Sunday, June 6, 2010

The Long Walk

Sometimes I feel like every other person in Madeline's life gets better time with her than I do. Note that I said "better" time, not more time. If she's not at school, she's almost always with me, unless it's a Brooklyn weekend.

Unfortunately, by the time I get home from work at night, there's not much quality left in either me or the time spent with her. There's homework for a half-hour, then there's dinner-making, then there's eating of said dinner, then there's washing of dinner dishes, then there's shower, and then there's bed. Then we get up in the morning and start the whole vicious cycle all over again.

It kind of sucks. It's not exactly the ideal life I had planned for myself and Madeline, but what IS ideal is that if she gets sick, we can take her to the doctor. We have a nice roof over our heads. We've always got food, and she rarely, if ever, goes to school naked. We can drive places in a reliable car, as opposed to the Crapmobiles I've spent most of my adult life driving around while steering with my fingers crossed, hoping and praying that today is not the day we find out what it's like to experience an engine fire.

So sometimes, just for a minute, I forget how much fun it is to hang out with my kid, and that I really actually like her. Because so much of our lives is spent on the hamster wheel. When we can manage to claw and scratch and fight our way off of it, I'm usually a happier, more complete, more balanced and sane individual. And I feel pretty certain that Madeline is, too.

Yesterday, Saturday, I came up with this brilliant plan to drive to the New Paltz side of the Walkway over the Hudson, walk across the river to Poughkeepsie and keep walking to Soul Dog, an amazing hot dog joint complete with Tofu Pups, gluten-free chickpea buns (that are way tastier than regular buns, but they have those, too), and EVERY CONCEIVABLE TOPPING YOU CAN IMAGINE. And the best Thai green curry stew I've ever had. And the best fries in all of Dutchess County, I'm convinced. It's always a treat to go there, because I don't get there very often. And after our Soul Dog feast, we were going to walk a few blocks to the nearby Children's Museum, and then schlep it back over to the Walkway, cross the river again, and then head home, content in our action-packed Saturday adventure.

It started out so promising. The sky looked threatening for a while, but we ended up with a sunny and intensely hot day for our little excursion. Armed with our water bottle and comfy shoes (or so I thought), we ventured onto the walkway, took some pictures, lingered awhile at the railing to watch one of the Clearwater boats launch from the waterfront park and leisurely made our way to the end of the Poughkeepsie side of the bridge.

Before we left, I had studied a map of the area. Soul Dog seems so close to the walkway. Guess what? It's NOT. Soul Dog is just a couple of blocks from the train station, and the train station is right at the waterfront...and it turns out, the Walkway extends nearly a mile past the shores of the Hudson River. This meant that if we wanted to get to the waterfront, we have to backtrack a mile after exiting the Walkway. A long, windy, sometimes uphill mile, especially if you are a directional retard, like myself, and just have a tendency to just wander in the general, sort of vague direction of where you want to go.

Meanwhile, the sun was beating down relentlessly on our pasty white WASP-y skin. Madeline was dumping the water from our bottle over her head to stay cool. My trusty flip-flops suddenly seemed like a really bad choice. Everything about my plan after, "let's go to the Walkway!" suddenly seemed like a really bad choice. In fact, every choice I had ever made seems like a bad one, given that it seemed as if so many twists and turns in my life lead up to this Bataan death march, and I began to question everything: My existence, reality as we know it, the structure of time and space, and the validity of cable television.

Madeline, however, remained fairly energetic and level-headed about the whole affair. We finally made it to Soul Dog, where we ate everything that was put in front of us and I finally had a chance to bandage my burgeoning foot blisters. Before we left, I asked the cashier if she had a street map that we could consult. "Where did you come from," she asked.
"We walked here from the Walkway."
"REALLY," she exclaimed in disbelief.
"Yeah," I said. "It seemed much closer on the map I looked at this morning."
"I live over near the the head of the Walkway, and yeah, it's really not all that close, if you're on foot."
"Wa-WAH," said my mental trombone.
"But good news is," said the Soul Dog cashier, "that there are plans to put in an elevator on the Walkway that will take you straight to the waterfront."
I had a feeling she was screwing with me, but I chose not to ask for clarification.

She was nice enough to draw us a map that would get us back much faster than the way we came, then filled our water bottle for us and we bought two Soul Dog teeshirts to commemorate our adventure.

Needless to say, we decided to skip the Children's Museum.

The walk back was, indeed, more efficient, until a sign pointing to the direction of "Walkway street parking" completely threw us nearly a half-mile off our path. In the interest of full disclosure, following the sign was Madeline's idea. I was certain it was a mistake, but I learned a long time ago that I'm not as smart as I like to think I am, and that sometimes, SOMETIMES, Madeline's a little smarter than me.

But not that time.

I gotta hand it to the kid, she was an absolute trouper. The only time she expressed any displeasure was when someone sped past us on a bike, or if we caught a glimpse of someone's backyard pool from our vantage point high above the ground. "I wish I could jump down into that pool from here," she would say. "Okay," I would reply, "but don't miss."

She crashed hard in the car ride back to our house. I almost did, too, but the beeping and screaming from other cars kept me pretty alert for the drive home.

What I found most striking about that whole experience is how pleasant she was to be with. When she did complain, which wasn't much, it was done in the same self-deprecating, slap-stick style in which I've been known to dabble on occasion. Yeah, kids have more stamina than their parents. But I've often found that this fact alone won't keep them from griping. She was actually extremely patient, entertaining and funny, and managed to keep up with me. And I walk really stupid fast, because my mom did, too.

It was a bonding experience for Madeline and me, a rare moment in time when we were completely on the same page, when the true mettle of her being shown like polished silver. I know a dozen kids that would have turned that walk into a March from Hell, and Madeline did just the opposite: She kept me sane. And ask yourself, honestly, when was the last time an 8-year-old girl actually HELPED you keep your wits about you?

Maybe I'm imagining it, but things are a little different today between Madeline and me. We've joked a bit more with each than usual. When I asked her to help me clear her drawers of the winter and too-small clothes to make way for the summer clothes, she practically ran into her room. She asked me to hand her clothes to put away when we were all finished, instead of just letting me do everything. She reminded me to make sure that we labeled the bags "Too Small" and "Winter-KEEP" so we wouldn't get them confused.

I don't want to be one of those obnoxious parents who does nothing but talk about how great their kid is, because, in all honesty, Madeline really sucks sometimes. But when she gets over herself, and we spend real time together as opposed to Hamster Wheel Time, and we manage to eek out common ground by sharing a common experience, we become friends. REAL friends, not "I'd rather be your friend than your parent" friends.

And I know those people. They still put their 8-year-olds in strollers.


  1. This is exactly what I loved and miss about my own too-smart-for-me, cynical/sarcastic, self-deprecating-sense-of-humor kid. You might remember all the old hockey trip stories? It was the necessity of hours locked in the car together that truly bonded us beyond that of blood.

    Just being with your child, exploring the world with him or her -- even if it is your own backyard -- is the kernel that swells one's heart with pride and wonder. It is the small things, mostly the stuff that went wrong, that makes us laugh in remembrance and bonded-with-life-glue today.

    It is also the day-to-day crap we like to dismiss that the kids remember in awe, awe of their parents' fortitude and perseverance, and appreciation for the sacrifice, believe it or not. While the vacation-ary aspect of weekend hoopla (you know what I mean) is bonding in another way entirely, the hamster wheel is what they remember with strength and respect.

    That's why football players say "Hi, mom!" into the TV cameras.

    Um, that's why you're phone will be the one that rings at 3 AM. Not that I'm saying Madeline will ever need to make that call, but if she does, it'll be you. And, wickedly, there's an odd sense of "I win!" in that. ;^)


  2. I'm just going to start having the people who leave comments on my blog WRITE my blog. Because, oh, they're GOOD.