing with earlier. One problem – brother was sitting in her way. So she reached behind him and, with her elbow, shoved him off the bleacher.

One knee hit concrete. The other slammed into the steel bracketing of the bleacher back in front of us. He screamed.  So did I.

“We’re leaving! Now!”

My daughter jumped at the order. I pointed “go.” She started crying. I didn’t care. “Go!” My anger was incited by the unexpected pain inflicted on an unsuspecting brother by an unjustly angry sister.

My wife and I had driven separate vehicles. I said I would see her at home. Off I marched my daughter. And I mean marched. Out of the stands, out of the stadium, through the parking lot, up a flight of steps, and
across campus to my truck.

I exploded at her thrice. Once to let her know we were missing fireworks. Again when I heard the A&T band playing its postgame show (I was missing the Machine!)

The third time was right as we were approaching my truck. And, in retrospect, it was the worst angry dad moment one could imagine.

“Do you remember when we talked about cost-benefit analysis? Do you?” I expelled. My seminar was just warming up. “Everything you do has a cost you weigh against benefits! Next time you want to do something stupid like leave us to get lost in a crowd, then hurt your brother because you’re mad, think about what that’s going to cost you! What are you gaining to suffer those costs?”

Am I proud of these words? No. No father should be. Behavioral economics is best presented in the aisles of Wal-Mart, calmly contrasting allowance with that can of silly string she HAS to have. Teaching effectiveness is diminished under street lights, surrounded by traffic on one side and dark woods on the other.

But nonetheless class continued.  I delivered every line as if I was Walter White. “I AM the danger!”

“We were all going to go down on the field, but you wanted to get there faster. You thought it was no big deal to let us know so you could benefit by getting there faster. Did you not think the cost would be angering mom and I because we have no idea where you were? Where was the benefit in that? And what was gained by hurting your brother? What!?!”

My daughter never responded. She just cried.

We got in the truck. I drove for 10 minutes before saying anything else. I calmed down. Angry dad left. Time for reconciliation dad.

“I love you, sweetie. But what you did was wrong. You need to ask permission before you run off, okay? And don’t hurt your brother just because you’re mad mom’s mad at you. If you want to talk about it, we can. I’m
not mad anymore. If you don’t, that’s fine too. I won’t bring it up again. It just wasn’t a good way to end the day.”

Again she never responded. She just cried.

Economics hurts.

Hello my name is …. dad who can not resist!

Recently at church, one of the children’s classes spent weeks practicing the Matthew West song “Hello My Name Is.” (Give it a quick listen, just the first 20 seconds or so.) My daughter was in the group. They were to perform the song on stage during a special church dinner one Sunday night.

My daughter looked forward to it. She loves to sing, and isn’t shy about performing in front of large groups. For an 8-year-old, she’s immune to stage fright. But as I would find out, she is susceptible to embarrassment.

The big night came. My daughter was one of three kids with a solo. All eight were lined up on stage, behind mics. The audience was 120-plus strong, sitting at round tables on the gym floor. All eyes on the performers. The teacher hit play on the CD.

Showtime!

Whoa oh ah oh ah oh oh!
Whoa oh ah oh ah oh oh!
Whoa oh ah oh ah oh oh!

The music was loud. You could just hear the actual West vocals of the song. The young singers overpowered him.

“Hello my name is regret …,” the first soloist began. “I’m pretty sure we have met …. Every single day of your life … I’m the whisper inside …. That won’t let you forget.”

Then came the next soloist, who sang the second refrain. Then all joined in loudly for the chorus (Kids love a good chorus). I was sitting in the front row, camera recording. The third refrain was my sweetie’s big moment. Here it comes! 


She stepped closer to the mic. A split second of hesitation. Then she sang.

I am no longer defined …..
By all the wreckage behind …
The …
*pause*
one .. who …
*pause**pause*

She stopped. Her eyebrows shot together, then just as quickly darted apart. She shyly smiled and murmured into the mic. “I forgot the rest.”

The teacher up front did quick circles with her right arm, the universal sign of “keep going.” So my daughter just stood there …  smiling. All the kids just stood there … smiling. The audience just sat there … smiling. The music continued … unaccompanied. Two years later finally the chorus hit again. The kids sprung back to life.

“HELLO MY NAME IS CHILD OF THE ONE TRUE KING! …..”

I felt pangs of empathy. But my girl seemed to quickly recover. When the song ended they all took bows. The event was done and people rose to leave. My daughter left the stage, and ran to me pleading.

“Let’s leave. Now.”

As we departed, a couple of people saw her and attempted to tell her what a great job she did. She refused to look at them, much less acknowledge their words. When we were alone outside she let loose the pain.

“I’m a laughing stock!” she said, somewhat dramatically. “I’m the laughing stock of the whole church!”

“No no no no. No you’re not,” I said. “Sure, you made a mistake, but the point is you were on the stage to begin with. You were doing something to make people happy. No one laughed at you. They appreciated you being there. Heck, most of those people wouldn’t be brave enough to just stand on that stage, much less sing. You were great!”

She remained inconsolable. I worked hard to be the caring, understanding dad. We continued talking about it in the car on the way home. She detailed her pain. I consoled her. Eventually she relaxed. Drama remained, but it was now bearable …..

….. until I could resist no longer.

This was too good an opportunity. Some things just had to be said. I could not pass this up. I had the perfect setup.

So I waited a couple minutes. There was silence. Then I pounced.

“So sweetie, I have something to say, but you won’t like it” I said, as kindly as I could.

“What?” she asked gently.

“I guess now …. *pause* … ♪♪ your name is … re-gret! ♪♪.”

I laughed. She’s sworn revenge.

Shame goes good with Chinese

Recently my kids became aware of the process by which one neuters a male dog. I was ignorant of their new knowledge until lunch this past Sunday.

My wife, two kids and I were seated at a booth talking about whatever it is our family tends to talk about. Mom and daughter were on one side, me and the 6-year-old boy facing them on the other. Somehow the topic of babies came up, and my 8-year-old daughter started picking
on mom.

“You need to have another baby, mom!” she said, as brother egged her on. “Have another baby! You need to!”

Mom just smiled a sneaky smile, throwing a sly glance my way. “I’m not going to have any more babies. We can’t have anymore.”

“What?” said my daughter, a mixture of wry amusement and shock. “Were you fixed!? Have you been fixed mom!?”

Brother joined in. “Yeah mom, have you been fixed?”

Mom just grinned. “Nope. Not me.”

Suddenly both siblings turned their heads my way. They then questioned me with a two-word phrase as silly as it is cringe worthy.

“Dad? Have you been fixed,” they started to ask, before reiterating at a slightly higher volume. “DID YOU HAVE YOUR WIENER BALLS CUT OFF??”

They exploded in merriment. My wife joined them. I said nothing. I just looked at each in turn, then looked down at my plate, chin almost to chest, with my best sad face. I wasn’t so much acting as emoting.

“HAHAHAHAHAHA … YOU DON’T HAVE ANY WIENER BALLS NOW DAD? .. HAHAHAHAHAHA … YOU REALLY HAD YOUR WIENER BALLS CUT OUT??”

I folded my arms on the table, then buried my head in an elbow

“DAD DON’T HAVE HIS WIENER BALLS! DAD DON’T HAVE HIS WIENER BALLS!”

As they sang I slowly slid my nestled pillow of crossed arms off the table to the side, and dropped it down to the seat. Dave Chappelle couldn’t get a better reaction.

I didn’t mind the laughter. It was the repeated use of the phrase “wiener balls” that hurt. Not as bad as the actual procedure to which they crudely referred, but still … not pleasant.

As the giggling finally died down and I returned to an upright position, my son asked if he could have some ice cream from the dessert buffet. Mom said for him to ask dad to get it. So I rose with him to retrieve his sweets. As I passed my wife I whispered, “As least I’m still good for something.” She just winked.

Wiener balls ….. ugh.

Top three moments when I felt I was failing as a father

No. 3 – I don’t love my kid’s birthday enough.

My wife and I have organized birthday parties for our children. Originally they consisted of invites, a few hand-blown balloons, some cake, ice cream and (maybe) potato chips at a park or the house. That was it.

And then came the Joneses.

When my daughter was three she received her first reciprocated invite. It was for a friend from daycare, turning 3. It was held at a family barn, which was refurbished as a dance hall. And it … was … fabulous. And intricate.

  • The party had a theme, with matching streamers, plates, napkins, cups, party hats, posters, noisemakers, crayons and helium balloons.
  • Every kid got a map for a scavenger hunt to find novelty items hidden outside around the barn.
  • There was a near banquet quantity of food, including vegetables, fruit, chips, burgers, hot dogs, sodas, juices and water.
  • The cake was adorned with theme-appropriate color and decour, and could feed a village.
  • Upon leaving every kid was given a goody bag – customized to theme – full of candy and trinkets.

Goody bag? Theme? That shindig was Outback Restaurant. The parties I had planned were In and Out Burger, as taken through the drive-thru in the rain paying with coinage and discovering too late the damn cashier forgot our fries.

No. 2 – When my son sounded like he was being brutally stabbed in public.

The kids and I are regulars at several local parks. We know all the equipment. And I know their routine – sandbox, slides, see-saws, then swings. I’m only needed for the swings. (Push me dad! Push me up to the moon!)

One day we went to one particular park and I was bushed. It was late in the day and a bit too warm for my comfort. I parked and told the kids, then 5 and 7, I would stay in the truck for a couple minutes. Be good. They exited. I lowered the windows for breeze and audible supervision. Then dropped the seat back and closed my eyes.

20 seconds. All the peace I got was about 20 seconds. Then.

DAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAADDD! AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHH! DAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAADDDD!

It was my son. I could hear tears. I popped up and looked out the window. They were about 30 feet away, on the other side of the chain link fence. They had broken the routine of sandbox first to sprint to one of the toddler slides, one that was a short curvy tube. My daughter had jumped up on top of the tube just above the slide’s launch. My son attempted to follow, but couldn’t quite pull himself up. Instead he dangled, his feet roughly 3 inches off the platform but, to a 5-year-old whose chin was sandwiched by two arms precariously perched for dear life, it may as well have been 103.

My daughter was adding to the theatrics by yelling, “I’ll help you! I’ll help you!” She was grabbing his legs to try and lower him down. Her impact was to make him scream louder. It sounded like a mugging.

So before an audience of helicopter parents and properly supervised children, the nominee for Inattentive Dad of the Year left his nap spot, ran to the gate, opened it, and hustled to the slide. Screaming persisted throughout the duration of my grossly delayed reaction, both from my son (“Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaah!”) and me (“Leave your brother alone! I’m coming!”)

When I finally arrived, I easily picked my son up and placed him down on his feet. I then turned and let them both know in unflattering terms we were leaving the park RIGHT. NOW. I couldn’t bear the eyes of judgement. (Though I am grateful I was somehow denied a nomination for Scary Violent Dad of the Year. Tough competition, that).

It was weeks before I could bring myself to return to that park.

No. 1 – My 6-year-old son’s favorite movie right now is Disney Teen Beach movie.

I *have* failed.😦

Latest additions to the Oxford Parental English Dictionary

The Oxford Parental English Dictionary is pleased to announce the latest additions to its 2014 edition, scheduled to appear in bookstores never. All were submitted as part of this year’s Little One Lexicon contest, in which new words or phrases were solicited from parents across the United States. The following 8 entries were selected from 54 qualifying entries. (Approximately 234,650 were discarded due to vulgarities and/or violent content).

The 2014 additions include:

Meanieac (n) – A person obsessed with being mean. Give me back my blanket! Stop being such a meanieac!

Damn (n, v, adv, adj) – Word used by child to express anger with no knowledge of actual definition of word. Also used to irritate adults who insist child not use that word.  [From Belgian, with Hanna-Barbera roots.] I’m gonna damn you in the damn for being a damn.

Blowout (n) – Severely oversaturated diaper, generally due to explosive fluid flow from rear of a child. A lowlight of the flight was furiously cleaning up after the blowout while in the plane’s cramped lavatory as the pilot insisted everyone immediately get seated and buckled for landing.

Nite-nite (n) – Moment parents need a break and child is forced to go to sleep, regardless of time of day. They’re about to kick-off, time for nite-nite!

Dad’s special drink (n) – Beverages in dark colored bottles which children ARE NOT ALLOWED TO TOUCH! YOU HEAR ME? Mom, why are there so many empty bottles of dad’s special drink in the living room?

Pee-pee (n) – The private area of a young daughter. Used by fathers too uncomfortable to say the “v-word.” [Antonym for wiener.]

Chicken (n) – All meat products prepared for picky children who love chicken but insist they hate all other meat. “Mom, what’s in the spaghetti?” “It’s chicken honey.”

Because I asked you politely (phr.) – Evergreen answer to query “why?” Can be used in almost any situation. “Why do we have to go to church?” “Why do I have to go nite-nite now?” “Why do I have to wear underwear to baseball practice?” “Because I asked you politely.”

The night my son sang with his supper

The almost 3-year-old boy began to sing.

Trick or treat … Smell my feet …. Give me sumthin’ good to eat.
If you don’t, I don’t care. I’ll pull down your 
UN-der-WEAR.

His over-emphasized finish was greeted with genuine “Ain’t he cute” laughter from our friends. We were having dinner at a BBQ restaurant, my wife and I and another couple. We had four young kids with us (two apiece). At one point during our conversations my son felt the need to share the newest song in his limited musical repertoire.

As our laughter faded, I heard a voice from behind me. “What’s that I hear?” I turned to see an elderly couple at a table behind us. It was an acquaintance of mine, one I hadn’t seen in a few years. I explained my son was performing dinner theater. The old man and his wife said it sounded adorable, and would appreciate their own special performance.

My son, who’s attraction to attention is spurred only by acts of absurdity, gleefully left our booth and walked to their table. He then began his encore.

Trick or treat … Smell my feet …. Give me sumthin’ good to eat.
If you don’t, I don’t care. I’ll pull down your UN-der-WEAR.

The old folks laughed. My son stood still with a grin, soaking in the appreciation. The man reached into his pocket and pulled out a dollar. He handed it to my son. “That was a mighty fine performance young man. Mighty fine. It was worth a dollar,” he said.

My son took the bill. He stared at it with awe. He knew what money was. He loved money; was obsessed over it. And he knew it wasn’t easy to come by. I can only imagine how his young brain processed the moment.

Singing + table of strangers = MONEY!

Before we could corral him back to our table, he quickly headed to another. It was surrounded by four college girls, all deeply engulfed in college girl conversation. None noticed the young toddler who approached. He began to sing, and was a couple of notes into his song before the girls each flinched to silence, turning their heads to face their balladeer.

Trick or treat … Smell my feet …. Give me sumthin’ good to eat.
If you don’t, I don’t care. I’ll pull down your 
UN-der-WEAR.

The college girls reacted much as one would assume college girls would – erupting in a mixture of “aw”s and “ha”s to the cutest event in the world.

One of them asked my son, “Who taught you that?”

“My daddy,” he said.

As if in practiced unison, all four college girls turned in my direction, looked at me and together cooed in a mock accusatory tone, “Daaaaaaaaaaaddy.”

My son didn’t get another dollar, but I had four college girls simultaneously call me “Daddy.” I consider that an epic producer’s credit.

Ever climb a mountain carrying kids?

Image

“Man …. I wish my parents had taken me cool places to hike when I was little.”

So said one of the two college guys who paused to let us pass on our way up Rough Ridge recently. At this particular moment, we looked liked quite the hiking family. The wife was in front, followed by six-year-old daughter, four year-old-son and myself. We were each on foot. It would not last.

This was the first time we’ve taken the children into the great outdoors along the Blue Ridge Parkway. We started at the Linville Viaduct. There’s a rest stop/gift shop combo at the start of the trail, which goes under the iconic strip of road and into the woods.

peek a booThe kids were immediately enthused. The boy was running and jumping from stone to rock much like a thrown rubber ball bouncing between walls. The girl was stampeding ahead as much as she could, anxious to leave her brother far behind.

We posed for photos. Explored caves (“where’s the bear?). And marveled at some of the huge boulders along the trail. We got about a mile in when my wife made a dramatic discovery. Or, more precisely, lack of discovery. “Where’s my cell phone!?”

We backtracked a bit and found it safely on the trail. (It must have slipped out her back shorts pocket). Seeing as how the deeper we went in, the longer the walk out would be, we headed back. Me and the daughter on foot. Mom way behind us … carrying the youngest on her back. (I called it her “Jedi training.”)

We then left the Viaduct and headed to Rough Ridge, a 1.2-round trip hike up a mountain. At least, that’s what I told the kids. “You want to climb a mountain!” The daughter was ecstatic, “Yes!” The son, not so much. “I’m tired. I wanna go home.”

So I did what any parent in this situation would do. Bribery. Climb this mountain, then we’ll go get ice cream. The son had a counter-offer, “Carry me.” After further negotiations, we struck a deal – I’d carry him some of the way up and he’d go with no complaint. Off we went.

honiesRough Ridge is a great hike. It’s pretty tough in parts, especially if you have 36 pounds of boy in your arms. We made easy time to the half-way rest point, where a series of boardwalks borders some ledges. Here there’s an outstanding view of the surrounding area. You can easily see the Viaduct, as well as the rolling landscape encompassing the Parkway. We took more photos, of course. My daughter snapped one of a group of college kids doing their own Rough Ridge pose.

From there the going got a bit tougher. The boy – and my arms – gave out just before the summit. So mom and son rested while dad and daughter went to the top. Exhilarating. Not many dads get to share such a moment with their little girl. “We conquered a mountain!!!” …… “Yeah. (pause) Can we get ice cream now.”

The trip down proved eventful. The girl wanted to be carried. Her go was gone. I acquiesced. You have never seen true sympathy in a stranger’s eyes until seen carrying a full-sized first grader down a thin mountain path littered with rocks. But it was worth it.

Later, the ice cream tasted supreme. A nice evening cap to another High Country adventure, one of many possible any given weekend. And another reason I love calling the High Country home.

A tale of two weekends

A High Country weekend is like a candy buffet. There’s so many sweets from which to chose, all you have to do is walk in and enjoy. Here’s a sample of two consecutive weekends of family fun.

FRIDAY, AUGUST 12
SmilingDuring a local restaurant trivia night a few weeks earlier, I won four tickets to any Hickory Crawdads home game. Tonight we decided to cash them in. Not just for the baseball, but the big fireworks show afterwards. So soon after leaving work I packed up the family and headed the roughly 70 minutes down to Hickory.

The game was great. It went to extra innings. But, sadly, the home team lost, 5-4. The kids enjoyed the game, or at least its atmosphere. The ballpark includes a playground area, complete with a carousel ($1 a ride) and jump house ($1 a kid for 5 minutes). The fireworks show afterwards was, literally, fantastic. It was set to classic rock and involved roughly eight minutes of continuous crayola explosions. Kids loved it, and fell asleep on the way home.

SATURDAY, AUGUST 13
The local treasure Horn in the West was having its final show of the season. The kids had yet to ever see it, and the weather was pefect – cool and breezy. Off we went for an evening of outdoor theatre.

The show opens with a gun battle. Actors in red coats after actors in colonial civilian garb, with occasional stops to ready, aim, fire a long-nosed rifled. After opening number one with more than one bullet, the show moves to dialogue, song and dance. Which meant for the next hour my four-year-old son repeatedly asked, “Where’d the guns go? When they going to shoot the guns again?” Thankfully my six-year-old daughter was engrossed in the dancing.

FRIDAY, AUGUST 19
My daughter was invited to a birthday party. At 8 p.m. On a Friday night. At school. And she loved it!

The birthday girl in question – or, more specifically, her parents – arranged for a birthday party out near the school playground. It was capped off with a movie, shown on the side of an inflatable on the field. It was a Barbie movie. Something about fashion and glamour. It wasn’t for dads. But the girls loved it.

SATURDAY, AUGUST 20
Less than 15 hours after one birthday party, my daughter had another one to attend. This time her brother could come too. It was a pool party at the exceptional Blowing Rock outdoor swimming pool. The pool includes water slides and a kids play area. They almost wore themselves out, jumping, sliding, paddling and stroking. Note almost, cause immediately after the party was something we’d long anticipated – Football Fan Fest at Appalachian State.

Future QBEach year prior to the football season the football stadium is opened to families and fans. Football players and cheerleaders mill about signing autographs and posing for photos. There are a variety of airwalks surrounding the field. And, better than all that, any and everyone is free to run the field playing catch, kicking field goals or simply rolling around in the turf. My son especially looks forward to that. Give him a ball and 20 yards, and he’s in pigskin heaven.

SUNDAY, AUGUST 21
This was impromptu, but uniquely special nonetheless. I was mowing the yard while the kids played amidst the trees lining the road. At one point a horse-drawn wagon came hoofing our way. It’s not that an uncommon site. I see one or two wagon trains a year. But this was the first of the summer. My son waved at them. The driver waved back, then directed his two horses to our driveway. There both kids got a couple minutes to pet the walking engines and touch a wagon up close.

Where else can you enjoy baseball, gun battles, movies at school, parties at the pool, football on the field and two horses in your driveway? Only in the High Country!

Where the wild things are not that wild

onahorse

Most kids love animals. My kids adore animals. They’re rock stars for toddlers. Look! A horse! Take its picture!! Thanks to living in the High Country, my kids have encountered their fair share of critters. Here’s just a few.

COWS
There’s a cow pasture up the hill from our home. When my kids were 3 and 1, we would take wagon trips up the road to see the cows. This was a major event! The cows would come up to the fence and do what cows do – stare and chew. The kids never tired of mooing at them, trying to get a response. They only answered in stares. Moooove along kids.

HORSES
On the other end of the road from the cows is a horse farm. On any given day there are a dozen stallions roaming around the large pens. We’ve yet to see them in action (there are several obstacles for jumping scattered around). And, like with the cows, my kids make repeated attempts at communication. But they neigh-ver get a response. Yet. Bonus – A friend has two horses, and brought them out for my daughter’s birthday party. Princess paradise.

GOATS
Recently some neighbors fenced off a small pasture and filled it with goats. Yet another attraction – kids for the kids! As soon as we approach, the bleaters come trotting. They know some bread is on the menu. My daughter likes the baby goats the most, of course.

BEARS
Nope, not in the neighborhood (that we’ve seen). Instead we’ve seen the bears at Grandfather Mountain. There were three of them, each sitting lazily in a near straight line waiting for the food to fly from the crowd. Anything falls too far from the mouth, they just brush it off. No need to exert themselves to reach for it. More free food will soon be forthcoming. And they are right.

DEER
It’s not unusual late on a spring day to see deer along US 421 in western Watauga County. We’ve also seen several in our rural neighborhood, usually near a roadside apple tree. They usually scatter when you come near, unlike the deer at Tweestie Railroad. Those come brazenly up to you looking for corn in your ice cream cones. Look dad! I’m petting Blitzen!hellbender5

HELLBENDER
A hellbender is a large salamander. One was prent at the recent Riverfest at Valle Crucis park. Actually, two were there. There was the actual animal on display within a small aquarium, and then somebody wearing a Hellbender outfit. It was greeting and posing with the kids. Have you given five to a Hellbender recently?

CRAWDADS
No, not the baseball team. I’m talking river critters. Late in the school year my daughter’s kindergarten class conducted a field trip to the Watauga River at Valle Crucis Park. One of the highlights – for her – was finding crawdads along one of the banks. She never knew they existed, and insisted I take her and her brother back to the river ASAP so he could see some too!

PIGS and DONKEYS
One of my daughter’s friends has a pet pig and a pet donkey. (Forgive me for not remembering their names.) We met the two at a birthday party held at the friends house. The pig didn’t mind being stroked on the nose (but would have obviously preferred some food in that hand). The donkey just stared. Hee-haw! Hee-haw!

WILD TURKEYS
Again, not referring to adult beverages. While on the way to the park one day we spied a family of wild gobblers. They appeared to be hitchhiking (feathering?) near the roadside, but quickly skittered into the field as we approached. For once my kids were stumped on what sounds the animal makes, so there were no immediate attempts at communication. At least, not until we drove off and my daughter had a brain blast. Gobble, gobble gobble!

MUTANT GOLDFISH
That’s my nickname for the underwater swimmers occupying the Duck Pond on the campus of Appalachian State. We make trips to feed them during our regularly tailgate itinerary. We take a loaf of bread and lean over the rails, attempting to feed the ducks. What the feathered fowls neglect to feed on attracts the largest, ugliest fish you’re likely to ever see. Some are catfish. Others look like goldfish the size of logs. They’ll actually break the surface with their mouths and pause swimming, slowing gumming the bread down. Weird and whacky, which any kid loves.

This isn’t all the wildlife we glimpse. There’s also squirrels, rabbits, chickens, roosters, otters, bluejays, swans and plenty other passengers of the Ark. You never know when you might run into one and find yourself thinking, man …. how great would it be to live here?

Having a Blast in Bethel

blastfireworksI was expecting the traditional fireworks display, albeit it shorter. A rocket would lift off. You watch it soar. It explodes. Crowd “ahhhhhhs.” Pause. Repeat. Then the big finale. Instead what I got was “BamBamBam BamBamBamBam!!” A continuous loop of shattered rainbows and falling stars. For 10 minutes. At least. Now that’s how you celebrate the Fourth!

The scene was the Bethel Blast, a community Independence Day celebration with little fanfare in one of the more remote areas of Watauga County. It’s 20 minutes from Boone and borders Tennessee. The Blast itself takes place at Bethel Elementary, the smallest of the nine schools in the county. But have no doubt, this is a major event that attracts thousands.

Independence Day in the High County is like a menu in a fine restaurant. So much variety. Each event has its own spice. Would you like the fireworks show and parade in Boone? Or a boat show on Watauga Lake followed by fireworks? Or something at a higher elevation, like fireworks in Banner Elk?

This year we made our first trip to the Blast. We were told there’d be live music, food and, of course, fireworks. After the afternoon rain dispersed, we headed off to holiday parts unknown. Just how big could this Blast be? Short answer – phenomenally big.

The Blast started at 5 and we got there just after six. The school was surrounded by cars parked in imaginative angles. A large tent was in the center of the school field, orbited by an overflow crowd. The music was as fine as the weather. Clear skies with a cool breeze. This was going to be a good night.

We walked with our lawn chairs and joined friends on the field. There were easily close to 2,000 people there. (And that’s down from last year, I was told, due possibly to the earlier rain). Under the picnic shelter were three long tables lined with food: fresh chopped BBQ with slaw and beans. Another tent had about six large tubs full of ice and sodas. All free. That’s right. Free. No charge. Happy Independence Day!

But that’s not the best part. There was also a tent dedicated to desserts. It was potluck style. People brought their best sweets and lined them up for public consumption. My wife donated homemade sweet-kabobs – watermelons slices speared with marshmellows and gummy worms. (They didn’t last long).

blastcrowd2Behind the tent was a family’s dream day at the park. There was an area for kids games, and another for hula hoop contests and sack races. More than one frisbee criss-crossed the scene, and a rousing game of football was off to another side. Teenagers circled the track chatting to friends and trying their best to avoid the pedestrian traffic congestion surrounding the face painting tent. (Again, free).

When the sun began its descent, the crowd began arranging chairs to face the field alongside the school. The fireworks show was set to begin! But first, the National Anthem. No one had to say, “please rise for the playing of our national anthem.” Everyone knew to stand. As soon as “buh-raaaaaave” faded from the speakers the show was on. And by on I mean “BamBamBamBamBam” on.

It was a a glorious assault on the senses. Vin Diesel isn’t this fast and furious. My four-year-old son was sitting in my lap immersed in the works of fire. Halfway through he turned to me and said, “This is so awesome dad. Thanks for bring me here.” That’s right, the fireworks show was so good children were moved to manners. That’s some mighty fine gunpower!

When the show – and finale – finished, there was applause, followed by the normal, “okay, let’s go home” mass migration to vehicles. All was orderly. All was calm. This … was High Country living.

I found out later the Blast is primarily the effort of a church, Bethel Baptist Church. It’s an outreach to the community. Kids are invited to register for Vacation Bible School, and a Bible lesson is offered amongst the many children’s activities. It’s a labor of love, one appreciated and now highly anticipated. And another grand reason I love calling the High Country home.