My Philosophical Thoughts on Playgrounds

Earlier this week, Thomas looked out the window and said despondently, “Deddy, turn rain off.” 

Ah, my sentiments exactly, son. If only I could control the rain, I might have made a few dollars farming, but unfortunately I don’t control the rain; God does–or possibly the Illuminati–but either way I have little control over what falls from the sky over my farm. 

For Thomas, rain was the major impediment upon our progress to the park. Parks are wonderful places, places where toddlers can discharge energy without risk of your couch collapsing. Sure, there’s a slight risk you might pull your left deltoid muscle while showing your toddler how to climb the miniature rock wall, but thankfully your toddler shouldn’t know the four-letter words associated with a muscle pull yet.

Anyway, I’ve learned that what makes a good park isn’t so much sliding boards, rock walls, or an impact-friendly synthetic rubber surface, but the playground’s greater containment system. When you do pull a muscle, you will be considerably less mobile while your arm is hanging limply, so a good fence that at least impedes a toddler’s escape from custody is a nice feature. I’ve dealt with many types of livestock over the years, and I’ve always thought pigs were the most adept at probing fences for weaknesses, even more so than goats. Toddlers exceed even pigs and goats at escaping containment. Apparently, toddlers live to defy authority, whereas goats and pigs just take pleasure in it. 

Another important attribute of a park is its proximity to your domicile. It needs to be close enough to your house that your offspring doesn’t have time to fall asleep between departure from the park and your return home. Indeed, the whole point of taking your child to a park in the morning is to earn the 2 ½ hours of free time in the afternoon–and nothing sabotages all that carefully laid groundwork and sacrificial muscle sprain more than a toddler’s twenty-minute power nap on the way home. I’ve heard rumor that some superior specimens of human parents are capable of transferring a sleeping toddler from a car into their home without waking the sleeping ball of energy in their arms, but mostly I believe that’s a myth, given that modern-day car seats are about as user friendly as a twisted ratchet strap. Extricating sleeping toddlers from a car now requires a modern miracle, and good luck getting a toddler back to sleep who has awakened refreshed from a twenty minute power nap.

That said, you can, eventually, sleep soundly at night knowing you took your child to the park. Indeed, if there is one thing I’ve learned from fatherhood, it’s that happiness is a toddler on a sliding board.

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugh

Some farmers have all the luck. They can get a good hailstorm right when they need it most. I’ve been waiting for a good hailstorm for years to replace the roof on our barn and farmhouse, but all I get is piddly little hail pellets and enough wind to rip the barn door off, not the barn roof. And, of course, the cost to replace the barn door doesn’t even meet the insurance deductible, so there is no point filing a claim. 

The barn door continued my string of ugh luck–not bad luck, not good, just ugh. A few days earlier my tractor broke down again. I’m pretty sure the safety sensor that prevents the tractor from starting in gear has gone bad again. Luckily, it’s a cheap part to replace. Unluckily, it requires you to remove the shifters and shift cover and afterwards put it back on in the same configuration, a maneuver that requires either x-ray vision or much craning of the neck, false hope, despair, and curse words.

Speaking of curse words, I never knew my wife had such an extensive vocabulary until I overcooked a meatloaf a few days ago, continuing my string of ugh luck. By overcooked I mean even the fire extinguisher residue was crispy. I must say, during the actual panic to locate a working fire extinguisher (the first extinguisher underneath the kitchen sink was so antiquated it barely mustered a wisp of retardant), she remained quite calm while confronting the very real possibility that the remains of our house would soon be ash floating through the atmosphere. Thankfully, after a short ransacking of the junk in our closet, I was able to quickly locate our second extinguisher, at which point I handed it off to her to wield, all while I charged headfirst into danger and risked sacrificing myself, not to mention my eyebrows, by cracking open the oven the door enough for her to blast the leaping flames. Needless to say, the meatloaf did not survive. But we did save our house from a fiery doom, so I guess my luck these days isn’t all bad. Plus, we ended up having Chic-Fil-a that night, which is probably better than my meatloaf would have been anyway.

Happy National Intern Day! (a.k.a You’re Getting Old Day)

It has come to my attention that I’m getting old. This revelation occurred to me while I was conversing with our summer intern at the agriculture office. Starting next month, he will be a sophomore at NC State University. Despite his enrollment in a premier institution of higher learning (I also attended NC State), he confessed that he cannot write in cursive. 

“How do you take notes in class?” I asked.

“Laptop–nobody takes notes on paper anymore,” he said, with a sense of bewilderment, as if paper was as antiquated as papyrus.

“Do you have textbooks?” I asked.

“Well, kinda, we have e-textbooks,” he said.

Oh, I miss the days of tangible tomes–you know those big heavy textbooks that could be repurposed as an anchor once they’re out of date. Sadly, kids these days will never know the pure joy of getting assigned a used textbook that already has the answers written in it. Nor will their back muscles develop adequately. I swear the backpacks in our day had their own gravitational pull, and likely weighed more than the kids wearing them. Nowadays the only reason kids wear backpacks is to advertise for North Face; they certainly don’t use them to lug around textbooks and Trapper Keepers. 

FYI: The intern didn’t know what Trapper Keepers were either. I had to explain to him that Trapper Keepers were basically overpriced folders, in which middle school boys stuffed all their papyrus; meanwhile, middle school girls used them to neatly organize and catalog their correspondence, that is the notes that were passed back and forth on the information superhighway, also known as the back row in class. 

It makes me sad that kids these days never experience the excitement of passing notes, of making shadow puppets in the overhead projector, of playing pencil break and paper football, of piloting paper airplanes that fly straight and true. 

Now, with only electrons used for learning, school sounds a lot less electrifying.

The Missing Link: A Universal Banana Peel

According to my WordPress blog stats, my international audience is rapidly expanding, especially in the Axis of Evil countries. Perhaps this shows that getting a bee in your bonnet is universally funny, no matter whether you wear a bee veil or bee burka. In fact, having such a big following in Iran has really got me wondering if humor could help bridge the divides between warring cultures and countries. 

I was hopeful. But after trying to expand my horizons by studying high-brow humor–you know the stuff you might see in the New Yorker or McSweeney’s–to pinpoint something that might possibly bridge the rural-urban divide in our own country, I’ve concluded that humanity is doomed. 

Try as might to find some of that high-brow stuff funny, most of the time I feel like I’m forcing a smile. To me, it’s clever, but not funny. Funny is stuff that makes you laugh out loud, or better yet belly laugh so hard you have stomach spasms. 

For me, there is nothing that makes me laugh harder than stories of well-intentioned men doing stupid stuff. For some reason that premise really resonates with me (not sure why). Thus, if we put the Founding Fathers of my sense of humor on a Mt. Rushmore of Mirth, they would be Ernest P. Worrell, Jerry Clower, Patrick McManus, plus the Generic Visage of Writhing Man (that is, any man whose face reflects the fact that his body is bent over clutching an appendage in some form of self-induced pain).   

But I understand that as much as I find these things funny, other people do not. I remember growing up that my mom would always look at my dad incredulously as he belly laughed while watching America’s Funniest Home Videos. “How can you find a man falling from a ladder funny?” her expression asked. 

And just this week I saw that same expression on my wife’s face as I broke out in uncontrollable laughter at the SimpliSafe Fireworks video that has been circulating. To me, this video represents the peak of humor—a well-intentioned man trying to impress his family by shooting off an industrial sized firework. Unfortunately, Cape Canaveral was booked, so he doesn’t have the adequate launching pad needed for a rocket of this size. Instead, his tiny front yard in suburbia will have to do. The dad, gung-ho to impress his familial relations, gets in such a hurry (likely he didn’t read the instructions) and overlooks a critical step in rocketry, namely adding the rocket to the launching tube. Thus, the rocket fails to launch. Instead, it gives off a minor warning explosion before nearly blowing up the Minivan parked in the driveway, allowing the family adequate seconds to flee for their lives. Perhaps the funniest thing about the video is the particulars of the fleeing: the mom instantly grabs the baby in the bouncer, showing proper maternal instinct; meanwhile, the dad instantly runs away, leaving his other more mobile offspring to fend for themselves. 

Every time I watch this video, I just can’t help but laugh. Hopefully, my readers in Iran will, too. I imagine Americans doing stupid stuff could be a real hit there.

Oh, How Far I’ve Fallen

Not that I’m jealous, but I don’t get all the hullabaloo over bees’ work ethic. Sure, a bee may transport pollen to and fro 50,000 times over its sixty day lifespan, but by the time I retire, I may have pushed paper to and fro a gazillion times over my 30 year career–and yet you rarely hear us paper pushers lauded as hard-working, industrious creatures. 

And I don’t get those beekeepers who say humbly, “Well, the bees did all the hard work.” I say humbly, hogwash. Bees don’t lug sixty-pound supers around on 95 degree days while baking in a bee jacket. Nor do they lug cases of honey to the farmers’ market on Saturday mornings to peddle honey to the masses. And, let’s be honest, some patrons of the farmers’ market just need to be told, “Buzz off!”

ME: [trying to remain polite] “Not worth 20 dollars? If you knew all the hard work that went into that quart of honey, you’d probably say it’s worth more.”

CUSTOMER: “Well, don’t the bees do most of the work?”

ME: “KA-BLOOM” [it’s hard to write phonetically the sound of a beekeeper’s morale imploding]

Best I can tell, my bees work four months out of the year–March, April, May, and June–then they shut down shop and goof off in the dearth, then eat and mingle with each other all winter. Meanwhile, a lot of us sideline beekeepers work full-time jobs all year long just to afford our beekeeping addiction, and yet the bees steal all the credit. 

And, I hate to admit this, but sometimes I feel a little resentful toward all the press that bees get about being endangered and on the verge of extinction. You know what’s on the verge of extinction? Beekeepers’ backs, and I can’t remember the last time I saw the press writing about the chronic back problems that beekeepers face. Heck, if they need a catchy scientific name to drive traffic to their articles, may I humbly suggest, “SCCD:” Spinal Column Collapse Disorder. Basically, it’s when a beekeeper’s lower vertebrae abscond from normal alignment and leave behind only a few pinched nerves and a big chiropractor bill. 

And let’s not forget the parental responsibilities that many beekeepers face that bees just don’t. Bees emerge from the womb of their hexagonal cells as fully capable members of society. There’s no tantrums of the terrible twos, no pre-teen drama, no teenage wasteland, no adult child living in the basement eating them out of house and home. Sure, I guess drones fit that latter category, but even then, the worker bees usually kick them out before they turn 35 years old. 

For me, trying to balance sideline beekeeping with working a full-time job and corralling a toddler who has more energy reserves than a small solar system–well, all that, feels like hard work. Add to that the call from my neighbor about a cloud of bees plundering her trash can, and you’ve got a recipe for burnout. Yep, no one ever told me when I was a new and aspiring beekeeper that one day I would be dumpster diving through my neighbors’ trash to excavate Coke cans, but that’s how far I’ve fallen.