As a physician, one would think I should be pretty smart: using good judgement, calm deliberation and forethought, making the right decisions…that kind of thing. I can assure you that I do these things when taking care of patients, so don’t be alarmed if you happen to run into me in the hospital. But when it came to raising my kids, well—let’s just say these traits don’t always translate so naturally.
It’s not like I was totally unprepared for raising children. In medical school I studied some of the psychology behind children and adolescents. During my pediatric rotations, I watched how experienced pediatricians interacted with their little patients, noted how they got them to laugh and relax so they would cooperate for their physical exam. I also had plenty of opportunities to develop my interactive skills with kids on my own. Surely, I must have picked up some parenting skills from all this. They say nothing can truly prepare one to be a father, but in general, by the time my wife became pregnant when I turned thirty two years old, I felt ready to rear a child of my own. My wife even made sure that I read one of those baby/parenting books that teaches about baby psychology. But alas, none of this came close to preparing me for what was to come in fatherhood.
Growing up, I had always imagined that I would be like a combination of my own dad and Mr. Brady from the ‘70’s television show: responsible, structured, understanding, and fun. I looked forward to the day when I would be head of my own household. While many teenage kids probably look ahead to their college years or their twenties, I couldn’t wait to be a thirty-five-year-old dad with a big house and a big yard in which to play with my kids. As it turns out, I am no Mr. Brady.
Now, as I reflect back on my early parenting days, I see my struggles with a sense of humor, as I suspect many other experienced parents do. While it didn’t always seem so at the time, the stories I tell people are really quite comical and worth sharing. Some of these stories were so outrageously funny and ridiculous even at the time that I actually shared them on emails the next day with my brothers and friends. I saved those emails, and when I went back to read them years later, I thought they might be entertaining enough to arrange into a book or blog format to share with a broader audience.
I get mixed reactions when I tell some of these stories. Many people can relate and empathize to exactly what I was going through, whereas others (usually mothers) simply laugh in disbelief or are incredulous that I could even get myself into such an absurd situation. Don’t worry, this is not a just a collection of self-deprecating tales of parental mistakes, I will include some success stories and heart-warming ones as well.
I’ll end this memoir with some stories involving my whole family, which kind of brings this all back full circle. Of all the vacations we have taken, the one constant travel tradition we try to keep almost every year is to my hometown in Munster, Indiana for the week of Father’s Day. My parents always host that holiday in their backyard for my aunts and uncles and cousins and their families. They make it fun for all the kids by setting up games like Croquet and Cornhole, and they have a big grassy lot in the back to pass the football around, as well as a park down the street. Aside from Father’s Day, that week also includes my mom’s, Rob’s and his son Robby’s birthdays, as well as my parents’ anniversary, so we’re basically celebrating something every day that week, including visits to Rob’s and Chris’s families. Then the following week is Pooneh’s birthday and our own anniversary.
I’ve been taking Kaveh and Kian there since they were babies, and they really developed a sentimental attachment to Munster. As soon as we exit the expressway into town, they get all excited seeing familiar stores like Target and their favorite restaurants as we drive down Calumet Ave. For whatever reason, they get the biggest rise out yelling out “Johnny’s!” as we pass by Johnny’s Tap.
When Kian was about four years old, I took him by himself when Kaveh was in school. I remember it was October because we went with Rob’s family to a pumpkin patch. He got really worried when we couldn’t seem to find our way out of a cornfield maze. Then when we finally emerged, some enormous dude using stilts in a big ugly giant costume popped in front of us and scared him half to death.
He must have really bonded with his grandparents that week because when we were sitting on the plane waiting to take off, he seemed kind of quiet. I asked him what his favorite part of the trip was, and he said, “Seeing Nannie and Papa.” He sounded like he was all choked up, and then he bunched his little fists and twisted them in his eyes like a kid in a cartoon. His face tightened up into a classic little boy grimace as he cried. He turned to look up at me with tears flowing down his cheeks and cried out, “Papa!” Then he rubbed his fists into his eyes again and sobbed, “Na-na-nannie! When will we get to see them again?” I told him we would probably see them again in a few months. His face contorted again and without turning away from me, he let out another agonizing “Paaapppaaaa!” He looked so sad and precious at the same time that my heart just dropped.
The first time I took them to Indiana without Pooneh, she put me in charge of all the packing. I was quite sure I had everything ready to go that they would possibly need. But while I was standing in line to check in at the airport, Kaveh asked me where my suitcase was. I was so focused on making sure I had everything packed for them that I completely forgot to bring my own suitcase!
I now have a checklist on my phone that I refer to every time I travel because I would almost always end up forgetting something, even if only my toothbrush or bathing suit, but all too often it was something more important than that (like my entire luggage). Twice in my life, I forgot to bring my wallet with me to the airport. Once was when leaving from my girlfriend’s parents’ house right after she broke up with me. Her kind mother actually drove back to the airport to bring it to me. She even sat down with me for a few minutes to talk about breakups and to try and cheer me up. The other time was only about a month after 9/11, but amazingly, they let me fly home without any ID.
On that same trip to Hawaii that we forgot to refill the diaper bag (previous post), we came home to a startling discovery. As we walked through the courtyard, we noticed that our front door was wide open. Fortunately, nobody was in the house and nothing was stolen. I remembered trying to hurry and grab our luggage because our taxi arrived a little early and probably meant to go back and shut the door since my hands were full.
Well, I didn’t learn my lesson because just last January we went to San Diego and came back the next day to find the door wide open again with our two cats looking up at us from inside to welcome us back. (I guess I should have included closing the front door on my checklist.) Our current house doesn’t even have a courtyard so anyone walking down the street would see this open invitation. Our friendly neighbors across the street would have closed it for us, but they were away for the weekend as well. Apparently, none of our other neighbors cared or even noticed.
About ten years ago I flew out to Florida to attend my brother Chris’s wedding. As I was boarding the plane, I happened to see a tuxedo hanging up to be checked. It suddenly dawned on me that I had forgotten to pack my own tuxedo jacket! I remember ironing my white shirt and packing it but actually left the tuxedo jacket hanging in the closet. I had to spend an extra two hours finding a tuxedo store to rent another one that would have it ready to go by the next day, not to mention having to spend the extra money that I didn’t need to.
A funny thing happened during the wedding. I was standing next to Chris on the beach, watching the guests take their seats. My mom had shattered her tibia in thirty places the previous winter (a story for another time) which took a serious toll on her health and spirit. After about seven surgeries and endless physical therapy, she was finally near recovery by this June wedding. It was a long way down to the beach, so Rob had the honor of escorting the proud groom’s mother via wheelchair to take her seat.
She looked so pretty, all dressed up in her finest gown, smiling and waving to the onlooking wedding guests as Rob wheeled her down the boardwalk ramp. But as they neared the end, a sudden look of vexation struck his face as the ramp turned to a steep decline. Despite his efforts to slow her down, the wheelchair kept picking up speed until the front wheels exited the wooden ramp, stopping cold in the sand and catapulting my poor Mom several feet forward into the air before slamming her knees onto the rough beach!
As we all rushed to her side in horror, we could hear Rob shouting, “Oh my God! Oh my God!!!” while frantically trying to lift her out of the sand. Once she got to her feet, she smiled as she dusted the sand off her gown and proclaimed: “Well that was a fun ride!” We all got a good laugh out of it—except for Rob. His shaken voice was captured on the ceremony video recording several minutes later bemoaning this catastrophe: “I can’t believe that just happened. Oh my God, I can’t believe that just happened.”
Final story! When my mom and dad came to visit us, we always try to take them on a road trip somewhere fun for a couple days. When we used to live in Arizona, I made reservations at what appeared to be a nice hotel at Lake Meade to stay at on our way to Las Vegas. It turned out to be a shabby fishing retreat about fifty miles out of the way, down a dark two-lane road. The rooms were old, ugly, and cramped with nothing to do at night except play cards and watch a small old TV with poor reception. We told the front desk that this wasn’t what we had in mind and asked for a refund, but they refused, saying that they would need at least a week advance notice.
In 2008 (which happens to be the same year as Chris’s wedding, I wanted to redeem myself and arrange for a magical Christmas vacation with my parents and family. When I was a teenager, I recalled my dad saying that someday he wanted to get a quiet cabin in the woods with a fireplace for Christmas. Since they were traveling out to California to spend Christmas with us, Pooneh and I thought this would be a perfect opportunity. I found a good deal on a cabin right on Big Bear Lake, which is about 7,000 feet elevation. My mom has a mild phobia about driving up into mountains, so we decided to make it a surprise and didn’t tell her until the day before we left; otherwise, she would have been anxious for the whole week and probably would have tried to talk us out of it.
The morning of our trip looked ominous, the sky laden with heavy, dark clouds. When I stepped outside, a blustery wind whipped cold rain into my face, which meant fresh snow in the mountains. Mom and Dad were kind of quiet and seemed apprehensive. Dad got on the internet and checked the weather. “This doesn’t look like such a good idea, Scott,” he said grimly.
I called the reservation desk who said the roads were still open but advised us to bring tire chains and a small shovel in case our car gets stuck in the snow. We got everything packed and stopped to buy boots, hats, gloves, and tire chains which were $150 (unreturnable) for one overnight trip into the mountains.
We made it up to the village without any problems, and my brave mom didn’t even look worried or complain—except to remind me that they came to California to get away from this snow, not drive into it! At least the roads were mostly clear, so I didn’t even need to bother with the stupid tire chains. We stopped at a restaurant which turned out to be closed, so rather than put the kids back in the car seats again (major hassle), I asked Dad to drive with Mom down the block to find another restaurant, and we would just walk there.
When I didn’t see them coming after a few minutes, I went back to see that the car was stuck on a small pack of snow under the front tires. Some guy helped me try to push it back over the hump while my dad backed up, but the tires kept spinning. Of all things, we forgot the shovel. After struggling for ten minutes, I reached inside for the tire chains and realized he never removed the parking brake! He said he never uses that since Indiana is so damn flat and didn’t even think of it.
After dinner, we went to find our cabin but the address didn’t exist on our navigator. We eventually found the general area but still couldn’t find our unit. Pooneh went off in one direction on foot and Dad went another, while I drove around some more until we finally found it in the back of a complex of cabins. We unloaded everything, but the cabin wasn’t nearly big enough for six of us and didn’t even have a fireplace like it advertised. When I called to complain, he said I booked the two-person cabin instead of the six-person one. He upgraded us to a bigger cabin with a fireplace and perfect view of the lake, but I had to go back a couple miles to the check-in office to exchange keys. My mom and Pooneh stayed with the kids while Dad and I trudged off back to the car.
Once again, the car was completely stuck with icy snow under all four tires and no shovel to dig us out. I finally broke out the tire chains but had no idea how to put them on and neither did my dad. The temperature plunged as the day turned to dusk, and to make things worse, it began to snow again—actually sleet. After struggling for a good fifteen minutes and our frozen fingers fumbling with the instructions for the chains, Dad’s voice kept growing louder and more agitated, until his lip began to curl into a snarl. I knew from my childhood this meant he was about to blow. He finally let it out with a bellowing roar: “THIS REALLY SUCKS!!!”
I felt totally defeated and unprepared for this winter wasteland. This wasn’t going to be the quiet evening by the fireplace we had imagined. He said it reminded him of “that damned Lake Mead cabin” that I screwed up about ten years ago.
After his loud hollering, a few neighbors scurried out to see what the trouble was. A rugged-looking bearded mountain man with some know-how came to our rescue and put the tire chains on for us, while we just looked on feeling totally emasculated. He called out to his son who rushed out with a shovel to clear the way while I tried to back out. It had only just then occurred to me that I had left the parking brake on again! I quietly released it without saying a word and we were on our way.
The new cabin was much bigger but still only had one bedroom and a crummy pull-out couch in the living room. Now we had to move our stuff from one cabin to the other which was about a half a block away. As we hurriedly ran back and forth through the ice-cold night, we accidentally left Kian in the cabin by himself with no lights on. He started screaming bloody murder for Mommy and came out into the snow in his socks. Pooneh, figuring I would have stayed with him in the new cabin, shrieked as she ran to his rescue, “Oh My God! How could you leave him there by himself?!” Both Mom and Dad nearly tripped on the ice walking over.
It didn’t end there because around midnight, feeling totally exhausted and sleepy, we pulled out the couch bed and discovered there were no blankets, sheets, or pillows. I called up to see if they could deliver the bedding, but she said nobody was available at this hour, so we would have to drive all the way back to the office again to pick up them up.
By this time, I’d had a few beers while watching the Bears game, and the snow had turned into a blizzard—already a couple inches deep. Apparently, this was the most snow they had accumulated in thirty-five years (four feet in a week)! This was the last thing I wanted to do, but back in the car we went. Damn those tire chains worked great—best $150 I ever spent!
Fortunately, there weren’t any other cars on the road, and we made it back safely. We told my parents to take the only bed and kids slept on the floor. Pooneh and I only slept about three hours on that old, warped pullout couch with squeaky springs sticking into our bodies.
The next day was fun at least. The lake and the surrounding snowy mountains were stunningly beautiful in the bright morning sunlight. We went sledding down a nearby hill which was much faster and funner than it looked, and then we pulled them on the sled over the icy roads, running and jerking and spinning them around like a roller coaster. Sure, we had some wipeouts, but those were the best parts!
Such is the life of a parent. No matter how good your intentions, sometimes they just backfire. No matter how much you plan, life will throw you curveballs, accidents will happen, and you may forget something at the last minute (some people more than others). But take heart, the unexpected is what gives life color and excitement, and most of all humor. I mentioned at the beginning of this blog that I hoped to be like Mr. Brady as a father, but my kids tell me I’m more like Phil Dunfy of Modern Family.
For anybody out there on the fence or nervous about becoming a parent, don’t be afraid; just roll with the punches, learn from your mistakes, and laugh about them later. As long as you spend quality time with your kids and show them love, compassion, and only your best intentions, they will forgive your mishaps, and hopefully your spouse/partner will too. To this day, whenever Pooneh gets angry about one of my mistakes, she tells me “You should put that in your stupid memoir!”
First off, I want to reassure my audience that my stupidity is still going strong. For our vacation this summer, we decided to go to Riviera Maya, south of Cancun, to check out Chichen Itza and some of the eco/water parks that feature underground kayaking through water caves, amphibious four-wheelers, zip lines, and other cool stuff. But then Pooneh discovered that my passport was due to expire just before our trip. Since I still had a little over a month before we left, I filed for the expedited renewal which can take up to four to six weeks, although some of my friends said they received theirs in just two weeks, so not to worry.
I began to get a sinking feeling in my guts when I still hadn’t received it with only a few days to go, and found it impossible to reach anyone by phone or email. Finally, the day before our flight, I went to the post office branch to see what can be done which was absolutely nothing. She said the renewal was still in process, and there were no appointments available in the federal offices.
Completely disgusted with myself, I had to break the news to my family that my passport wouldn’t arrive in time. I told them to go and have fun without me, but they said it wouldn’t be the same without their Paj (that’s what they’ve been calling me—short for padre). I spent the entire day scrambling to reschedule a last-minute vacation. Fortunately, I was able to get credit for the hotel, flights, and theme parks that I had booked, and actually found a good deal on last minute flights and hotel to Charleston, South Carolina. It wasn’t the exotic, adventure packed vacation they had in mind, but we had fun at the beach and exploring this beautiful, historic city. We had planned on kayaking through alligator infested tributaries but a tropical storm put a stop to that idea.
Some of our other big family vacations included trips to Disney World and Hawaii, but my kids really enjoy the resorts with water slides like Beaches in Jamaica and Atlantis the most. Besides sightseeing in Europe, I prefer the more adventurous trips like an excursion we took in Puerto Vallerta a few years ago. It began with a speed boat across the bay, followed by a four wheel drive up a mountain. Once it became too steep, we rode donkeys the rest of the way up. For the trek down, we took a series of zip lines and rope bridges over steep ravines, scaled down a cliff next to a waterfall, plunged straight down about fifty feet into a natural pool of water, and slid down a couple of jungle water slides for the grand finale. That’s my kind of day!
Now I’m not into extreme adventure like mountain or rock climbing or even marathon backpacking, but I love exploring the outdoors, enjoying everything nature has to offer. My dad used to take us to us hiking and canoeing at Turkey Run State Park in Indiana almost every year since I was a kid, so I learned to appreciate the outdoors early on.
When I got busy with medical school and then my internship in Michigan, I used to read magazines like Men’s Health and Outside and watch the Travel Channel, dreaming of the day when I could leave these cold winters behind and journey west to explore the mountains and maybe try some white-water rafting.
I made one of those critical decisions and applied for residency in Arizona for the following year—best decision of my life! I fell in love with the desert and the red, rocky mountains and the slate blue sky. Pooneh and I hiked all over the state those few years of residency; even if she was working or visiting her parents in California then I hiked on my own.
Chris gave me his mountain bike, figuring I’d get more use out of it in Arizona than he was. I tried it exactly two times: once I almost fell off a steep cliff to a spectacular death, and the next time I hit a big stray rock lying in the middle of the trail while cruising downhill pretty much out of control, vaulting me over the handlebars and into a cactus patch. When it got stolen from a bike rack shortly after that, I just said good riddance—God’s way of telling me that sport isn’t for me.
I still hadn’t tried rafting yet because nobody I knew was really into it, I guess. The itch never left me though. When Kaveh and Kian reached their teenage years, I wanted to try something different for vacation and figured it was a good time as any to finally test the rapids. From what I read, it looked pretty safe for beginners and families as long as you go with a guide. Pooneh and the kids seemed a bit nervous but also kind of excited and wanted to give it a try.
I booked one day at Hells Canyon on the Snake River and one day on the Salmon River in Idaho because I heard they offer some of the best rafting in the country. They looked fairly close to each other on the map but when I looked for lodging, I realized that they were actually four hours drive from each other on account of a large mountain in between them.
I booked a different hotel for the first night to cut down on driving which was in a tiny town with only one restaurant. We’re pretty sure the waitress was high on meth, which you would think might speed her up, but we had to wait fifteen minutes to take our order and another half hour for every lousy meal we ordered. Kaveh and Kian were used to going to resorts for vacation, so this really took them off guard and didn’t really know what to think, “Daddy, why did you bring us here?”
At least they did enjoy this humongous pancake!
We had to wake up at five in the morning to be sure we arrived on time, but after all the driving and trepidation, we had an absolute blast once we hit the rushing river. There were some slow parts when the guide had to manually row us to the next rapid, but I really enjoyed the scenery with its massive canyon walls and thought it was a perfect day in the outdoors.
The following day we planned a hike at one of the popular trails in the area. On arrival, we noticed we were the only car in the parking lot and a warning sign was posted about bees or bugs or something like that. I insisted we give it a try anyhow and within about five minutes into the hike, we found ourselves surrounded by an unusual number of weird insects all over the trail. Pooneh and Kian chickened out and turned back early, so Kaveh and I aborted shortly after and decided to find a different trail.
With the temperature heating up, I thought we should drive up the mountain and hike where it was cooler. After driving for over an hour and nearly at our destination, we suddenly found our road blocked by a bunch of wild horses. This just happened to be at a location with a fence on each side so we couldn’t go around them. These jackasses had an entire wilderness in which to stand and do nothing, but they all chose to gather together and block traffic right in this exact spot—probably for their own amusement, I assumed.
I honked at them a few times and shook my fist and yelled, “Go away, horsies,” but they wouldn’t budge. Most of them had their backs to us and didn’t even have the decency to turn around, while the alpha prick just kept shaking his head at us. I edged closer with my car but that only served to enrage him as he shook his head more furiously with those weird bulging horse eyes and stomped his foot repeatedly on the dirt road.
After about ten minutes of arguing with these idiots, I suggested we just climb up the beautiful hill right next to us that was loaded with wildflowers.
While we were up there taking some awesome pictures, a pickup truck cruised by and barely even slowed down for the stubborn jackasses. They just grudgingly parted to let him through and then bunched back together blocking the road again.
“Oh, well that looks easy!” I shouted. We clambered back down the hill about to follow suit, but Pooneh didn’t want to take the chance with our rental car getting bashed in by an angry horse. We turned around like a bunch of losers with the jackasses laughing at us and headed back down to find another trail a little further down.
The next day got really crazy. From what I read before the trip, the Lower Salmon River doesn’t have the monstrous rapids like Hells Canyon, but it moves you along better with more frequent rapids and less stagnation in between; nonetheless, it does have a few big ones that can get quite technical.
The guides were getting us all excited by talking about their recent trips, using jargon like “spicy” and “dicey” and how one of them almost got sucked into a big “munchy hole.” They explained that a hole is the area behind a large rock, partially obstructing the flow of water. When the current passes over and around the boulder, it shoots deep toward the bottom and then reverses back onto itself, creating what looks like a hole that churns and chews anything unfortunate enough to get stuck there (hence the term “munchy”) until it eventually decides to spit it (or you) out. Big holes are like legendary beasts, even to experienced rafters, and are probably the most feared hazard of water rafting, obviously requiring a lot of training to avoid or skim by them. They said they saw a pretty big one yesterday on this river but didn’t look too threatening and everyone got past it just fine.
Our own guide was really friendly, reassuring us that we would have a lot of fun and not to worry. He said he had a lot of experience since he’s been rafting as a little kid and looked to be in his early twenties. The morning went smoothly, and we were all having a great time. After stopping for a really nice, packed lunch that he personally provided, we started off again for the afternoon. He said we have a “spicy” one coming up, so I decided to ride “Bull” (sitting on the front of raft with legs dangling toward the water and holding onto a rope) with my Go Pro camera recording.
As we approached, the river was completely smooth and mellow, but then I began to hear something roaring at me. I looked ahead to see this water monster jutting up from the surface, creating a huge “hole” just behind it. The sound grew exponentially louder as we approached, our raft picking up speed as it drew us in closer and closer. I had complete faith in our guide, but I could not believe how violent and loud this thing was. I felt exhilarated and terrified at the same time, pointing and roaring back at it as we passed it by. Except we didn’t pass it by. It sucked us into its clutches, whipping our raft around 180 degrees until I was face to face with this furious monster! I saw the actual boulder that created this juggernaut directly in front of me, and all I could do was stare at it for about four full seconds, wondering how in the hell we would get out of its “munchy hole.”
Now I didn’t know this at the time, but our trusty guide behind me got ejected as it spun our raft around. Pooneh asked in alarm, “What happened to our guide?” At that very instant, our raft flipped and launched all of us into the cold rushing rapids. I could feel the water churning aggressively around me and didn’t even know which direction the surface was. Fortunately, I had a lifejacket on that popped me right back up. I saw Kian freaking out right next to me so quickly grabbed onto him, along with one of our paddles that was riding the current beside us. Kian kept asking where to go and where Mama was. I tried reassuring him but couldn’t talk because I kept swallowing water and retching with every breath I took.
I saw our guide who told us to head to the right bank, before swimming off, frantically trying to chase down our runaway raft. Kaveh drifted on by and said he was fine, actually enjoying himself.
I finally heard Pooneh calling out for us, and Kian spotted her a good distance behind. I couldn’t understand how Pooneh was so far behind until she explained later that she was trapped under the roiling water and couldn’t swim to the surface. Time tends to dilate when under life-threatening conditions, and she felt like she was under for a good two minutes. Thinking she was about to drown, she said farewell to her children and crossed her arms over her chest, letting her body go limp—and that is when she surfaced. She still remembers that as the most frightening moment of her life and swore never to put her life at risk like this again.
Of course, we still had about three more hours of rafting to go! Our guide caught up to our raft and deftly regained control. He pulled Pooneh into the raft, and then she in turn helped the rest of us back aboard. He apologized profusely, saying that the hole had grown much bigger since just the day before and should have stayed much further away from it.
We had a little time to compose ourselves and retrieve some of our stuff before the next rapid struck. We found another oar stuck in an eddy against the canyon wall. As we reached for it, his own oar got jammed against the wall which ejected our already dejected guide out of our raft again!
Pooneh offered her hand out to help him in and he climbed back aboard, trying to hide his embarrassment with a look of grim determination. But then another raft passed by, whose guide couldn’t resist teasing the poor fella about getting ejected and dumping his crew, as his passengers laughed along with him.
We continued to find and pluck our belongings like sunglasses and sandals and hats out of the water as we went along, even finding one of our sandals three hours later, just as we were about to dock. All of our phones were safe in a waterproof bag; the only item we couldn’t find were my new prescription sunglasses. As we disembarked, about two or three other grinning guides welcomed us back and dished out some more trash talk to our own guide for good measure.
Unbelievably, just last week (shortly after I started writing this story) I was watching a video on an exercise bike about two guys kayaking in Colombia and realized that one of them was our guide! I even pulled up one of the pictures we had to confirm it was really him. Watching this dude skillfully handle rapids that appeared much more treacherous than what he took us through, made me understand and appreciate how even the most talented kayakers can still get into trouble if not careful.
Here is the video of our crash. The camera got pushed down over my helmet so you can’t really see much after I hit the water but the first 30 seconds is pretty cool.
For the summer of 2017, I was the victim to two entirely separate river disasters. I’ll save the second river story for next time; the first took place on Father’s Day weekend. Rob arranged a trip for the three Wojo brothers and our dad to drive down to Kentucky to see some historical sites from our ancestors, as well as a bar that my dad used to work security while stationed in the army at Fort Knox.
Chris arranged for us to stay two nights at a beautiful historic mansion nearby, and each of us had a room to ourselves. The lady that ran the mansion, told us some of the horror stories that took place there in the 1800’s. Legend has it that the owner’s daughter cut her wrists and bled all over one of the bedrooms before she died. She wouldn’t tell us which room, leaving each of us convinced that her ghost would slip out at night and cut our throat in our sleep. The other story involved burning a newborn baby in the fireplace. My dad slept in that room. He would have slept better if he didn’t keep waking himself up with intermittent bursts of screaming.
The second day was supposed to include a bike ride to see more of the area, but of course my dad got injured again (his ankle this time), so we decided to go canoeing on the Green River instead. Four Wojtowich boys drinking beer in two canoes—what could go wrong?
We started out trying to outpace a bunch of kids and teenagers so we could reach some level of tranquility by ourselves and away from their obnoxious music. It was a lot of hard rowing at first, but it was worth the effort. Except for Rob complaining about the flies and constantly swatting them away with his oar, it was a perfect day on the river with green forest on both sides and a couple of beautiful waterfalls that we passed by as well. Apparently, that was enough to make Chris have to stop and take a leak himself.
Once he got back into the front of the canoe with my dad in the rear, Rob and I started off down-river again. For some reason they couldn’t seem to get going, so we called back to see what the hold up was. A sudden realization finally dawned on my dad. He looked up to Chris and said, “Don’t you think we might make better progress if you turned yourself around instead of facing me?” Chris looked up at him with this startled, confused look on his face before they both started cracking up, realizing that they were paddling against each other and just going around in circles.
After a couple more hours of rowing, one of them started wondering if we might have missed our exit point or took a wrong turn or something. I reminded them that we were on a river and definitely would have noticed if it forked into two different rivers. Besides, the guys at the desk told us to exit just after going under a bridge that we couldn’t miss, and we definitely hadn’t gone under any bridges yet. For some reason, they weren’t so sure and kept getting more anxious as time went on. I just kept laughing at them until we finally spotted the bridge about an hour later.
Chris and my dad arrived at the pier first. My dad had a tough time getting out of the canoe with his ankle brace, but Chris was able to safely pull him up to the pier. But then after sitting in the canoe under the hot sun for five hours, he felt really dizzy and unsteady when he stood up. Chris had to hold on to him as they walked off the pier.
As Rob and I made our approach, we noticed that the current began to pick up speed, so we had to aim and time it just right. We only had one shot, or we’d end up way further down on the bank with no way to haul up the canoe. As to why they decided to put the exit point at precisely the area where the current suddenly becomes faster that it had in the past five hours, I have no idea, but we were up for the challenge.
I steered from the back while Rob was supposed to reach out for the pier. Just as we got close enough, he suddenly popped up and, assuming it was as shallow as the bank he stepped out in earlier, sunk his entire leg into the river! Our canoe tipped over enough to start filling up with water as I yelled out, “Rob, what the hell are you doing!” He tried to balance himself and get back into the canoe, but it was too late. I felt it slowly careening into the water until it finally flipped over, dumping us into the rushing river along with everything in it. We tried to hold onto the canoe, but the strong current pulled it right out of our grip and drifted downstream.
We grabbed whatever else floated around us like the cooler and oars and seat cushions. Thankfully, the canoe got lodged on a shallow boulder not too far away, but one of the oars got away.
Rob took off to chase it down, swimming while he could and skimming over shallow rocks until he finally snagged it. He had trouble swimming back upstream against the current with an oar in his hand, and the banks were too steep and muddy to climb up. By grabbing hold of tree trunks and boulders in the river, he gradually made his way back. But then he had to tackle the canoe and wrestle it back to the pier as well, which actually proved to be easier than it looked.
My foot started hurting pretty badly from a sharp rock or something I stepped on in the river bottom. I was afraid it might get infected and wanted to get out of the cold, muddy water as soon as possible. With my hands full, I stepped onto the bank and spotted a wooden walkway up ahead. After about five minutes, I realized the walkway led to the opposite direction. I tried to walk back toward the pier but was hindered by a steep ravine that looked impassable in bare feet. I finally decided I would have to trudge back to the pier through the mucky river, against the current.
Meanwhile, Chris was dealing with our unsteady dad who said he felt like he was going to pass out as he walked him up the hill. Worried that Dad might be in trouble, he found a place for him to sit down and then returned to see what happened to us. But when he stepped onto the pier, we were nowhere to be seen—all he saw was our capsized canoe, jutting up vertically out of the water about hundred yards away. He stared silently out across the river with his hands on his hips, wondering what to do, feeling incredulous and helpless at this sudden turn of events. In that moment, he assumed the worst and thought to himself, “What the hell am I going to tell Mom who begged us not to go? That Rob and Scott drowned in the river, and Dad died walking up the hill from another heart attack!”
After a couple minutes, he saw each of us beginning to slowly make our way back against the current. Thankfully, we all made it back to the car intact, and our dad gradually began to feel better after a while. Besides losing our shirts in the river, the only casualty was my waterlogged phone, along with all the pictures I took that day–again! We were supposed to call the crew and let them know we were done to haul back our canoes, but we couldn’t get reception. Rob took off down the road, hoping to find reception or a phone but after a half hour, he still hadn’t returned. Now we began to wonder if he got lost or murdered by some redneck along the way, but he eventually returned.
We were all starving by this time, but Rob and I had to buy new shirts first. We stopped at some local store that displayed racks out on the sidewalk. Rob picked out a vintage Hart County black tee, while I picked out some other cheap shirt that was too small for me with a flaming guitar on it. Off we went to the restaurant, like tourists with big smiles and proudly wearing our new souvenirs.
The best part of the trip was after we had a couple more drinks and some bread in our stomachs; we each told our perspectives on what just happened that day. We started laughing out loud seeing our dad in tears as he told us about their canoe going around in circles and Chris’s confused expression, and then we all lost it when Chris told us he walked back to the pier and thought he was the only survivor. We couldn’t stop laughing hysterically despite everyone in the restaurant staring at us and wondering what the hell was so damn funny. We didn’t care, it was Dad’s best Father’s Day ever.
I want to thank all of you for following my blog over past few months. Whether you read them all or just checked out a few, I truly hope you enjoyed them. I do believe it’s important not to take life too seriously or dwell on our mistakes, even if they involve our precious children. Let’s face it, we all make mistakes, so we might as well learn from them and laugh at them too. For my last few posts, I’d like to share a few of our vacations we took over the years. Believe me, there is still plenty of stupidity to come. I’ll start with a couple vacations to Europe, followed by some rugged adventure, and finally some domestic family trips to bring it home. Hopefully you can pick up some travel plans and tips too!
I had never been overseas and Pooneh had been dying to go to Europe for many years, but we wanted to wait until our kids were old enough to appreciate the culture and history. By the time they turned eleven and thirteen years old, we felt like we had waited long enough, and they seemed ready for some epic travel. For our eleven-day journey, we flew to Paris first and then on to Venice, Florence, and Rome. About halfway through the trip, we realized that perhaps we should have waited a couple more years.
They enjoyed Paris well enough, and I have to say I was totally blown away by the magnificence of the city. As soon as we checked into our hotel, we set off to see the Arc de Triomphe which was only a few blocks away, and then trudged up the countless steps of the Eiffel Tower, bumping into two of their friends from school on the observation deck of all places. (Incidentally, Kaveh also ran into my cousin at George Washington’s home during a school field trip that same year!)
Despite doing all this activity while jet-lagged, we had trouble falling asleep that first night and ended up sleeping until 11:00 am. After losing half our day and then walking about a mile to find the nearest bakery, we decided to take a cab to the Seine River and grab one of those public ferries to Notre Dame. In planning the trip, I picked out a popular spot on the map that I assumed was the location for the ferries but turned out to be a launch area for private yachts. The taxi driver even tried to tell me we should go to a different location, but I insisted since I already had it planned out and thought maybe he misunderstood me. We spent an extra hour walking to the place he told us to go which was on the other side of the Seine.
After touring the cathedral (thankfully we got to see it before the big fire), we discussed where to head next. I had a list of hot spots that I read online and one of them I really wanted to see was the Bastille district. I read a lot about the French Revolution and storming of the Bastille over the years, so I got excited when I read a post that claimed part of the historic prison was still intact. We walked about five miles to the Bastille district but didn’t see any sign of the old prison. I don’t know who the jerk was online that made this claim, but everyone we asked gave us a funny look, informing us there hasn’t been any remaining trace of it for hundreds of years. Anyhow, Kaveh and Kian actually enjoyed watching all the teenagers perform at the skatepark more than any old prison, and I can think of worse things to do than roaming the streets of Paris.
We went to the Louvre the next day, which would have been awesome if Kian hadn’t gotten into one of his funky moods, literally groaning and complaining almost the entire time.
I’m sure you’ve heard this before, but you really can’t appreciate the uniqueness, beauty, and history of Venice until you visit. The kids especially enjoyed the boat ride into the city and the gondola ride on the Grand Canal. The only problem was the heat and humidity. They kept making fun of me because I was always drenched in sweat all day that pretty much began the moment I stepped outside. I can remember hugging a huge bag of stinky laundry against my chest, trying to find the laundromat based off our map but getting lost its maze of walkways. My shorts kept falling down the wetter and heavier they got, so I had to keep stopping to pull them up and wipe the sweat dripping into my eyes, scowling and cussing like that day at Lake Irvine. I must have looked like one weary, pissed off tourist.
My favorite part was the Doge’s Palace. I didn’t realize how many rooms there were to see, and we ended up spending too much time in the first few areas looking at paintings and a World War I exhibit in the courtyard. After a while it dawned on me that I hadn’t seen them in the last ten minutes. I started looking around, going all the way back to the entrance but they were nowhere to be found. Figuring they must have gotten ahead of me, I went back to where I left off and breezed through the next several rooms. Still not finding them anywhere, I checked my phone and realized she texted me that she left already with the kids to get some gelato. Apparently, they had enough and dragged her out the way we came in. I told her I must be getting toward the end, but it just kept going. Passing through the Bridge of Sighs, I got stuck behind a tour group that blocked the narrow hallways while Pooneh grew increasingly bored and restless waiting for me in the hot sun. It took another half hour to pass through the prisons and weapons displays before I finally emerged. I felt really bad that she missed all the best parts and had to wait for so long, but at the same time I couldn’t understand why they all left through the entrance without even finding and telling me first.
By the time we got to Rome, Kaveh and Kian started getting tired of sight-seeing and walking through old cities every day, and they let us know it too. I practically had to drag them through the crowded streets to the Pantheon, which was worth it because it was absolutely stunning to see among the other modern buildings surrounding it, and then on to Trevi fountain, which wasn’t worth it because it was under construction when we arrived.
I’ve been fascinated by ancient Rome for most of my adult life, (Gladiator being one of my all-time favorite movies) so for me the highlight of the trip was The Roman Forum. We bought a two-day pass that included The Forum, Palatine Hill, and the Coliseum. From what I read online, most people recommended seeing Palatine Hill first because it offers an impressive overview as you descend into The Forum.
There was a lot more to see than I realized including Circus Maximus, views of the emperor’s palace, and a museum to cool off from the hot sun. We took our time walking through, despite our kids urging us along and complaining about the heat as the morning wore on. I remember telling Kian to appreciate how old and historic these buildings are, then he picked up a rock and explained his point of view. “Daddy, this rock is older than that stupid building, so why don’t you appreciate the rock? Just look at it, isn’t it cool?”
We finally arrived at The Forum around two in the afternoon, hungry, thirsty, hot, and exhausted. I was entranced by the sensation of finally standing right in the heart of ancient Rome and could have stayed a couple more hours, but after only about ten minutes Kian had enough and headed directly for the exit with Pooneh trailing after him. Kaveh was reading a young adult book series based on the mythology of Roman Gods and looked forward to seeing the ancient temples but was disappointed that they were in ruins.
Lunch actually sounded pretty good, so we headed out the gates to take a break and find a nearby restaurant. Since we had reservations for the Coliseum at 4:00, we decided to see the rest of The Forum the next day. But when we arrived at the gate, she told us that we had already used our tickets. I pointed out that our tickets are good for two days, but she clarified that we could have seen the Coliseum one day and then Forum/Palatine Hill the next, but we can’t see the same place both days. I tried arguing that nobody explained that to me, and I travelled halfway across the world to see The Forum most of all but she could care less. I felt scammed and wasn’t about to pay for a whole new set of tickets so we just left in disgust.
To top it all off, Kaveh and Kian weren’t being very cooperative with getting their picture taken so this is the best family picture we got from the entire trip!
A couple years later, I convinced Pooneh to take a trip to France, but without the kids this time. I wanted to visit the medieval town of Riquewihr in eastern France since I chose it for the setting of the book I was writing. The homes and buildings in Alsace look like gingerbread houses, which fits perfectly for my horror version of Hansel and Gretel. It also has a medieval prison called Thieves’ Tower, complete with a torture chamber that we can still visit—how cool is that?
We arranged a bicycle trip through a company that provided nice road bikes with Garmin trip computers, set us up in beautiful hotels, and mapped out an Alsace wine route through four different cities, starting in Strasburg and ending in Colmar. They collected our luggage in the morning and dropped it off for us at the next hotel we rode to. It’s a trip I will never forget but started off with a couple hiccups.
We flew into Paris and after checking in at the train station, I started heading toward the train until some of the people in line let me know the attendant was trying to get my attention. I turned around and heard him yell over the crowd that I left my luggage in front of the counter. I trudged back through the line of other travelers who either smirked in disbelief or expressed looks of patronizing pity at me while I muttered some excuse about being jet-lagged.
As soon as I stepped outside, Pooneh waved frantically at me to hurry up because the train had already arrived. I raced down the steps with two suitcases bumping behind me then sprinted across the concourse. I was only a few steps away, but as soon as Pooneh hopped inside, the doors slammed shut! We could only stare at each other through the window, stunned and helpless, as the train pulled away. Panicked, I looked to the attendant who suggested I wait for the next train which, fortunately, should arrive in less than ten minutes, and then meet up at the next stop.
After that, everything went smoothly the rest of the day: checking into our hotel, meeting up with the bike company, and setting everything up for the morning trek.
I connected my new GoPro camera to my helmet and got some nice videos, but the one I looked forward to seeing the most was riding through the cobblestone streets of Strasburg, teeming with jubilant soccer fans excited to watch France play in the World Cup that day. Apparently, I didn’t hit the record button when I tried to turn it on, leaving us with only the memory.
By far the worst part of the trip was when Pooneh had a bike accident that scraped her up pretty bad on the very first day of our ride. We turned into a driveway and either her wheel was too parallel and got stuck on the sharp curb, or the idiot in the car right behind her didn’t realize she slowed down and clipped her back wheel. It sucked because after riding for over thirty miles, we were nearly finished for the day. On the other hand, we were only five minutes away from our hotel in Obernai, so she didn’t have to suffer riding with fresh bleeding wounds and aching bruises all day. Knowing how miserable she felt, I offered to see if the company could drive us to the next town or even just cancel the rest of the trip altogether. She knew how badly I wanted to see Riquewihr and thought she could manage two more days on the bike.
Well, the next day included some very steep climbs, but she pushed on with sheer determination and grit. When we finally arrived at the medieval gates of Riquewihr, after pouring so much imagination into the few pictures I saw of this town, it made the whole surreal experience come alive. We walked through town, toured Thieves’ Tower and its torture chamber museum, and took well over a hundred pictures to enrich my story with fresh, accurate details of some of the major scenes for my book. We hiked to the nearby town of Kaysersberg and climbed steps to the top of its towering keep, overlooking incredible sweeping views of the nearby river, forest, hills, and vineyards. I swear I took some of the best pictures of my lifetime that day.
When we returned to the hotel that evening, I tried to share some of the pictures on Facebook, but my phone said I needed to free up space first. Whenever that message came up, I always deleted everything from my gallery since they are all backed up on Google Photos. But this time, I hadn’t connected onto the hotel wifi yet, which means none of the pictures that day were saved into Google Photos. I felt a leaden weight drop from my chest into my gut as I desperately tried to find them. I checked the trash files, installed some app to recover deleted photos, and even called the support service who literally searched in my phone; alas, they were completely and permanently obliterated. Pooneh took many nice pictures that day too but only a fraction of what I did, and only a couple in the museum. More importantly, she reminded me that our memories of the day, and of our little Tour de France, are what matters most.
After completing our bike journey in the colorful city of Colmar, also known as Little Venice, we traveled back to Paris for the final day of our trip. Free to choose what we wanted to see without kids slowing us down and knowing better where to go, we hardly took a break and probably saw more that day than all three days combined on our first visit to Paris!
The boys started asking about getting a dog right after we moved into our new house in Rancho Cucamonga. They were only about three and five years old at the time, and we wanted to wait until they were a little older. Plus, we figured the dog would be lonely most days since we both worked full time and kids were in school all day. But I actually wanted a dog too and didn’t want time to pass me by without including one in the family.
I always loved animals and even considered becoming a veterinarian until I heard they had to “put them to sleep” sometimes. I grew up with an Irish Setter until I was about seven years old. I was still pretty young but still remember falling asleep and using her as my pillow, even the smell of her fur was a sense of comfort.
About five years later, my parents let us bring home a black kitten from their friends’ litter. We picked him because he won the most fights against the others in the litter as we paired them off two at a time. Cats don’t have the personality of a dog, but he was a cool little dude. We wanted to name him Panther, but my Dad thought that was cheesy and suggested Clancy. It was such an unusual name for a cat that we all decided to roll with it.
Rob and I thought it was so fascinating that cats always landed on their feet no matter in what position you dropped them. We even flipped him up into the air, but he always struck a perfect landing and didn’t seem to mind a bit. We wanted to take it to the next level, so we started launching him off our front porch, over the evergreen bushes and about ten feet into the yard! He seemed a bit distraught at first but after a little yelp upon letting him fly, he landed perfectly onto the grass, shook his head, and then trotted away. We showed his skills off to our friends and our cousins, Dave and Mary, who were equally impressed. Naturally, we wanted to take it one step further now that we had an audience: “Let’s see if he still lands on his feet if we flip him over the bushes!” Hooking our hands under his arms, we swung him back and forth a couple times to catch his rhythm, then with a mighty heave, tossed him high in the air. As his body arced over the bushes in a graceful backward flip, he let out a long meow that sounded more like “Begooowwww!” and nailed a perfect landing! We all cheered and threw our arms in the air with joy for our champion acrobat. We ran into the yard to congratulate Clancy, but he took off and didn’t return for several hours. We were pretty sure he had fun though.
Ok, enough about my cat. By the time Kian turned five we figured he was old enough to know how to handle a dog, and we had a fairly big back yard the dog could roam around in when we were gone. We even considered getting two dogs to keep each other company, but Kian was afraid they would always play with each other and not pay enough attention to him. We decided on a Golden Retriever since we heard they make the best family dogs. We picked out his name before we even bought him—Copper—based on their typical color. When we went to pick him up, he turned out to be cream colored, not copper at all. The kids were already set on the name though, so we kept it.
Copper was an amazing dog, even for a Golden: easy to train, good temperament, and very playful. We could always tell what he wanted because his body language made it so obvious. He even seemed to learn a few words! When we called him to go out to the garage as we were leaving, he shook his head and growled “Noooo.” He always greeted us with a pleasant low grumbling sound in the mornings, but if we were gone too long and hadn’t had his walk yet, he grumbled louder and dramatically waved his head back and forth for about a minute like he was giving us a good tongue-lashing.
As a puppy, Pooneh thought he was the most adorable creature that had ever existed (aside from babies that is). She took him outside and watched him learn to climb steps and play with his toys. At one point, she looked over and noticed that one of his little toys seemed to be moving on its own. She walked closer and as soon as she realized it was a little mouse trying to scurry away, Copper scooped it up into his mouth and started chewing. She yelled out in horror and Copper looked up at her so innocently with the tail hanging out of his mouth like a wriggling worm. With a final crunch, the tail dropped down and he swallowed it in one disgustingly audible gulp. Pooneh wretched a few times and wouldn’t go near Copper for the rest of the day. She literally almost started gagging as she told me this story again today!
We had a blast playing with him outside, but even if we were playing basketball, he always had to compete for the ball and try to knock us out of the way. He used to steal the kids nerf football they were tossing to each other, then break into a sprint and flop all over the yard. He wasn’t very good at playing fetch though. I guess he thought it was more fun for me to chase him down and wrestle the toy out of his mouth. One of his toys was a rope attached to a tennis ball. He would come up to me with his playful growl to see if I could take it from him. As soon as I’d reach for it, he’d dart away until I caught him. Once I got hold of the rope, he wouldn’t let go, so I had to wrest it back and forth until it came loose, then give a quick tug just as he reset his teeth for a better grip. Well, apparently, I tugged too hard one time and broke off one of his puppy teeth. They had to surgically remove it which cost me a few hundred dollars, and we had to feed him stuff like yogurt for a while.
We were pretty good about taking him for walks at least once a day around the horse trails in our neighborhood. He got really pissed if we didn’t—after groaning and waving his head all around for a while, he would eventually turn his back to us to show just how upset he really was. Once he grew out of the puppy stage, I brought him out with me for a run. I figured dogs could run all day and be happy so went my usual route of four miles. He did really well until the final mile when he kept slowing down and wanting to rest. He usually jumped out of the back of my car when I opened the hatch, but this time he just sat there until I lifted him out, then he limped gingerly inside and layed down the rest of the evening. Pooneh even noticed him walking funny and laying around for the next two days after that. “What did you do to our poor doggy?”
Unfortunately, about five years after we adopted him, we decided to sell our house and move to Irvine. We had to live in an apartment until our new house was built. That meant we couldn’t keep Copper with us. Pooneh’s parents kept him for a few months, but when we realized we wouldn’t be able to move into our new house for another year, it was just too much to ask. To be honest, we both thought it was pretty nice not having to take him for a walk every day. We also didn’t want to have a dog scratching up our new hardwood floors, shedding around the house, and pooping all over our yard. We ultimately made the tough decision to sell him. The last day before giving him away, Pooneh brought the kids and their two cousins over to her parents where they all cried and hugged him at the same time, even Pooneh and her mom were crying.
We had long talks with them leading up to it, and they seemed to understand the reasons that we gave them. We figured they would forgive us and eventually get over having to give him away, but this just didn’t happen. They kept asking if we could go visit him and hoping there was still a chance that we could take him back once we moved into our new house.
While we were in the apartment, I bought them a Betta fish, as though that could possibly make up for a dog. The biggest thrill they got was putting a mirror in front of him and watch him flare up with fury, otherwise he just floated with no purpose or hid in his little house. Somehow, this insignificant little creature managed to live in perpetual monotony for about two years until one fateful day. I forgot to add conditioner to the water when I changed it and probably didn’t let the tap water sit long enough before plopping him back in, rendering him completely dead by morning. Kaveh and Kian actually laughed as we flushed him down his watery grave.
One day, I came home from work to see Kian looking at all of the pictures of Copper that we had saved on our computer. He would laugh excitedly as he recalled his memories of when a picture was taken and then turn to sadness with others. Then it happened. He came across this picture of him hugging big fluffy Copper and broke down in tears. I felt so bad for him and didn’t know what to say except how sorry I was and just gave him a hug.
I myself was starting to have dreams almost every night about Copper. Pooneh remained adamant that she wanted to enjoy her clean, new home without the smells and scratches and fur that comes with a dog, but the kids eventually wore her down over time. We told them that since they were older now, they would have to take the dog for walks, clean up the poop, and play with her which they said they would do without hesitation. We figured we would milk this for all it was worth and told them they had to make their beds every morning and get good grades too.
Then came a series of misfortunes and bad luck. They said they wanted a dog that was big and fluffy that they could put their arms around. I did some research and the biggest, fluffiest dog I could find was a Great Pyrenees. They are said to be extremely loyal and protective and make excellent guard dogs. I found a rescue shelter nearby specifically for Pyrenees about forty-five minutes away. We spotted the most beautiful pure white dog we’d ever seen, not as large as the other Pyrenees we saw, and appeared much more graceful and athletic than the others when she ran. The lady at the rescue said she was extremely smart and confident and acted like the alpha towards all the other dogs. The only catch was that she was quite willful and strong and confrontational around other dogs, so she recommended that we hire a trainer.
We were so impressed it was almost love at first sight. We talked about it for the next few days and unanimously decided to bring her home to our family and name her Crystal. I’ll never forget the look on Pooneh’s face when Crystal shook herself for the first time on our patio. So much fur billowed off of her that it looked like it was snowing. Pooneh held her arms out as it drifted downward onto her palms and half whimpered, half laughed at the absurd amount of fur that would soon be covering our floors and furniture.
We managed to arrange for the trainer to come on that first day. They charged about $800 and gave us some decent advice—most of which I already knew from training Copper. The shelter lady recommended that we get a dog cage for her to sleep in at night since that is what she was used to doing at the shelter and supposedly gives them a sense of comfort. She ended up barking really loudly all night long (another trait of Great Pyrenees), so I had to keep getting up to try to calm her down for the next few nights and even took her out for a walks in the middle of the night.
I had to work twelve hour shifts that first week and wouldn’t be around to train her much. I told Kaveh that he was in charge of her since she was definitely too big and strong for Kian to manage at his age. He invited his friend, Joey, over to play with her. Everything seemed to be going smoothly, so Pooneh went out for a couple hours. We gave them clear instructions not to allow Crystal upstairs so that at least our bedrooms would stay fur-free. Well, after they tired of playing with her, Kaveh and Joey started playing PS4 upstairs. Naturally, Crystal didn’t want to be left alone and followed them up. They both picked her up and carried her back down, but she kept following them back up. Finally, they let her out in the yard while they went back upstairs to play PS4 uninterrupted. Now on this of all days, someone had left the side gate wide open, leaving her free to roam around our neighborhood. I got a call from Pooneh who was worried she might attack other dogs who were out on walks, or God forbid, any children. I couldn’t believe they could be so careless and that PS4 was more important than our new dog that they had been begging to have for months. On top of that, I didn’t really want them to take her for walks because even I had trouble holding onto the leash. We quickly realized that Crystal was too big and strong for our kids to manage on their own, and she just wasn’t a good fit for our new house and relatively small yard. It was another painful decision but ended up bringing her back to the shelter after only three days. The owner was understandably upset and reminded me of the no refund policy on the $400 we paid.
Kaveh and Kian immediately started pleading for another dog. They said they really just wanted another Golden Retriever like Copper in the first place. We found a cute little white puppy from a breeder but had to wait a couple more weeks until he had all his shots. Unfortunately, he became really sick from a virus and admitted to the vet hospital. They said the only way we could still have the puppy is if we paid all of the hospital bills which amounted to over $2000, which I promptly declined.
They were getting really disappointed after all this, and I wanted to make it up to them so kept searching. I wanted to get them a puppy for their birthdays which were only a month apart. I finally found one for a reasonable price but was the last of the litter. When we brought her home, Pooneh immediately recognized she didn’t look like a typical Golden Retriever puppy; in fact, she said she looked kind of ugly. We thought she looked cute enough, but over the next few weeks we noticed that she was really hyper and never really calmed down unless she was sleeping. She even growled at me for no reason when I was petting her on my lap! We have a video of her jumping wildly from one kid to another when Kaveh and Kian had their friends over. It reminded me of the scene from Monty Python and the Holy Grail when the feral rabbit killed and beheaded about a dozen knights in one bloody minute until they shouted, “Run away, Run away!” All you could hear on the video was loud screaming and yelling as she jumped onto their necks and bit their hair and nipped their ankles.
We forked out another $800 on a trainer and I don’t even remember why. I just remember we were desperate, and the trainer we hired for Crystal said we had to pay full price again since it’s a different dog. I only went to a puppy training class with Copper and never had any problems at all with him.
Besides her anxiety and wild behavior, she had to be the dumbest dog I’d ever met. As I was driving home with her in the back seat, I left the window open so she could “eat the wind” like I see all dogs do with so much enthusiasm. Instead of just sticking her head out the window, I noticed she was trying to climb out! I reached back to grab her, but she lurched out as I was driving about 40 miles an hour! I watched her flip and skid across the pavement in utter disbelief before she limped safely off the road. Fortunately, no cars were behind me and she survived with only a few scrapes on her face and paws.
Then the diarrhea began. Almost every night she woke up barking in the middle of the night from her cage for me to let her out. She immediately darted for the back door, did her business, and came back in. The vet said puppies often have soft stools and should firm up over time. We tried changing her food and getting the highest quality but seemed to keep getting worse. All of the tests came back unremarkable so they kept telling us she would outgrow it. Over six months, her size remained fairly small for a Golden and her fur never really grew out either.
I can’t even count the number of mornings where I came down for work to find a soft lump of poop or puddle of diarrhea in her cage. Sometimes it seemed like it would go away for a while but eventually came back within days or weeks. I tried leashing her in the garage with the door open, but she just shit on the floor instead of outside and then somehow rubbed it into her fur and all over the leash! One time she made a mess on the garage floor as I was late for an appointment. I cleaned up the worst of it with paper towels and tossed them into the garbage. When I got back home, I was horrified to see that she actually got into the trash and started eating the crap-ridden paper towels! This was right after her spading and had to wear that plastic ring around her neck. I remember how enraged I became when I saw her stupid face looking at me with diarrhea smeared all over her and the plastic ring. What kind of a dog eats their own crap? I spent over an hour giving her a bath, cleaning all the little tabs and tiny holes in her plastic ring, and then cleaning and disinfecting the floor.
I just couldn’t take it anymore. I told Kaveh and Kian that if they want to keep Waffles then they have to clean up her diarrhea from now on. Kaveh had enough already and didn’t even care about having a dog anymore, but Kian wasn’t ready to let her go and agreed to help. After about two more weeks of this complete nonsense, Kian finally agreed to give her away. He became so disgusted by her and the smell she always generated that he didn’t even want to go to the shelter and say his goodbye. The lady who accepted Waffles at the shelter said she looked like she was probably the runt of the litter since they tend to be anxious and smaller than other dogs.
After this, everyone we knew looked us straight in the eyes and told us to never get a dog again. We figured we were cursed since Copper was the best dog in the world and we let him go. I came up with the idea of getting a cat since they don’t require much of a time commitment and don’t demand so much of your attention. We agreed on this little guy named Pashmak, which means cotton candy in Farsi.
Pooneh loved him so much that she bought another one for her parents, but they became tired of all the shedding, so we ended up taking her in; now we have two. As much as they love their cats, Kaveh and Kian never stopped asking if we can try our luck with another Golden.
The time had come: Kaveh was now eleven years old and asking to go fishing. I went on several fishing trips as a teenager but never really considered myself much of a fisherman. The last trip I went on was about thirty years ago. My Dad and my Uncle John took Rob, my cousin Dave and me to Boundary Waters between Minnesota and Canada for a canoe trip. The first few days was really fun despite rowing all day and portaging the canoes over land to the next lake over and over again. Then it started raining like every day, and we couldn’t seem to catch a single fish. Uncle John was the most avid outdoorsman among us, but our brains hadn’t really matured enough to heed his firm recommendations like not touching the waterproof spray on the tent ceiling. Well, this was hard to do when having a massive pillow fight between three teenagers, but of course we didn’t stop complaining about it later when our tent leaked on us as we tried to sleep.
But it wasn’t just us—even my Dad didn’t listen to him. Uncle John strongly advised him not to go out and brush his teeth one night because the mosquitoes were out in force. Well, he dashed out anyhow saying, “I’ll be really quick,” leaving the tent flap open. Just as my uncle fell asleep, he was startled awake by a loud yelp and a splash followed by a lot of cussing, “God dammit, son of a bitch!” A minute later my soaking wet dad came charging back and practically dove into the tent along with about a hundred bird-sized mosquitoes. He said he lost his footing on a slippery rock while bending over to rinse his mouth and swatting mosquitoes. Uncle John just laughed and said, “I told you not to go out there!” We ended up heading back a few days early and cutting our trip short because of the constant rain.
Even though I hadn’t fished since that trip, it seemed like something every dad should do with his kids. I figured I should buck up to my fatherly duties and give it a try. We headed out to Lake Irvine in the sweltering month of August on a 90-degree day. We rented 3 poles and I asked the guy at the desk what kind of bait to use. He recommended mackerel because we’d really only be catching catfish this time of year. I groaned because the last time I caught a catfish as a teenager, it stung my hand trying to take it off the line, so I basically wanted to catch anything but catfish. I thought the mackerel would be better than squishy worms or other live bait because it’s just chunks of fish that you stick on the hook. Unfortunately, it was so greasy and smelly that I couldn’t get the goo and stink off my hands even after scrubbing with seaweed.
I figured out the fishing pole pretty quickly and taught the kids how to do it, but every time they would cast the line, the mackerel flew off before it hit the water. This happened about four or five times in a row, even though I made sure to hook it through the thick skin. I didn’t seem to have any problem with it, so I tried showing them how to cast smoother instead of jerking the pole forward but to no avail. Given our rapidly depleting bait supply, I just ended up casting for them which defeated the whole purpose.
We got snagged on seaweed a bunch of times, but the fish weren’t biting. Meanwhile, with the sun blazing down from a cloudless sky, it kept getting hotter, and I couldn’t stop the sweat that was constantly running into my eyes. I didn’t want to take my sunglasses off to rub my eyes with my shirt because my hands were so greasy and stinky, but my eyeballs began to really sting like they were bleeding. I finally gave in and snatched them off my face with a grimace, rubbing the sweat off with my shoulder sleeves as best I could. Now my sunglasses stunk like rotting mackerel which was even closer to my nose and I almost gagged. I still can’t get the memory of that smell out of my head.
We saw a pier off in the distance that Kaveh insisted on fishing from, so we walked and sweated for half a mile and as soon as we arrived, the sign said nobody is permitted on the pier. I couldn’t see the harm in it and since we walked all the way over here, I told them to just follow me onto the pier. Less than a minute later, a rancher came out of nowhere and told us to get off the pier as he pointed out the large sign. I didn’t bother to ask why, just herded the boys off with my tail between my legs.
We walked back along the shore trying to find a place that looked decent enough to fish from that wasn’t covered with seaweed. Kian was lagging behind us and then suddenly I heard him call out for help. His shoe got stuck and came off in a puddle of muck about a foot deep. I had to run back and trudge in after him because he thought he was sinking in quicksand. I rescued him and his shoe, only to see Kaveh mindlessly following behind me into the muck as well. So now we all had muddy shoes to wear back into my freshly detailed car. We tried fishing again with no luck at all. The kids never really got the hang of casting and their lines kept tangling up and it kept getting hotter and I couldn’t stop sweating into my bleeding eyeballs and our mackerel kept flying off until I finally blurted out, “That’s it, I quit! We’re leaving! I’m never going fishing again!”
Kaveh and Kian weren’t quite ready to go home yet so they kept casting, but I couldn’t take it anymore so started walking back ahead of them. They finally saw that I meant business so grudgingly followed along behind me. I turned my pole in and promptly went to the restroom to scrub the disgusting fish grease off my hands and sunglasses. During this time, my kids arrived to return their poles, but somehow Kaveh’s reel was completely empty of line. The guy behind the desk gave him a confused look but didn’t say anything else about it. He had apparently been dragging his hook on the ground because when we walked outside, I noticed his line stretched out hundreds of feet out the door and down the path! I asked him how in the world he didn’t realize his line was spinning out, but he just shrugged his shoulders. Years later, he admitted that he knew it was coming out but just hoped he wouldn’t get caught so didn’t say anything.
Now I don’t pretend to understand how my mind works, but I hadn’t given up on fishing after that epic fail of a day. Just because that day sucked, doesn’t mean we wouldn’t enjoy it the next time. We could try again when it’s cooler and just use a different bait! For Christmas, I surprised them with shiny new fishing poles and a tackle box.
Pooneh laughed her head off, saying how it was the dumbest Christmas gift I ever bought and a waste of money, almost as bad as the snow skis I got for everyone the year before. She made me return the skis for the obvious reason that they would grow out of them in a year, and she doesn’t ski often enough to own a pair. I remained obstinate that I would make good use them, but ten years later I used them a total of two times.
Kian had enough that first day and never wanted to fish again, but Kaveh was willing to give it another go. Off we went back to Irvine Lake, walking toward the shore like Andy Griffith and Opie with our new poles resting back atop our shoulders. I even tried whistling but never really developed the knack. I gave up after making the same monotone sound that could barely be heard over Kaveh laughing about pursing my lips the wrong way.
Believe it or not, we actually had an enjoyable day. We used a much cleaner bait this time and the weather was perfect. The lady next to us got a bite and was kind enough to let Kaveh reel it in for his first fish ever, and then we each caught a few more after that. I guess I just had to knock that off my bucket list because we never went fishing again after that.
As they grew older, we encouraged our boys to engage in sports which of course they enjoyed immensely. As a kid, I played Little League baseball and was happy that my dad stayed involved by helping to coach my teams. I also played football and mushball at the park with my friends and occasional basketball but didn’t really join any other organized sports until I started swimming in eighth grade and high school. I am glad I did because it’s one of those sports that you can continue throughout life. I still enjoy swimming laps a few times per week just to stay in shape and train for triathlons.
My dad swam for his high school team and taught me how to swim when I was about five years old, so naturally I couldn’t wait to teach my own kids how to swim. For some reason, they were both very apprehensive about learning anytime I was in a pool with them, no matter what approach I tried to take. They weren’t afraid of going in the water as long as they had their floaties on or stayed in the shallow end. I do remember taking Kaveh to Mexico when he was one year old. When we brought him down to the beach, we weren’t sure if he was scared by the waves or what, but he kept pointing and waving his finger at them with attitude, yelling, “No ocean! No ocean!” as though he could stop the waves just because he said so. I guess it wasn’t much different from the time I politely told the bear to go away with a rock in my hand.
One weekend afternoon, we went swimming at Pooneh’s uncle’s pool, and it seemed like as good a time as any to try teaching them again. But as soon as I came toward Kaveh with that well-intentioned but determined look in my eyes, he started whining again, “No Daddy, I don’t want you to teach me to swim!” I didn’t want to put it off any longer, so I told him he would be fine and proceeded to take those stupid floaties off his arms. Even though I never let go of him, the more I tried, the more he screamed and yelled. After a few minutes of this, I realized everyone was staring at me like I was torturing the poor kid. Pooneh came running outside, clearly alarmed. “What are you doing to him? I can hear him screaming from inside the house. That’s enough!” At this point, I turned toward Kian only to see him frantically scrabbling out of the pool already with a panicked look on his face.
I was totally frustrated and couldn’t understand why they were so afraid of learning how to swim. Feeling like a complete failure, I decided they were going to have to learn from a formal instructor. Kaveh did much better with the instructor, but Kian screamed for the entire half hour lesson. I was completely disgusted with his relentless screaming, but the instructor was very patient and finally able to calm him down after a couple of lessons. Even after overcoming their fear of learning how to swim on their own, they still never showed any interest in joining a swim club, so it was time to seek out another sport.
We enrolled them in Karate because we figured this would teach them discipline, coordination, balance, and courage—all skills that should carry over to any sport they choose going forward. Kaveh was six but Kian was only four years old. He was the littlest kid in the class, and he had grown out this really awesome curly hair around that time. Tucked into his white “gi” (robe) like a jedi youngling, it was adorable but also impressive to see such a little guy execute these “punch and kick” routines with such focus, fluency, and speed.
Kaveh was getting especially athletic since he was a couple years older, so it was really exciting to watch him spar with the other kids. In his age group, they were allowed to strike at the head, so they wore protective, padded helmets. During one tournament that I’ll never forget, he made it to the final match and was sparring for first place against a boy whose father works with me at the hospital. They were pretty evenly matched and were tied up two to two. Next strike wins. I was sitting on the edge of my seat in anticipation as they squared up for the final match. It felt like I was watching my own son in the Karate Kid movie. I even pictured his “combatant” to be the mean guy Johnny from the movie for dramatic effect, even though he was probably the nicest boy I’d ever met. They exchanged some punches a few times but so far no clean blows. I started cheering him on, “Come on Kaveh!” Then he landed a spectacular roundhouse kick to the side of his head, knocking him to the ground to win the tournament! I thrust my fist into the air and roared, “Oh Yeah! Nice!”—perhaps a little too enthusiastically. Rising half-way out of my chair with elation, I quickly remembered that his mom and dad were sitting right next to me. The poor kid had tears in his eyes and a small bruise next to his eye. Nevertheless, he stood right back up, shook Kaveh’s hand and said, “Good job.” I tried to make it up to his parents by saying I was sorry he kicked their son in the head.
At the end of their karate sessions the instructors would play different games such as dodge ball with the kids. They used a soft spongy ball but really whipped it at each other, especially the older kids and coaches, and they had a blast. I always wanted to join in because it looked like so much fun, but parents weren’t allowed for obvious reasons. Instead, we would play it in our backyard, usually the two of them against me or Kaveh against Kian and me. We used a half-deflated Mickey Mouse mini soccerball, still soft but a little heavier than the one they used at karate. Kian had this unlucky misfortune of accidentally getting repeatedly struck in the head with balls, whether we played catch with football or basketball or whatever. It happened so often that I told him he must have a “ball magnet” in his head. I remember picking the dodgeball up from the far end of the yard against the wall and when I charged toward them, they quickly ran back to escape my range. Before they could get any further away, I launched it all the way across the yard, and I could see the perfect trajectory, almost in slow motion, as it approached Kian’s unsuspecting head as he tried his hardest to outrun it. Of course, this was ultimately futile for him because he had a magnet in his head. It struck him right in the back of his poor little curly head, knocking him forward onto the ground. He was understandably upset and lied on the ground crying while Kaveh laughed at him. It was so unbelievable that it actually happened again in such dramatic fashion that I couldn’t stop laughing while I hugged him and apologized at the same time. This just made him more upset, so he stormed into the house with an angry red face and that was the end of the game. Note to self: Never laugh at your child when he is hurt or upset, it doesn’t cheer him up.
They moved on from karate after a few years and started soccer which they played for years as their primary sport, along with flag football a few years after that. In my opinion, soccer is the best sport for young kids to play since they are always moving, always get a chance at kicking the ball, and they develop skills to play together as a team. If anyone makes a mistake, it is quickly forgotten, and they move on to the next opportunity to make a play. I can still remember how I would feel when I struck out or missed an easy fly ball in baseball or dropped an easy catch in football at that age. All action stopped, all attention seemed to be focused on me, and then I had to wait a while for the next opportunity to make up for it, leaving me to dwell on my error.
Pooneh was very familiar with soccer since she grew up in Iran and her brother played a lot so she suggested they try it. I never played or watched it when I was younger, so it was all very new to me. It took me a while to figure out when to take a corner kick and when to take a goal kick, and I still haven’t completely figured out the off-sides rule. Hardly a game would go by without me complaining and debating with somebody about how stupid I thought that rule was. Shouldn’t the defense just stay back and guard so that nobody passes them up on the way to the goal? Anyhow, they all just shook their heads and laughed at my apparently baseless argument.
One evening after practice, I made Kaveh laugh out loud for about ten minutes straight by trying to juggle the stupid ball up and down on my foot. I never got the hang of hacky sack as a teenager and certainly couldn’t get the hang of this either. One of his teammates was incredulous that Kaveh was such a good soccer player while I looked so uncoordinated and hopeless. He stared at me for a while, then looked back at Kaveh and asked him earnestly, “Is that really your dad? Are you adopted or something?”
I would strongly recommend getting kids started in organized sports early on. Not only do they meet new friends with each team they play on, but we got to meet new friends as well by talking to other parents along the sidelines and hanging out at team parties. Sports also build confidence and motivation, develop skills like strength, coordination and stamina, cultivate an environment for kids to socialize and work together as a team, and keeps them busy and out of trouble. I can definitely say it helped in all these areas and more with my own kids.
Now this is the part where I get to brag a little bit! Kian, who has grown up from that cute little four-year-old body to a towering six foot four, played tight end for his high school football team, bounced back quickly from repairing a tendon in his knee, and is currently starting at middle on his varsity volleyball team, blocking and hammering spikes down onto the opposing team’s heads. He also enjoys coaching younger kids in flag football.
Kaveh went on to play four sports including track, soccer, volleyball, and football where he was named MVP and scholar athlete of the year, as well as player of the year on offense (receiver), defense (safety/cornerback), and special teams (kicker, punter, and returner) through the years. For a new high school in only their second varsity season, they went on to sweep the competition in Irvine, becoming the Pacific Coast League champions. He is now playing wide receiver for Carnegie Mellon where he is studying to be a mechanical engineer.
These are my sentimental favorite stories from my parenting years. Beginning with a series of bone-headed missteps that reach near epic proportions, I finally earn a bit of success and redemption.
Based on my good memories of Easter as a child, I looked forward to carrying on the tradition for my kids. Every year, we went to my grandparents’ home the night before Easter for dinner and colored the eggs with them. My aunts were older teenagers at the time that showed us little tricks on egg coloring to make them more beautiful and unique. Rob and I would wake up early the next morning and head downstairs in our pajamas to begin the hunt for the eggs, candy kisses, jellybeans, and the giant Easter baskets for each of us. My mom would even add the “magic touch” by dipping her thumb and two or three fingers in flour and dab the Easter Bunny’s “footprints” along the rug throughout the house.
After the hunt, we all sat down for breakfast before going to church. My dad always cracked open his hard-boiled eggs on his forehead just for fun, and we thought that was pretty damn funny for some reason. Since then, I started cracking them open the same way, and my kids got a good laugh out of it too.
One Monday morning after Easter, we got ready for work while Kaveh and Kian showered and dressed up for picture day at school. During breakfast, I grabbed an egg out of the refrigerator that looked like a failed coloring experiment because it turned out an ugly brown instead of brightly colored red or yellow. I told Kaveh to crack it open on his head to see what it feels like. He said he didn’t want to because he thought it would hurt. I reassured him that it wouldn’t hurt because the shell gets softer when you boil it, but he still wouldn’t give it a try. I figured that once he had one cracked on his head, he would see that it doesn’t really hurt, so I impulsively reached across the table and bonked it on his head. Of all times, this egg seemed to have had a harder shell and didn’t break open. It just hurt him like he thought it would. He looked up at me with surprise and exasperation and yelled out “Hey!”
I felt sorry for him as he sat there with his eyes scrunched tight and holding his hands over his sore forehead. I figured I must have had a bad angle on it, so when he least suspected, I snuck behind him and cracked it open right on the top of his head. To my disbelief, raw egg and yoke spilled all over the top of his freshly shampooed hair! Oh, so that was why it didn’t crack open the first time, I realized. It wasn’t a hardboiled easter egg after all, just an organic egg with a brown shell.
“Daddy, why did you do that!” he cried out. I told him I was so sorry, that I didn’t know it hadn’t been boiled, but he didn’t believe me. He ran upstairs to tell Mommy with the egg matted all over his hair and dripping into his face on picture day.
These damn brown eggs became an issue on the following Easter when I went to the store and absent-mindedly bought the organic ones out of force of habit. Pooneh took them out of the grocery bag and looked at me like I was an idiot. “How do you expect the kids to color brown eggs?” Back to the store I went, shaking my head without even saying a word.
It wasn’t always easy being the Easter bunny. Kaveh caught me red-handed hiding the eggs one night when he snuck out of the room and spied on me from the top of the stairs. Luckily, he was only two years old, so I made up some story like I was just pretending until the real Easter Bunny came. He bought it and completely forgot about it afterwards.
Since the Persian New Year usually fell around the same time as Easter, and the No Ruz parties were always on a Saturday night, we often drove home late the night before Easter Sunday, feeling totally exhausted and sleepy. Nevertheless, I would dutifully stay up as long as it took to hide the eggs, candy, and Easter baskets. One April Saturday night when Kaveh was about seven years old, he said he wanted to go to bed early because the Easter Bunny was coming. My eyeballs just about bulged out of their sockets because I had completely spaced it. “Are you sure tomorrow is Easter already?”
“Yes Daddy, all the kids and teachers at school were talking about it,” he replied.
I asked Pooneh, but she wasn’t sure either.
I couldn’t believe I’d forgotten Easter! I didn’t have any eggs colored, Easter baskets, or even any candy to hide. After we put the kids to bed, I ran out to the store hoping they hadn’t closed yet. I bought the Easter baskets and candy, but it was too late to boil and color the eggs. I improvised by buying colored plastic eggs instead and filled them with jellybeans, candy kisses, and dollar bills. I went to bed feeling satisfied and relieved that I didn’t spoil their Easter Sunday. I would never have forgiven myself for that lapse because Kaveh would have started disbelieving in the Easter Bunny and the magic would be lost.
The next morning, we all had a blast finding the eggs and candy, and to my surprise, they even liked the plastic eggs better than real eggs because they each had a different surprise in them. In fact, Kaveh had become a little apprehensive when breaking open the hard-boiled colored eggs after that incident the year before. I called my parents to wish them a Happy Easter, but my mom laughed and said “What do you mean? Easter isn’t today, it’s next Sunday!”
I was dumbfounded. I just sat in stunned silence for a few seconds before I could reply. “You’ve got to be kidding me.” I didn’t know what to say to the kids, so I didn’t say anything at all.
When I picked them up from school the next day, they had very perplexed expressions on their faces. I asked what was wrong and they explained, “Our friends at school and even our teacher said Easter wasn’t yesterday, it is next Sunday. So why did the Easter Bunny come to our house yesterday and hide everything a week early?”
I had a day to think about my reply, so I had a ready response, “Because the Easter Bunny has so many houses to go to on Easter that goes to some houses early.”
They didn’t seem to be satisfied with my answer but let it go for the moment. On the way home, Kaveh asked, “Daddy?” Uh-oh, I knew what was coming. I looked at him through my rearview mirror and saw him staring back at me with a cute little know-it-all grin. “You’re the Easter Bunny, aren’t you?” I denied it until we got home and then pulled him aside. I admitted that I was, but that I didn’t want to say it in front of Kian because it is more fun for him to believe in the Easter Bunny at his age. He kept his word, so at least the magic of Easter would live on in Kian’s mind for another year or two.
Now that Kaveh knew there was no Easter Bunny, he began having his doubts about Santa Claus too. He wrote a letter to Santa and told me to mail it to the North Pole. It read: “Dear Santa, are you real or not?” It broke my heart, because as much as I liked pretending to be the Easter Bunny, he was no comparison to the “Big Man in Red,” and I wasn’t ready to give him up just yet. Especially for Kian’s sake, who was still only five years old, I really wanted them to believe in the magic of Santa for couple more years.
Several days later, one of my portly patients with a big white beard came to see me in clinic. I joked with him that he should still be busy in the North Pole this time of year, and he replied with a proud smile that, in fact, he has been dressing up as a hired Santa Claus for many years. I explained my situation and he agreed to come by our house on Christmas Eve to surprise my kids. Pooneh became so excited that she invited our friends and their young daughter, Ava, over for dinner. I told him to call me when he arrived so that I could sneak out to give him the letter that Kaveh wrote. I also gave him three gifts to personally hand out to each child. I told Pooneh to be sure to have all three kids open the door when he rang the doorbell. Meanwhile, I strategically positioned myself on the porch so that I could get a picture of their surprised expressions when they answered the door.
They couldn’t believe what they were seeing! Here was Santa at our home, dressed in the most magnificent Santa suit I had ever seen. He had Kaveh’s letter in his hand and held it out to him. “Is this your letter I have in my hand?”
Kaveh let out a sheepish whisper, “Yes.”
Santa stooped forward, casting his gaze directly into his eyes and asked him to touch his beard. “Tell me, is this real?”
“Well, what do you think of me now?” Santa asked earnestly as a smile slowly crept across his cheeks.
Kaveh didn’t say another word but flashed a beaming smile and lurched in for a great big hug around his waist with Kian and Ava quickly joining in.
He sat down on the couch with them and began to read from his own authentic looking tome of Christmas stories. Then he put the book aside and recited the poem “T’was the night before Christmas” from memory while they gazed upon him with reverence and adoration, as if in a dream. He wasn’t finished yet as he went on to eloquently explain what he felt the magic of Christmas and “believing” was all about, and summarized by saying, “As long as you believe in me, I will always be real, no matter how old you are. Don’t ever forget that.”
He finished up the visit by sitting each child on his lap in turn and handing them the gift that they had asked for, while we took lots of pictures. As he was leaving, we walked him out to the porch to thank him and say our last goodbye. Kaveh looked around and asked him where his sleigh and reindeer were. Santa said he had to park them in the nearby mountains because they get scared by the noisy cars. Wow, quick thinking and nice answer, I thought to myself. I couldn’t have been more impressed with my hired Santa, and Kaveh was once again a true believer. In fact, his whole class became believers after he told them that Santa actually came to his house, and Kaveh himself became somewhat of a school celebrity!
Unfortunately, it only lasted until a year or two later when he found the wrapping paper that Santa had brought his gifts in, hidden in the guest room closet.
A couple of years later, we moved into our new house. It had a big backyard that was still just dirt, so we got to design it how we liked and that included a pool. I always wanted a pool of my own, especially now that I had kids, because some of my fondest memories were swimming in my grandparents’ pool every summer. Safety was obviously a big concern since our kids were only three and five years old at the time, so we had them put a fence around it, and anytime they were near the pool, we wouldn’t take our eyes off of them, not even for a second. We waited all summer long with great anticipation as they slowly built our pool, and I couldn’t wait to take my first dip.
As circumstances would have it, the first day we could finally swim turned out to be a cold, overcast day with the temperatures in the fifties, whereas the rest of the week was in the eighties. I wasn’t about to wait another day though since I had to go back to work the next day. “Kids, let’s go swimming!” They were more excited than I was, so we all put on our suits, grabbed some towels, and headed out. The water was fresh out of the hose only a couple days ago, so it was about as cold as the weather. Our excitement overruled any discomfort, and besides we had a shallow area that was just a couple inches above my ankles.
I brought out the video camera to film the kids’ first foray into the pool. As they were splashing around, I looked down at the camera which I figured was not even for a second to turn it on and to see if it was recording. Suddenly, I heard Kaveh yelling, “DADDY, DADDY!” I looked up and saw that Kian had wandered too far out and fallen off the step into the deeper part of the pool. His head was bobbing up and down, gulping for air and struggling to keep afloat. I was standing only about three steps away from him, so I dropped the camera and was able to grab him quickly out of the water. He didn’t even cry, and we told him how impressed we were that he was able to keep himself up like he did.
Pooneh came home a few minutes later, hustled us all inside, and wondered what had inspired me to take these kids out in the cold pool on such a blustery, gloomy day so they can get sick. I’m just glad she didn’t have to witness his head bobbing up and down in the water. I learned a hard lesson: what may seem like “not even a second” when you are distracted by something else, can easily become longer than you think.
A couple months later I went out with the kids to the pool after a windy day to clean out the leaves with a skimmer. I remember thinking how relaxed I was and lost in my thoughts as they sat on the deck playing and watching me do what dads do. I was standing on the fire pit and went to step down to the deck level. Instead of watching where I was stepping, I had my eyes on the kids so that I didn’t whack them with the long skimmer I was holding. The next thing I knew my foot never touched the deck; it plunged about three feet straight down into the pool, and I was helpless to catch myself from falling. My head and face slammed down onto the flagstone border with such impact that it broke my sunglasses and I nearly passed out. I started moaning and groaning and bleeding profusely from somewhere on my face. I got up but had to sit right back down again for a few minutes because my head was throbbing, and I also felt pretty dizzy. Kaveh and Kian looked worried and kept asking if I was ok. I just knew I had to get back inside to get the kids away from the pool.
I looked in the mirror to see what damage had been done and saw that I was bleeding from my upper cheek next to my eye. I sat down on the couch with ice on my face in agonizing pain to collect my thoughts. By this time, my kids weren’t too concerned about me anymore. They were running all over the place, chasing and fighting each other, and generally just being really annoying. I kept telling them to stay inside but they wouldn’t listen.
I called Pooneh at work to tell her what happened and to see if she could get off early to watch the kids while I went to lie down. She heard all of the chaotic yelling from the kids and my voice was pretty shaky, so she got really worried. She said she would come home as soon as she can. She called back about five minutes later to check on me and let me know she was leaving, but things had finally settled down, and I didn’t feel like getting up again to answer the phone. She tried again and finally Kaveh answered. She asked him what we were doing and why I wasn’t answering the phone. He said I was laying down on the couch and Kian was playing outside (even though he was actually in the bathroom). I asked him who was on the phone but she already hung up. Figuring I had been rendered unconscious, she called 911 to check on me and the kids.
About two minutes later, five big strapping paramedics and firemen showed up at my doorstep. They sat me down and assessed how I was doing with questions and brief exam. This really freaked the kids out, and they both started crying and calling out to me from across the room, “Daddy, are you going to be ok?” The paramedics were really great with talking to them and provided them both with plastic fireman hats which they thought were the coolest thing ever, so they quickly forgot about me again and started playing firemen.
Pooneh came home just as they were leaving and took me to the emergency room for a CT scan. The doctor told me there was no bleeding into my brain, but that I broke my face in two places and probably had a concussion. He put a couple stitches in the gaping wound next to my eye and referred me to a specialist. I guess one could say I was lucky because it could easily have been much worse. I could have passed out and rolled into the pool, and I don’t think my kids would have been strong enough to pull me out or even lift my head out of the water.
Another episode that nearly took my life and left my kids fatherless was when I went hiking by myself on a trail called Bear Canyon near Mount Baldy. I was on my way back and decided to put on my headphones and listen to a Furthur concert that I had just been to and downloaded. I thought it would enhance the atmosphere to hike with music in the background, but instead it just distracted me from my Zen state of mind that I like to maintain when hiking in beautiful nature. As I was taking off the headphones and fiddling with my phone, I happened to glance ahead and saw a humongous black bear climbing up the hill and stopped on the trail just ten feet in front of me, effectively blocking my path home. She didn’t look aggressive or agitated, but rather just calmly stared at me without moving.
I remembered back to the last time I encountered a bear at Kings Canyon National Park. A couple of experience hikers started banging two big sticks together to scare it away and shouted, “Go away bear!” This worked and the poor frightened bear sauntered back up the mountain. With this in mind, I backed up a couple steps and uttered the same phrase, “Go away bear.” However, seeing how close she was, I didn’t want to alarm her, so I didn’t shout it in a threatening manner like the hikers; I just kind of suggested it. Needless to say, she didn’t budge and just kept staring at me like I was an idiot. Then I heard some more rustling coming up the hill, and to my horror, her cub arrived to join her.
Knowing how aggressive and protective a mother bear could be when her cub is threatened, I figured I was probably going to be dead and torn apart within a couple minutes. I vividly recall a sinking sensation in my chest and thinking that God wasn’t being fair. I felt that I didn’t deserve to die so young with a loving family at home wondering where I was. I searched around for anything I could use to defend myself which was a big rock on the ground. As they both continued to stare at me, I picked it up and repeated my warning to them, “Go away bear.” I realized that I was probably doing the one thing I shouldn’t be doing, which was threatening the bears with a stupid rock and warning them with words that bears couldn’t possibly comprehend. Therefore, I decided to take a different approach. I turned my back to them and walked away without looking back, literally entrusting my life to blind faith. I got about ten feet before I turned around to look, and to my relief they continued their trek up the mountainside. I thanked God and apologized for being too judgy towards Him. Nevertheless, the whole way home I kept freaking out and jumping like a schoolgirl by every creeping, scurrying, or rustling sound I heard around me.
A dad’s memoir would not be complete without a couple of good poop stories.
Diaper changing was something that I never had any experience with and wasn’t looking forward to at all. Of course, I got used to it like everybody else does, and it turned out not to be such a big deal after all…. well, most of the time. You see, Kaveh had this habit of always double pooping, so if you changed him too soon, then he just pooped again within a few minutes into his clean diaper and the fun begins again. He would also decide to poop as soon as we brought him home from daycare. I often grumbled and complained about his poor timing. “Why can’t he poop before he leaves daycare, so they can change him, and we can at least get our money’s worth?” Pooneh thought all this was because he was cute, “Awe, he just likes to poop in the comfort of home,” or “He just likes to poop in a clean diaper.” To me, however, this became quite annoying after a while since I hate doing double work. Therefore, I developed a strategy to wait about five to ten minutes after I first detected the odor so that I wouldn’t have to change him twice. Pooneh reminded me that his skin could get irritated and inflamed if I let him sit in his poop for too long, and then I’d have to be the one to apply that soothing cream or baby powder every few hours, so that strategy didn’t work out. Later on, after he was potty-trained, he would always say he had to go to the restroom just as my hot dinner was placed in front of me at a restaurant, which meant that I had to stand and wait for five minutes in the bathroom for him until he finished.
One day, Pooneh had to be at work earlier than me, so I had the duty of getting the kids ready for daycare. I was already running late for work because of my own toilet commitment but had the kids fed and dressed, their bottles ready and diaper bag restocked, and I was ready to go. I proceeded to carry Kian, who was only a few months old, into the car but smelled that familiar odor that I really didn’t have time to deal with that morning. I thought about just leaving it and having them change him at the daycare by claiming he pooped along the way, but I couldn’t bring myself to stoop so low. Besides, his butt might turn bright red by then and I’d be to blame.
I figured what’s another few minutes late, so I dropped everything and began to change him. I got him all cleaned up and placed a fresh diaper underneath. I was just about to close the diaper when I was startled by his grunt. What followed happened so fast, but I remember it as if it were in slow motion, as a stream of diarrhea shot out of his butt and straight at my face! With a quick reaction (one that I attribute to my 3 months of kung-fu training twenty years before), I held up my hand to block the incoming assault, such that my entire palm was covered and dripping with his warm, smelly diarrhea. The velocity of the impact against my palm caused a splatter effect all over him and the changing table. I looked from my hand, back to Kian, and back to my hand again in disbelief. Then it struck me that my quick actions spared me from getting any on my clothes or the Persian rug beneath me, “Oh, great!” I exclaimed in triumph. Kian was sporting a big smile, and I could swear he was laughing at me. I didn’t know where to begin at this point since it was such an unmitigated disaster but started by cleaning my gooey brown hand with baby wipes. After I got him cleaned and changed, I had to rinse off the soiled blanket, throw it in the washer, and then wash my hands. I double checked my shirt and tie to be sure nothing spattered on me, and finally made it out to the car about twenty minutes later. Now Kaveh had this strange habit of regurgitating fairly easily as a baby, especially if he leaned forward. Sure enough, as soon as I placed him into the car seat, he vomited all over his shirt and my hands. “Come on, that’s enough!” All I could do at that point was wipe it off as best I could and dropped him off at daycare with a big puke stain on his shirt. Oh well, I figured it would dry off soon enough.
We had another airplane incident on the way back from Hawaii, this time it was Kian when he was about one year old. Kian had wet himself just as we were getting seated so Pooneh went to change him. She came back with a look of consternation on her face. I asked what was wrong and she said that was the last diaper in the bag. We had just bought a new pack before we left, unfortunately I packed it in our suitcase which we checked at the gate, without thinking to restock the diaper bag. It was a five-hour flight, but we were hopeful that since we just changed him, we might be able to make it to the next airport before needing to change him again.
Naturally, it didn’t work out that way because five minutes later he pooped. We had to go around the plane to spot any mommies with babies and humbly beg one of them for a diaper. It was certainly embarrassing but also comical in a way, and luckily some obliging woman provided one for us. She got him cleaned and changed again just in time to get back in her seat for takeoff. About a half hour into the flight, we smelled exactly what we didn’t want to smell once again. We held out a brief hope that it was just a fart, but the dense smell was unmistakable and unyielding in its potency. We had a heated and tense debate about whether or not to go asking around for yet another diaper. In the end, we came up with a more subdued solution. After she cleaned him, she wrapped him up in a huge wad of paper towels from the bathroom. As an added touch, the stewardess provided her with duct tape to secure in place, which incidentally adds to the endless list of uses for this most handy of items! When she brought him back to the seat she couldn’t stop laughing. Kian was wrapped with so many paper towels that he was puffed out to twice his usual size. Thankfully, we made it the rest of the way to the airport without having another accident or a red butt. We understood without saying that either of us could have checked the diaper bag before we left, so for once I didn’t have to shoulder all of the blame for this particular blunder…and it felt pretty good.
Another funny little story is when Kian was getting potty trained. He was only two years old, but we knew he was ready the night he put on a performance for the whole family on camera and changed his diaper on his own. Sometime later, we were all seated at the dinner table when he said he had to go potty. We both smiled at him and said, “Ok, go on to the potty! You can do it!” He got up like a big boy, dropped his diaper, stood in front of the toilet, and peed without making any mess. We could see him down the hall from where we were sitting, and we congratulated him for such a good job. Then his eyes got big and said he had to go poopy too.
I said, “That’s ok, you can do it, just go right ahead.”
“Ok, Daddy” he said, then lets out a little grunt and plops a big soft pile of slop right on the bathroom floor as he’s standing there facing the toilet. I guess we should have reminded him to sit down for that part.