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What One Dad Learned About Making Memories
And how they’re often found in the place you least expect
One of the things I’m grateful for during our time in San Francisco was being able to experience the unforgettable work of Pop-Up Magazine. Their events answered a simple thought experiment: what if a magazine was actually a live show? They brought this to life by partnering with the most talented creative minds and natural storytellers, inspiring and delighting thousands of attendees before sadly dropping the curtain for the final time earlier this year.
So I was delighted when a mutual friend1 introduced me Chas Edwards, the Co-Founder and President of Pop-Up Magazine, who also happens to be a father of two. He shared some thoughts from his side of the parenting chasm—a father sending his adult children off into the world, a perspective that feels an epic distance from where you and I may stand today, but one that will surely come around all too fast. I asked him if he’d expand on the topic for an essay, which I’m happy to share today.
Over to you, Chas.
Twelve years ago, when my daughters were 7 and 11, my wife and I took them to Disneyland, and it was awesome. It was our first time, but we worked our resort maps and FastPasses like veterans. Space Mountain, Splash Mountain, and Pirates of the Caribbean on Day One, and California Screamin’ (now Incredicoaster), Radiator Springs, and Grizzly River Run on Day Two, plus another dozen rides in between. We stopped for a food break at 10:45 am to avoid wasting time in the long lines that formed at lunchtime. Princesses everywhere and at one point The Incredibles walked right past us. It seemed like we were racking up a lifetime of memories at the Happiest Place on Earth.™
Except I’m the only one who remembers much of it. My kids never talk about the trip.
Another adventure—closer to home, vastly less expensive, and, on paper, a terrible failure—turned out, however, to be a magnificent memory-maker. One of my girls was four, and an enthusiastic training-wheels cyclist. We planned a day at Angel Island in the San Francisco Bay. She would roll her little bike onto the ferry in Tiburon, and I’d rent an adult-sized one when we got there. There’s a paved loop around the island and a hamburger joint near the pier.
It was already raining when I clipped her into her car seat and we set out from our home in San Francisco. By the time we crossed the Golden Gate Bridge, it was coming down in earnest—more like an East Coast thunderstorm, not the misty drizzle that’s more common around here. If you’ve spent time in the Bay Area you know: what passes for modest rain showers anywhere else sends Northern Californians into hiding. The Angel Island ferry was still operating, but when we and the other two passengers (one of whom worked on the island) arrived at our destination, the bike shop and burger place were both closed due to the weather. The rain had mostly stopped, but we had two problems. One, no bike for me, so I’d have to jog along behind her, and there was no way we were going to make it all the way around the island. Two, we counted on hamburgers for lunch, so our snack bag was sparsely provisioned. We split a small thermos of lukewarm chicken noodle soup, and had an exciting encounter with nature when a seagull—roughly 40% the size of a 4-year-old girl—landed on the table and ate a noodle off her spoon. After “lunch” I introduced her to the sport of leaf racing, where you each drop a leaf into a stream and see whose goes faster. It’s as boring as it sounds, unless you’re four and have a muddy island all to yourself and recently survived an attack from an enormous, hungry bird. All in all, it was like a normal day at home, except with a ferry. The picnic tables, seagulls and creeks of rain run-off are about the same on Angel Island as they are anywhere else. But, mundane as it was, it was a whole day without distractions, errands to run, or schedules to meet, and a dozen years later, she’s still talking about that trip.
We had another family escapade halfway through a road trip to a wedding in Southern California. We started late and needed to stop for the night a few hours shy of Santa Barbara. From my college days, I remembered what fun it can be to camp in a car–my old Subaru station wagon or my roommate’s Ford Econoline van. So I convinced the rest of my family we should sleep in the car rather than in a room at the motel where we parked. My Volkswagen Jetta didn’t have quite the same legroom as a station wagon, but what’s a few extra inches? We wedged ourselves between suitcases, and cracked the windows so we didn’t suffocate.
One highlight moment, at least in retrospect, was when my younger kid (by this trip, aged 9) said she couldn’t sleep because rain was coming through the half-opened window. I barked at her–in that reality-defying tone of parental righteousness–that it wasn’t raining and she needed to go back to sleep. She cried, my other daughter woke up, and my wife (correctly) blamed the whole situation on me. I stepped out to find a discreet place to pee and came back damp with evidence that it was in fact raining. By 6 am, we gave up the charade that any of us were sleeping, had a 4-way laughing fit, and made our way to a kitschy diner attached to the motel.
It was a long, miserable night, obviously, but it’s also become a family legend. Proof of Steve Allen’s theory (made famous by Alan Alda in Crimes and Misdemeanours) that “tragedy plus time equals comedy.”
By the time my kids reached high school, I had lost the authority to insist they go back to sleep. (And oh so much more.) But they maintained an openness to silly suggestions for road trip entertainments. Last month I handed my daughter, now 17, a Rand McNally Road Atlas and challenged her to navigate us to a half dozen college towns spread around the East Coast. I assume she’s seen a paper map in school at some point, but I doubt she’s ever held one in her hands, and certainly never before had to locate Poughkeepsie, New York, by sliding her fingers toward the imaginary intersection of Column 3 and Row F on a giant, chaotic page of squiggly lines and microscopic type. We got lost a few times, and suffered the sepia-toned inconvenience of traffic piled up behind an accident we didn’t get redirected around. But we also had a very good time singing along to Leikeli472 songs and “Double Rum Cola” on Spotify as we roamed (and re-roamed) a handful of byways in central Vermont before learning the “Ripton-Goshen Road” is local slang for something Rand McNally calls Route 125. When teachers ushered kids back into a new school year with icebreakers, our Rand McNally adventure was her “fun fact.”
Over the years, we’ve taken a few trips outside the country, and we occasionally stay at hotels with roof deck pools, and I’m grateful for those trips too. But I’ve come to the conclusion–after nearly 40 years of parenting (if one is allowed to count double time when there are two), dozens of plane trips, countless visits to "points of interest," and probably 25,000 road trip miles–that it’s not obvious what makes for a special, unforgettable parenting moment. If there’s any correlation at all between money spent and memories made, it might be an inverse one. As the cliche goes, it’s all about the journey–especially if the setbacks along the road force you into a brief cocoon of togetherness that’s so hard to find in everyday life.
3 things to read this week
“hello, i love you, won't you pick up your phone???” by Alex Dobrenko in Both Are True. Ever find yourself aghast at absolutely unhinged behaviour from your parents, only to later catch yourself doing the same thing? Or wondering why your other half is five minutes late before immediately catastrophising it into a ten-car pile-up? This one is for you, as Alex voices the feelings that many of us keep quiet, realising “just as the prophecy hath foretold, I have become my parents, worrywarts and all.”
“Karl Ove Knausgaard: The Man, The Myth, The Legend” by Lynn Steger Strong in Esquire. Listen. You might be Karl Ove’d out after last week. I get it. I really do. But just in case you aren’t, this week’s Esquire profile is delicious. I mean, this is the third paragraph, and it continues at this level: “My friend is also a writer, and we talked too about the way Knausgaard elasticizes and expands time—the careful, exacting attention he gives to every scene. Riveted even when we weren’t, I craved the books when I was not inside them, and luxuriated in the scenes he built when I was.”
“MLS Parents Complain Leo Messi Too Advanced For Sons’ League” in The Onion. Does exactly what it says on the tin, and the rare Onion sports-parenting crossover that works for folks on both sides of the Atlantic. “’It’s just not fair—ever since Leo joined that Miami team they’ve been unstoppable, and he’s so much better than our kids that they’re starting to feel really bad about themselves,” said Kim McGlynn, the mother of Philadelphia Union midfielder Jack McGlynn, adding that after the Union lost to Inter Miami in the Leagues Cup semi-final, her son cried himself to sleep and said he never wanted to play soccer again.”
Thanks to Chas Edwards for this week’s essay—hope you enjoyed it as much as I did.
Editor’s footnote: Nope, I didn’t have a clue either.