Long Lost Childhood Survival Skills

This past weekend, I was watching Thomas eat chicken feed when a flood of memories came rushing back to me of the time I ate dog food as a child. To be honest, it was a bittersweet memory, not in the sense that the dog food was bittersweet (if I remember right it was rather bland), but it was nice to think about bygone days, when children didn’t need to spend all their time fiddling with an iPhone and could focus on the simpler pleasures of life, like sampling food intended for domesticated animals. Despite his mothers’ protests of his food choices, Thomas is really becoming a first rate scavenger and secretly I’m a little proud. So I’m not exactly sure how to deal with his newfound passion for scavenging. Last week, for instance, he ate a petrified potato chip that he found in a couch cushion. In some scenarios, say a post apocalyptic world, scavenging would be an essential survival skill, so I don’t want to discourage it completely. That said, I also don’t want to get a visit from child protective services. 

Anyway, this dilemma got me thinking of all of the essential survival skills we instinctively hone as children and then slowly let fade away as we enter into the norms of adulthood. For instance, most children are great pouncers, but most adults have completely forgotten how to pounce despite the fact that if a man or woman can pounce, then they’ll never go hungry. It’s like that old saying, “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to pounce and you feed him for a lifetime.” Pouncing is the prerequisite skill needed for fishing. A man who can stalk and pounce on a cricket or grasshopper will never be in want of bream or sunfish. And a man who can pounce on a lizard will never be in want of a mate. There is nothing that impresses and attracts the fairer sex more than catching a lizard and then letting it bite your earlobe and dangle like an oversized ‘80s earring. This courting display was widely practiced among second-grade boys of my era, and obviously it was effective because Britney Sampson sent me a little folded up note asking, “Do you love me? Check Yes or No.”  

Another survival skill I perfected as a child was trapping various and sundry creatures. I suppose children have gotten a bit soft because they can just count on habitat loss to keep all the dangerous animals away, but back in my day we had to take matters into our own hands. Me and my neighbor Andy dug pit traps (i.e. holes covered with twigs and a thin layer of leaves and grass to camouflage their existence) all over the backyard in hopes of catching a bear or other ferocious animal. However, the only thing we ever caught was my dad on the lawn mower. That was good enough to prove the concept though. Generally speaking, my dad wasn’t very ferocious, but he played the part of the bear pretty well, roaring to life when the lawn mower bottomed out in a cloud of dust. 

Which leads to another childhood survival skill: running. Me and Andy were such advanced runners that we won the main event in second grade field day, the wheelbarrow race, which utilizes running with your hands. Thankfully, I still have some vestige of my childhood running ability because, if you’re a government employee who works on farms day in and day out, you really need to know how to make a quick get away. There are all types of enraged animals to flee from, not just the farmers. I’ve run from enraged momma cows, an enraged wild turkey mom that I stumbled on in the woods, an enraged German Shepherd that had obviously been trained to protect private property, an enraged nest of yellow jackets that I discovered in an old hay bale, and an enraged box of bees that I accidentally dropped. In many of these cases I didn’t escape unscathed, but I at least survived, which means the time I spent running my parents ragged as a child paid off. 

A New Year’s Resolution to Finish What I …

Whereas the hours in a day total 24,

and whereas the majority of my waking hours are spent in the formidable paperwork jungle that is a government agriculture office or the chaos of my humble abode, which is the natural habitat of a toddler who has both the unlimited energy and destructive power of the Tasmanian Devil, 

and whereas projects continue to accumulate on my to-do list, many of which, before they’re even started, spawn sub-projects of equal or greater extent, 

and whereas I am easily seduced by any undertaking that involves rust, junk, or otherwise questionable purchases,

and whereas, to fund these projects, our bank account hardly has time to recuperate before it’s depleted faster than my willpower in the candy aisle,

and whereas so many half-completed projects lie in ruins around here that future archeologists will likely speculate about all the unfinished contraptions found in the dig area of our farm and what natural disaster could have so thoroughly halted their progress (say a small volcanic eruption or an localized asteroid strike)

and whereas  it was not a natural disaster per se, but merely the natural tendency of the farmer to never finish what he started, to leave things languishing in a semi-completed state, 

and whereas I, that farmer, am already fighting the urge to abandon this resolution to start other bits of writing, to thus let it moulder away in the digital leaf litter that is my documents file, 

and whereas I’ll likely forget this resolution until one day many years from now when I’ll vaguely remember I started a parody resolution of some sort, but won’t remember what I named it, 

Now, therefore, I, Stephen Bishop, sometimes known as The Misfit Farmer, other times known by words synonymous with hoarder, hereby declare this resolution nearly complete, needing only a final line, which I’ll leave to another day because I think I hear a volcano erupting outside my house. 

There and Back Again

There are many things no one tells you before you have a child. Sure, you could lump these untold things into the catch-all phrase, “your life will never be the same,” but it would have been nice for a more specific heads up on needing a CDL license. No one, not a single person, told me we would need a tractor trailer to haul all our toddler’s belongings to the beach if and when the time came for us to go on vacation. Well, that time came this past weekend, and having a CDL would have been helpful because my wife was determined to leave no stone unpacked. Isn’t it crazy that a creature who weighs twenty-five pounds requires a convoy of vehicles bursting at the door seams with toddler paraphernalia? 

I say just about everything because we did forget one item, small in size but great in import, my glasses. If at some time this week I lose my contacts and can’t see anymore, I guess I will still remember this vacation through muscle memory. Your muscles don’t forget hauling two tons of luggage up beach house stairs. 

In my opinion, it’s all a little ridiculous, the three-ring traveling circus required for a toddler. I mean this is the same human being who is content trying to eat a sea shell. I’m not sure we need to pack twenty books for the boy to read. One would have been sufficient given the fact that there’s a fifty-fifty chance he’ll try reading the book right side up. 

Truly, the boy loves the beach, though. Play in sand. Chase water. Bark at sea gulls. Toddle up to complete strangers (still working on stranger danger). My parents came with us, and I’m not sure who has had more fun playing in the sand, my dad or Thomas. He is determined to teach Thomas how to build a sand castle, but Thomas is more wrecker than builder. He enjoys demolishing the sand castles right after my dad flips over the bucket and plops the castle onto the beach. 

One thing everybody tells you after having a child is “cherish the time you have because it goes by so fast.” To that, I heartily agree. This week has flown by. In a couple days, we’ll be packing up the circus and heading back to the farm. But it has been nice to make memories, even the ones in my muscles. 

P.S. My wife wanted me to post this post-script. If you’re a robber who reads people’s posts about vacations and then goes and robs them blind, please be advised there is nothing of value in our house because, read above, we packed it all and brought it with us.

P.P.S. Even if you are a robber, thank you for reading. It means a lot.

Oh, To Be Ten Months Old Again.

Ten-month-old babies may not seem like the world’s most intelligent creatures, but they’re already beginning to grasp the nuances of complex human language. For instance, Thomas has already discovered that “no” is the universal word for fun.

“No, no, no, we do not play in the kitchen cabinets!” his mom said, as Thomas turned around and grinned in self-satisfaction. (And maybe his dad grinned back, but there is no evidence to support that fact–only the accusations of the mother). Around Thomas was a bunch of plastic containers and lids strewn across the floor, as he had recently discovered the riches of the Tupperware cabinet.

At his current stage of development, Tupperware is about the perfect play toy for Thomas. It’s lightweight, comes in all shapes and sizes, and makes a nice “whacking” sound when walloped. Thomas spends most of his waking hours crawling around looking for inanimate objects to pummel, whack, or wallop into submission–who needs high-dollar Fisher-Price toys when you can be perfectly content wielding a cup, coaster, or cell phone as a hammer? 

Certainly, it’s a lot more cost-effective to let Thomas play with Tupperware, as most objects aren’t built to withstand the abuse a teething pre-toddler can induce. When he’s not pummeling something, he’s gnawing on it. With four front teeth now and an unlimited source of slobber, he can do a lot of damage to high-tech devices.   

That said, there is one high-tech device that I recommend all parents purchase. Sure, it may be $300, but $300 for a ten-minute break from childcare is a good deal if you ask me–plus it cleans the floors. We’ve had a Roomba for many years, and I always wondered why it bounces around the room in a seemingly random vacuuming pattern. Now I know it’s just an evasive action protocol meant to prevent hijackings by crawling babies. If you want to keep a ten-month-old entertained for ten minutes, turn on a Roomba and let them chase it around the floor. If they do catch it, most Roombas are built tough, or at least tough enough to withstand a moderate walloping by a ten-month-old armed with a Tupperware lid.  

The Danger of Stranger Danger

If you ever visit Little Rays of Sunshine Daycare, remember to walk fast, keep your head down, and don’t make eye contact—or else the three-year-olds will have sufficient time to exploit your fear. They like to ride tricycles over to the playground fence and give strange parents the stink eye. Walking past them, sometimes I feel like I ought to be carrying pepper spray, or at least a safety whistle. 

Child 1: “Who’s that?” 

Child 2: “He ain’t my dad.”

Child 3: “He ain’t my dad either.”

Child 2: “Hey, you, what’s your name?” (child rattles fence)

Me: (looking around, hoping child 2 is accosting someone else. Realizing he’s not, say name meekly): Umm, I’m Thomas’s dad.  

Whatever happened to teaching children to fear strangers? I mean, stranger danger was so successfully programmed into my belief system that now I’m wary of talking to strange three-year-olds. And by the time I was the ripe old age of three, my shyness level had already exceeded that of most woodland creatures, excepting perhaps the sasquatch.

Apparently, most babies develop an innate sense of stranger danger at about six months old, after which they begin to look warily at unknown faces. But it’s up to parents to foster this burgeoning fear into a healthy phobia that will not only save their child from the kidnappers plaguing the neighborhood, but make their child an incredibly awkward adult. 

“Don’t talk to strangers,” was the mantra of my childhood, and even now, I still hate trying to integrate myself in a group of strangers. I’ve tried many integration methods over the years. I’ve tried approaching with a mosey, spitting, and saying “howdy,” but that only works if you don’t spit on your shoe. I’ve tried the stealth approach in which I attempt to sidle up undetected and then act as if I’ve been there all along, but to some people that can be extremely alarming. I’ve tried the humorous approach, though the tripping-and-falling gag was purely by accident. Generally, my best method for introducing myself to strangers is to aim for the pity inclusion and employ endearing awkwardness.

Anyway, the more that I think about it, I’m glad the three-year-olds on tricycles have yet to be indoctrinated. It seems to me that “don’t talk to strangers” has an insidious suspicion baked into it. It teaches children to attribute nefarious and sinister motives to people who don’t look or talk like them. And if the current state of American society teaches us anything, it’s a civics lesson for what happens when opposing groups of people retreat to the comfort of echo chambers and thus never talk to strangers.