Monday, September 29, 2014

Toddler in a Car — Road Tripping with The Boy

900 miles.

450 miles south and a return trip of 450 miles straight back north. That's how far we drove this past weekend. All told, it amounted to about 13 or 14 hours on the road. 

This is far from the first time we've loaded up the family truckster and taken the boy south. He's getting to be a veteran of these trips now. 

And, thus far in our road tripping experience, Mrs. Blackwell and myself have been quite fortunate in that he's a good little traveler. Unless of course, we're on an airplane. But, as long as we remain on four wheels there is minimal crying, minimal whining and little fussing of any kind. 

But that doesn't mean there was minimal disruption. 

Oh no, not at all.

On our way south we left at dusk. We began the trip by filling the boy — and ourselves — with food so as to hasten his drifting off into never never land. I can't recall when the boy fell asleep but, I do know we spent the last couple of hours of the trip using our quiet voices so he stayed down. 

The trip prior to him falling asleep is a bit of a blur — probably due to all the beer I was drinking. (Kidding.) 

No, it was the trip home that stands out with real clarity. We left in the late morning and got home sometime after 6:30 p.m. In between, I managed to listen to about 25 minutes of a football game and let me tell you how fun football on the radio is.....

When the radio wasn't on the boy was providing his own soundtrack. 

The Good: 
On the way, we stopped at this huge medieval-ish playground.
Upon hearing some kids playing a "murdery" game of hide
and go seek Mrs. Blackwell decided we were outta there.
FYI: stay away from Tuscola, Illinois. Just sayin'.

There was giggling, gyrating, swinging of feet and lots of laughter. It's a crucial point to mention that Mrs. Blackwell sat in the back seat to keep the boy company on both legs of this journey. 

The boy doesn't need much maintenance but, like any two-year-old, he gets bored sitting in the same spot. Having mom back there to distract him from the tedium and cajole him into high spirits is invaluable. 

But, even mom's entertainment value has its limits and that's where our little friend Mr. Smartphone comes into play. All of which brings us to....

The Bad: 

I've mentioned in this space before that the boy has the capacity to repeat the first 26-29 seconds of a song in perpetuity. He doesn't care. It's R. Kelley's Ignition (a special thanks to iTunes for ensuring that, no matter how many times it's removed from the phone this song is always a button push away from downloading). Cake's "Symphony in C." Ben Folds "Rockin the Suburbs" and the Killers "All These Things That I've Done."

You might like some of these songs but I defy anyone to tell me they're cool with hearing the first half minute of each played on an endless loop. 

Fearing that we might be enabling the boy to develop a short attention span like his father, we're curbing this practice. But in special circumstances, like being locked in a car for 450 miles, the rules change. 

So, while we'd normally take the phone away from him and he'd cry and we'd all find a way to deal with it, that's a non starter in the closed quarters of an automobile. And, God bless the boy, he knew he had carte blanche.

After a while I began to internally debate if the boy's crying was more tolerable than his 30-second song loop. 
Picture taken pre-milkshake. Notice the crushed paper car
in the foreground. No sooner did I make it than the boy
decided he wasn't ready for fun of any kind.

It's a testament to just how grating and blood-pressure boiling this exercise is that, when the boy grunted and our car filled with the smell of a full diaper, I was relieved to have an opportunity to pull over and take the phone away from him. 

(He freaks out less when the phone is taken away while his diaper is being changed. I wish I knew why but, like the migration of the Monarch Butterfly, it's one of nature's mysteries.)

After a ten-minute break, we returned to the road. Maybe an hour later the boy finally did what all toddlers eventually do in such circumstances — he reached his breaking point. Sooner or later, their discomfort can no longer stand and no remedy we parents devise will assuage the oncoming onslaught of red cheeks, tears and unbridled anger. 

In those instances there is only one thing to do: stop for milkshakes. 

The Berries

In full candor, I think Mrs. Blackwell and I had reached the end of our collective rope too but, with just 70 miles of road between us and our front door, I was reluctant to stop.

But, it's amazing how persuasive 15 seconds of a crying toddler can be. So we stopped and ordered our shakes. 

Simply exiting the vehicle wasn't enough for the boy as he needed a few more minutes to decompress. Even the "kids' kit" of coloring paper and crayons couldn't assuage his residual anger. 

Fortunately, the strawberry shake did just the trick — for all of us.  

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

The Best of Us — Goodbye to a Great Friend

When we go to work every day, whether we try to or not, we balance the positives and negatives of the day ahead.

For some lucky folks this means embracing a job they love. Some people — most I would say — find a manageable middle ground with their job. 
For others, the negatives outweigh the good and they soldier through each day, working for their weekends.
Becky with our friend Brent, one of the many, many
people who benefited from her wisdom inside and
outside of the office.

As a reporter for a small, regional newspaper the latter applied to me and some good friends for a while. About seven years and a lifetime ago, I started working with a team of hard working reporters, photographers and copy editors. 

For the bulk of my tenure we were led by folks who consistently said one thing and did another, and asked far, far more of us than they themselves were ever willing to give. 

It was the definition of a grind and it was, at times, poisonous. It was also just the type of environment in which truly great people stand out and my colleague, my friend, Becky Malkovich did this every, single day. 

In the midst of an industry that is dying and while working for a paper that seems resigned to this fate, Becky was impervious. Indeed Becky found a way to rise above with every single story she wrote. And she wrote more than most reporters could ever hope and at a level of quality few, if any, have equalled. 

Community news is as unglamorous as it gets. There are long, tedious meetings followed by late nights and early mornings. But community news also happens to be the news that affects most people in the most direct fashion. Becky valued this fact and it showed by every measure imaginable. 

She was an absolute pro.

As a fellow reporter, you couldn't help but be envious of her sources. Cultivated by her magnetic personality and uncompromising integrity, they were sprinkled throughout Southern Illinois' 16 counties and beyond. I never saw, and never heard of a story getting by her — ever. 

As a writer, she was brilliant. She knew the value of a catchy lede to hook readers and a tight nut graph, to lay the groundwork for the story ahead. 

She was living, breathing proof that the old adage that journalists were either good writers or good reporters — but never both in one — was total baloney. Becky was both and she was both every day for about three decades.

As a young reporter, working with other young reporters, photographers and copy editors, we all knew what she was. And, we were smart enough to value it. To learn what we could. To take note of her habits. To adopt as much of her awesome shine as we possibly could. As a group, we loved her and we loved working with her.

That was another of Becky's amazing qualities, her brilliance had a way of rubbing off on people whether it be colleagues, or subjects for a story. Among the many, many lessons Becky taught me, one is the value of letting your guard down and simply finding reason to have a laugh — with anyone at any time. 

Even if our paths didn't cross for a week or two, it was always reassuring to see her name (usually on the front page, above the fold) in our paper. She was the most brilliant feather in our collective cap and for many of us, she was the rock upon which the credibility of an entire company rested. 

She was never competitive with us and thank God for that. Instead, Becky chose to be the rising tide that lifted all of our ships and allowed us to sail higher, together.  

As a journalist, as a professional, as a pillar of her community, Becky Malkovich was all of these things. 

As a person, she was so, so much more. 

When my wife and I had a tough turn of luck, Becky reached out to us, just as she did for countless others. She gave. Without hesitation and, really, without end.  

She was funny. She loved to laugh. She was smart. She asked questions about you; she had insatiable curiosity and shunned any form of credit or praise directed her way. That last point is no small one considering how many accolades she garnered and how much appreciation she engendered. 

She was also a sister and a mother of two young men. 

I will miss my friend incredibly and I mourn for the many who were fortunate enough to know her better than I. 

I always felt I took more from Becky than she ever got from me and I think many others feel the same way. It's a feeling imbued with guilt but it's also a measure of just how amazing she was.  

POST SCRIPT: One of Becky's good friends Ashley Wiehle-Fram wrote a beautiful, perfect obituary. Read it here and learn more about this brilliant woman. 

Monday, September 22, 2014

He's Baaack. The Braying Boy.

Sometime back in August I wrote a series of posts about the trials and tribulations Mrs. Blackwell and I were having when the boy's sleeping routine was inexplicably interrupted. 

He'd woken up in the middle of the night and, in defiance of every single parenting law known to man, Mrs. Blackwell brought the boy into our bedroom. (To be fair I didn't exactly rush to alleviate the situation, nor did I offer a viable alternative.)

Wake up time. 
Since the good folks at my office don't adjust business hours based on fluctuations in my son's sleep schedule, it made for a few long nights and all-too early mornings. 

But no big deal. It didn't last forever and soon we were back to normal with the boy sleeping 10-11 hours straight through the night. 

That was until a couple weeks ago when normal changed, again, and the boy was back to waking up in the middle of the night. 

These middle-of-the-night wake ups are frequent enough now that I can stop calling them the exception — but I can call them lots of other things. 

So, the new normal is Mrs. Blackwell and I being awakened within an hour either direction of 1 a.m. by the boy — angrier than hell about who knows what. 

You get a feel for your kid's cries and his midnight fits are defined by frustration and perhaps a little bit of fear. Naturally our response remains to do what textbooks, pediatricians and practitioners of common sense have been saying "Don't do!" for generations. 

So the boy saddles up in our bed. Shortly after arriving he stops crying and, just as he's done since we started this exercise, he decides it's time to start chatting. 

Often he'll just repeat one word like, "Get!!" for instance. He'll repeat it over, and over, and over, and over. And, each time he says the word he slams his leg down or extends it out. 

Then there are instances when he halts the leg movements and finds other parts of his anatomy to exercise or check up on. Arms are waved, elbows bent, feet shuffled. There's much rolling, twisting, squirming and burrowing.

When he's not doing this, he'll sing songs. Mostly stuff by the Beatles so, the music isn't bad — unlike those times he gets his hands on the iPhone and plays the first 26 seconds of R. Kelly's "Ignition" on a non-stop loop. 
Remember this song? Better yet, do you remember every
nanosecond of the first half minute? No worries, I can
fill you in. 

Yes, it's the middle of the night and he's ready to hang out. Last night I had to get out of bed for a moment and, no sooner was I gone then the boy started asking me to return. "Daddy. Wheeuh aawww yooo?"

It's kind of him to not want me to miss out on these impromptu celebrations he's so fond of. I appreciate being included, but I'm also a tired, old man and the next time someone refers to me as a "morning person" will be the first since the 80's. 

Even if I could escape his volume, there is no escaping his body. The kid is a long little bugger and he uses every inch of his frame to ensure that mommy and daddy both know he's with them. 

Ultimately, if I have to digress and evaluate the boy strictly by his ability to share space (never mind the insanity that we're sharing space to begin with) I'd give him a solid 2 out of 10. He only gets those two points because he stays in a good mood. 

The one saving grace in the renewal of this exercise is that it does end and the boy does fall asleep, followed shortly thereafter by Mrs. Blackwell and myself. 

Regular readers will remember that the previous entry dealing with the boy's sleep misadventures was four parts total. Here's hoping our new reality is fleeting and doesn't justify such a thorough treatment.