Pet Shop Boys

January 23, 2018

On my honeymoon, I made a miscalculation. I decided that it would be a good idea to snorkel 7 of Kauai’s beaches in one day. It wasn’t the number that I miscalculated, or the mileage that we traveled, or even the time that it would take. My error was in thinking that my new bride would enjoy doing this with me. She wasn’t so excited about the first beach. It might have had something to do with the fact that the early-morning water was cold and there was virtually nothing to see there. Later, she warmed up with the water as we snorkeled around cool rock formations and above sea turtles. But by the end of the day, I was snorkeling the last beach by myself. During this solo snorkel, I watched the sun sink below the horizon, much like my chances of romance for the evening.

While I’ve learned that adventures in repetition are not the way to my wife’s heart, I hold out hope that my kids might one day be as weird as their dad. So when Elliot and I had the chance for a father-son date this weekend, I offered a suggestion.

It actually didn’t start in such a calculated way. I wanted to go somewhere new, but there was nothing that seemed new, exciting, and relatively close by. Animals were also a must, since Elliot is a creature enthusiast. There was a park with a train and a petting zoo, but Elliot isn’t the greatest with long trips and the park was over 90 minutes away. So I threw out an idea.

“Would you like to go to a park with me, Elliot? We can even stop at a Petco along the way.”

One mention of the word Petco and my son was in like cheese in a quesadilla. Upon noticing this reaction, my Spidey senses started to tingle. I pulled up Google Maps. There wasn’t only one Petco between our home and the park. Not two. Not three. But FOUR.

When I announced this idea to my son, he turned into a completely different kid and willingly sat on the potty. Maybe he was scared into urination by the wild look in my eyes.

I packed up snacks, wipes, and coats, and we headed out. Our first stop would be a familiar stop: Petco Napa. But before we got there, I was determined to have a conversation with my son.

When Alice was growing up, I remember her asking relentless questions. She would ask about the weather, body parts, signs that she saw. For some strange reason, she also really liked hearing me ramble about more serious topics like psychology, religion, and philosophy, which she dubbed “grown-up stuff.”

Elliot is more of a quiet traveler. He sits back and observes. Usually when I ask him about his thoughts, he gives brief answers or states “nothing” so his dad will stop talking to him.

So this time, I put out an open invitation. “Elliot, you can ask me about anything that you’ve been wondering, and I’ll try to do my best to answer you.”

He didn’t say anything right away, but then he started opening up. He asked me why cars had keys. He wanted to know if they could start without them. He also inquired about rain and fog. Then he asked something about the Schuyler Sisters from Hamilton. What can I say, the kid has got a mind at work.

Petco 1: Napa

This is a very familiar location for our family. It’s where we got our second cat, Dasher, and we frequently go here when we make a Target run. I hate to give away spoilers, but though the layout of this Petco seems fairly illogical to me, it actually has the most comprehensive collection of animals. It has cats, birds, reptiles, rodents, and fish in abundance. The caretakers of the cats seem to be a group of sisters who really take joy in their job. They know personalities, choose names thoughtfully, and get their kids involved in the whole operation as well. They were very friendly and encouraged us to take a look. We met a cat named Mulligan who seemed to take a shine to Elliot. E also liked the ball pythons, which he named Slidy and Slicky. His only disappointment was that the chameleon habitat was empty.

Petco 2: Vallejo

The nice thing about doing this Petco pub crawl is that it really broke up the trip. This Petco was in a fairly nice location, with lots of restaurants and stores around. It had the strongest fish game, with a full wall of fish tanks. However, Elliot did note that a quarter of the aquariums were just aquatic plants. Unfortunately, there were just a couple of cats here, and a cat overseer who was not into making eye contact. It had a decent number of reptiles, and Elliot had fun watching some bearded dragons chowing down on lettuce. The chameleon cage indicated that a critter would be coming soon.

Petco 3: Martinez

A fortunate bit of serendipity occurred with the timing of our trip. We happened to go on a day where Petco brought in more kittens for adoption. We didn’t necessarily see evidence of this in the first two Petcos, as Napa usually has quite a few cats and Vallejo was relatively barren. Although the Martinez Petco has no reptiles, very few birds, and a less impressive assortment of fish, it does have a fat chinchilla. It also has the most impressive collection of cats, with cage on cage on cage of felines, probably near 20 in total. Elliot chatted with midnight, fell in love with Kink, and felt sorry for Rocket, who slept away while his sister Tinsel was getting adopted. “I’m kind of sad for him,” he said. “Because he’s going to be all by himself.” I think a tear may have formed in his eye. I tried to assure him that Rocket would probably get a home as well, though I was silently relieved that Elliot didn’t see our home as an option. If he did, we may have ended up with cat #3.

Petco 4: Concord

Upon entry, this seemed very impressive. It looked newer, and the wall of fish even had a speaker overhead that emitted watery sound effects. Elliot was not impressed and tried to tell Siri to turn the speaker off. There were no cats here. And though they advertised a chameleon, one was nowhere to be found. Fortunately, Elliot was sure that it was just using camouflage. There was another fat chinchilla here as well, but overall it was a bit of a downer to end our epic pet crawl.

By this point, we were about three hours into our adventure, so I asked Elliot if he wanted to go home or go to the park. “Go to the park,” he said, “because that means we get to have more fun together!” So to the park we went.

At Kennedy Park in Hayward, we saw oversized rabbits. Elliot was nearly mauled by goats who tried to get his ice cream cone of seeds. Although he did get a goat to eat out of his hand, he was clearly wary of them the whole time. We rode the train and he snuggled in tight. He held his breath through the tunnel. We disembarked and went to the playground. He slid down slides on his coat like his sister showed him. He climbed up structures and was too scared to climb others.

Afterwards, we went to Five Guys and he devoured fries like a champ. They were playing Michael Jackson songs over the speakers and he recognized “Bad” from Despicable Me 2. We got an ICEE from Target and we were on our way.

A while later as we approached the Carquinez Bridge, I started to get a bit nostalgic about our adventure. “Elliot, I’ll remember this day forever,” I said.

“I’ll remember it forever and ever,” he replied.

Maybe it was this conversation that caused me to bust out “It’s So Hard to Say Goodbye to Yesterday” at the top of my lungs. I put some feeling into it.

“What’s that song that you’re singing?” he inquired.

I thought that maybe he was moved by my 90s music. Maybe this would be yet another connection we shared. Maybe he could feel the smooth ribbons of soul in my voice.

I explained the song to him. “What do you think of it?” I said eagerly.

“Not very interesting…” he said with a sigh.

Shortly afterward, he fell asleep. He slept all the way home and turned cranky when reinvigorated.

But despite the cranky wake-up, the lack of musical appreciation, and the goat-induced trauma, I know this was worth all the pain. I’ll take with me these memories. This trip was definitely not a miscalculation.

 

 

 

 

 

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The Tell-Tale Heart

December 22, 2017

“When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them.” Luke 2:18

“We’re having ‘Light the Night’ at the church tonight,” Pastor Mark told my students. “Any of you who want to participate should come early. We have costumes and you can help out.”

“Sounds like a great opportunity,” I said, nodding my head supportively to my sixth graders.

Pastor Mark turned to me and adjusted his Seahawks hat. “Did you get my email?” he inquired.

I hadn’t, but I had an idea of what it would be about.

“I sent you an email about tonight,” he said with a grin. “I think you might be a wise man or something.”

Well-played, Pastor Mark, I thought to myself. Well-played.

I had slightly less than 0% enthusiasm for spending my Friday evening playing dress-up with my students. But I checked Pastor Mark’s email anyway. It sounded urgent.

“We are in need of some folks to dress as shepherds, soldiers, and wise men,” it said. “Wendy and I would really appreciate it,” it said. Since there were only five or six of us that received the email, I figured Pastor Mark needed all hands on deck. He’s been kind and generous to me, so I begrudgingly agreed.

When I showed up, my dentist had been crowned and my daughter’s PE teacher was finding his wisebeard uncoachable. Two wise men had been cast, and the third was the professional camel keeper. This meant I was on shepherd duty along with the rest of the elementary students.

I cursed my dearth of camel-keeping skills. I would rather have been a wise man. Not because of the beard, or the headwear, or the fancy threads. Not because my ethnicity made me properly oriented to play one of the three kings. No, the best thing about the wise men in the story is that their job is to NOT tell.

“Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, ‘Go and make a careful search for the child. As soon as yo find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.’” Matthew 2:7-8

“And having been warned in a dream not to back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.” Matthew 2:9

So the wise men got to use their astronomy honor, take a trip, meet the Messiah, drop off their gifts, and then keep their mouths shut.

Sounds pretty good to me. I’ve always been the quiet kid. The introvert. The guy who has to have an internal debate about telling someone their fly is open.

In other words, I’m no shepherd. The angels told the shepherds and the shepherds, who, after getting over their sore-afraidness, went and told everyone on the mountain that Jesus Christ was born. In other words, they weren’t sheepish about spreading the word.

I’ve never been comfortable with telling strangers about my faith. It’s even hard for me to respond to an altar call, because I feel guilty when I don’t stand and fake when I do. Once, while I was flying home, I had a really good conversation about spirituality with another college student, but he was a Christian as well and did most of the talking.

While I lived in Rochester, New York, I attended a very traditional Adventist church. This meant that they were zealous about evangelism. Since I was the principal of the small K-8 school, I ended up preaching sermons, knocking on doors to promote Bible studies, and serving as part of an evangelism team that gathered at the Holiday Inn Express. All of these experiences helped me grow, and nothing was overly traumatic, but they never felt natural. It was like putting on the costume and playing the part.

I’m thankful for those who are willing to tell the good news with a sincere passion. If not for them, I likely wouldn’t even exist. Both sides of my family became Christians because someone was willing to speak up. My mom’s side through a cooking class on Maui and my dad’s in a sugar cane field on Oahu.

However, I don’t believe we all have to be shepherds who proclaim. While certain shepherds brought tidings over the hills and everywhere, there must have some that waited with the flock. There must have been others who calmed the lambs who were recovering from the sheer terror induced by the heavenly host. There must have been others who gathered the stragglers.

As teachers, we have the privilege of watching the flock. Sometimes they lie down in green pastures and lap up the knowledge we give them. Other times they bleat and wander off and try to walk off cliffs. But rather than stay silent, we tell them that they are more than their behavior. They are children who ride with the Prince of Peace. They are displaced for the moment, but eternity awaits them. They are gifts and givers. They are statues hidden in marble. In other words, every day we have a turn at show and tell.

Surprise

December 21, 2017

“How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?” Luke 1:34

Parenthood is a surprise party waiting to happen. Except most of the parties end up with at least one person crying. Elliot was a few months past one and had just started walking. The exhilaration of that milestone lasted a few minutes as a grim reality set in for Sara and me. Our boy was now a mobile alarm clock.

So early one Saturday morning, my son took a bat to my so-called Shabbat. Either Sara had been a saint or I had been a sinner, because on this particular morning, it was my turn to keep the morning watch.

I stumbled into the living room and reached for my guitar. It was simply meant to confuse Mr. Weepy. That’s one thing I learned from my mother-in-law. Why confront when you can distract? It worked. Elliot was intrigued. He started raking his minuscule fingers over the strings. A smile began rising on the horizon. I switched the chords and, much to his father’s delight, he eventually hit a rhythm. This synchronization combined with guilt over writing so many more tunes for his sister ended up in a musical composition:

Took out a guitar and started strumming
Suddenly my boy was playing along
I gave him the chords he supplied the rhythm
Next thing you know we’d written a song

My boy, my boy, my boy is a shiny new penny
A bullet shot right out of a gun
A hailstone bouncing off a rooftop
And every morning he’s a rising son

I’m a big fan of pleasant surprises like that Saturday morning. I like going into a new restaurant with my wife, without the pressure of reviews, and finding something absolutely delicious. I like watching a movie with my daughter, untarnished by a trailer, that ends up making both of us bust up on account of a great pun. I like tossing a ball to my son without actually expecting anything to happen and seeing him grin gleefully as that bouncy orb lands in his sticky hands. In my opinion, the lack of expectation allows for a feeling that isn’t as easily grasped with the burden of high expectations—delight.

Expectations can be draining, because anything short of them results in disappointment. That’s one thing that makes Mary’s reaction to her surprise announcement so impressive. She’s perched atop the highest of stakes: bringing the Savior into the world.

However, she is one cool customer. Granted, when Gabriel first appears to her, she is “greatly troubled.” But her consternation seems to be mainly suspicion directed at a strange angel man telling her she is “favored” without getting into the specifics. Then Gabriel tells her she will be mother to “the Son of the Most High” with “a kingdom that will never end.” Her reaction? Mother of the Messiah, no biggie. She’s concerned about the biology. “How will this be, since I am a virgin?”

After Gabriel explains the womb arrangements, she responds with this: “I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me as you have said.” Mary is cool as ice, unshakeable, a total baller. The next thing we hear is Mary dropping her demo track of the Magnificat. Unburdened by expectations, this teenager was excited about her place in history.

Perhaps, even before her son was born, Mary knew something that it took me nearly 40 years to figure out. Why expect when you can discover? There’s a quote attributed to Michelangelo when he was carving David out of marble. It may be apocryphal, but I believe it contains truth:

“Every block of stone has a statue inside it and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it.”

I heard this quote on a podcast. The host, Rob Bell, was talking about raising kids. Instead of trying to chisel them down to a preconceived image or worse, a reflection of himself, Bell’s idea was to simply remove the layers so that his son and daughter can reach their potential.

At the time, this was like manna to a starving parent. Elliot was on the tail-end of three, and it had easily been my most difficult year as a dad. I had gone to places of frustration, despair, and anger that I didn’t think I would ever go to. It was an ugly side of myself. And it all really stemmed from a desire to control him. To tame him. To chisel him away.

This desire to control is antithetical to the idea of love. I think Jesus’ birth, life, and death highlight this fact. When Jesus arrived on Earth, the religious establishment had boxed God into a handy set of rules that they could use to control people. Jesus shattered the box by emphasizing the freedom that comes with love. In trying to control him one last time, through death, the establishment exposed their ugliness. And because of this, love will win.

Love allows for choice, and with that comes a willing abdication of control. But with that release comes the possibility of my wife surprising me with a book of lullabies. It comes with the hope of my daughter outpunning me at the dinner table. It comes with the thrill of my son writing me an unexpected song. Love allows for the possibility of delight. The possibility for pleasant surprises. Every morning, a new rising sun.

Travel

December 20, 2017

Note: Last week, I led out in staff worship at my school. Since it was the week before Christmas break, I wanted to help foster a festive feeling in my fellow faculty. The short essays focused on the connection between the Christmas story and the modern-day Christmas experience. Hope these pieces find some resonance.

“So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David.” Luke 2:4

Some may find the Christmas story to be rather unrelatable, what with its virgin birth, mangers, and myrrh. But as someone geographically located in the middle of two sets of families, I can appreciate a good story about inconvenient travel.

According to Google Maps, one can hop on the Yitzhak Rabin Highway in Nazareth and start the 97-mile journey to arrive in Bethlehem. It’s a 2-3 hour drive depending on traffic. By comparison, it’s a 491-mile southbound trek along the I-5 to my parents’ house and a harrowing 874-mile adventure northward along I-5 and Highway 97 to my in-laws  in Washington. It is not for the faint of heart, and we’ll be flying north this year. But when we do hit the road, we’ll typically spend 2-3 hours stopping for false potty alarms, using the potty for its intended purposes, and pulling along the roadside when one of us didn’t go potty at the last highly-convenient rest area.

Of course, even with these challenges, I can’t complain or really compare. We haven’t ever made the journey on foot, like Mary and Joseph back in the day, making the trek upward to the 2,350-foot mountain town of Bethlehem. And since my daughter and son were born in September and July, respectively, we haven’t had to travel while Sara was in the full stages of with-childing. However, I am aware this pre-natal challenge would be tough. In the summer of 2009, Sara and I traveled down Highway 1 while she was a mere 7 months pregnant. Not having seen the sights along the California Coast, I suggested that we hike around Big Sur. Although the online review assured me that the trail was easy, it apparently didn’t account for pregnant women and idiot husbands. I wonder if Joseph ever got a death look or two like I did that day. Maybe things would have been better if Sara had been riding on a donkey.

In reading Luke’s narrative, I was rather surprised to find that, just like on that fateful day in Big Sur, there was no donkey. The clip clop clip clop of small donkey’s hooves has been such an indelible part of the story to me, I double-checked Luke 2, scoured Luke 1, and perused Matthew’s account just to be sure. No donkey. Stunningly clipless and clopless.

That’s not to say there wasn’t a donkey. Donkeys were like the Toyotas of Middle East transportation, while horses and camels were like the GMs and Fords. A poorer person would take a donkey as opposed to a horse. But although Jesus was an advocate for the common person, the donkey tradition didn’t seem to develop due to a focus on economy.

There is in fact a record of Jesus riding on a donkey, just out-utero as opposed to in. According to John’s account, “Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it.” Then a crowd gathered with palm branches shouting “Hosanna!” and declaring him king. This scene was a fulfillment of Zechariah’s prophecy:

“Do not be afraid, Daughter Zion; see, your king is coming, seated on a donkey’s colt.”

Apparently, a king riding on a donkey was not a particularly unusual habit for the Jews. Judges and 2 Samuel both talk about royal households with such aspirations. However, despite this kingly endorsement, a donkey still doesn’t seem particularly fitting for a king. It doesn’t have the gravitas of the horse.

And therein lies the point. While today, we would still associate a horse with the charge of war, most wouldn’t necessarily associate a donkey with peace. Especially when you consider the hostilities between Democrats and Republicans. But the Israelites did, and so this may explain all the clip clopping associated with the Christmas story. Kings who rode on horses showed that they were ready for war, while the donkey kings were signifying peace.

So we cannot be certain that Joseph held himself steady as Mary struggled to mount up on a small donkey. We don’t know that small donkey’s hooves clip clopped a rhythm as Joseph hummed the Shema to his son. We have no surety that Mary patted the faithful donkey’s head, taking in its colors and textures so she could make a straw-stuffed likeness for the baby jostling inside of her.

But I’d like to think that Jesus came at a time to catch the right type of transportation. One not nearly as convenient as some. Not a horse-drawn carriage, or a Mustang turned Uber, but a donkey that symbolized a most stubborn hope. The hope of peace. A true holiday aspiration for all travelers.

I love that my kids have a sense of humor. I guess almost every kid does. And although my kids laugh at passed gas as much as the next guy, they also find the funny in so many other ways. This week, the silliness came in spades, so I thought it would be great to remember a few of these moments.

Episode 3

Sometimes I like to pun with my kids at the dinner table. You know, like normal dads do. So I asked Alice the following question: “What kind of hat does a grizzly wear when it goes to Mexico?” Alice was a little stumped, so I gave some clues. “What do you call a hat that someone might wear in Mexico?” That’s when Elliot jumped in.

E: A som-brero?

Me: Yes! So what would you call a hat that a grizzly might wear?

E: A som-bear-o!

That was probably the first time that Elliot really got a pun, and definitely the first one he has gotten before his sister. He seemed pretty proud of himself, or maybe that’s just me projecting.

Episode 2

This week was parent-teacher conference week. In between my meetings, Sara and I met with Alice’s teacher. We let the kids wait in my classroom. I set them up with the scratch paper to draw on, not thinking what was on the other side.

When we returned, Alice was very excited about showing me the paper. I assumed she had made an interesting drawing of a Catstronaut or a fox, but instead she was showing me a page with writing on it. Apparently, I had given her some of my extra literature worksheets. She had taken the time to fill out answers to the questions from one of my sixth-grade books. Here are some examples:

Question 2: Why was Neftali so nervous about talking to Uncle Orlando?

Answer 2: Because he was a Minion.

Question 12: In the final scene of this chapter, the author ends with these dramatic words from Neftali: “Nor will they silence mine.” Based on this scene and your reading, write down a specific prediction.

Answer 12: The world will turn into a paper towel dispenser.

This is the kind of thing that I loved to do in middle school (and probably the main reason why I was so popular then). I would still do it now under the right circumstances. Aside from her absurdity, I was also impressed that she seemed to have a basic understanding of the questions.

Episode 1

Sara recently purchased two giant beanbags for the kids. They like to move them around the house and jump on them. On this particular Saturday, Alice had the idea of acting like something falling into something else. For example, a raindrop falling into a puddle, with the beanbag being the puddle. She did a few herself and then asked for suggestions. So then I just started giving her these weirdly specific scenarios. We did them rapid fire, one after the other. Elliot was extremely delighted by her theatrics, and he eventually joined in on a few himself. She never once hesitated. She asked for more and more until we had probably done at least 30. Most of them just involved her using a loud voice and falling face first, but there were a few that stood out. Here are a few of my favorites:

A baby falling into a toilet

This sounds darker then it was. She just fully committed to the urgency of the moment and then her brother joined along. The fall and the screams for “Mommy!” were pretty great.

A hairdryer falling into a bucket of orange juice

This one was one of Alice’s suggestions. The sound effects of the hairdryer were pretty great to start, and then she ended with the line “These are definitely clogging up some of my systems!”

An alien falling into a high school Spanish class

Fortunately, my daughter doesn’t know much about immigration, since I intended this to be about a space alien instead of the pejorative term used to describe someone from another country. Alice walked over with making loud noises while gesticulating like a disco enthusiast on a caffeine high. Then she fell on the bean bag and proclaimed, “Hola!” Like she saw all the kids staring at her and wanted to try and act all casual.

So there you have it. Just an attempt to make something that could be ephemeral into something memorable. Like when the world becomes a paper towel dispenser, dispensing three sheets at a time.

 

Shiny

April 13, 2017

Rainbow soap suds streamed down the Toyota Sienna’s windows as my son and daughter squealed with delight. We were in the car wash. It was out of necessity. There was a stretch of I-5 where I thought I heard rain under a cloudless sky. I’m pretty sure the pitter pitter pat was bug bodies colliding with my windshield. The three of us sat transfixed as the soap and spray washed it clean.

The car wash is one of the most underrated family destinations. It doesn’t cost too much, lasts longer than most Disneyland rides, inspires a sense of awe, conserves a significant amount of water and time, and actually cleans your car.

This car wash did not disappoint.

“Our car is the funniest of them all!”

“It’s a thunderstorm!”

“I almost tooted.”

There was lots and lots of laughter. They were locked in on the sights and sounds.

After the car wash, we were happy and we knew it. But instead of clapping our hands or stomping our feet, we played some improv games.

Last spring, my in-laws came over and I drove my daughter and niece back from a zoo trip. We played a game where each of us thought of one word and then we made up a song. It was so much fun. I can still mention the words “Cat Dog Company” and bring a smile to my daughter’s face.

I was a little unsure of how Elliot would react to this game, but he participated and thought it was really hilarious. Alice did a nice job of adding in some of her own lyrics and explanations. We played at least three rounds, but I can only remember “Moon Puzzle Truck” and “Doughnut Tree Fox.” We referenced songs and other stories. We tried to establish themes. It was a moment of pure joy.

As we approached home, Mr. E. started to get a little cranky and sensitive. So I busted out the ice cream sundae analogy. This analogy is a somewhat manipulative idea that somehow resonates with the logic centers of my children’s brains. I started this with Alice years ago, and she was very helpful in explaining it to Elliot.

The basic idea is that all of the good things of the day are like the sundae ingredients. Bananas might be a cheerful wake-up. Ice cream might be keeping one’s pull-up dry. Whipped cream might be a positive experience at the pet store.

But Mr. E. was ready to top off his sundae with tears and anger. That’s when I told him about all the good parts of the day. Then I explained to him that ending our awesome trip with arguments would be like putting a worm on top of our delicious sundae. This seemed to make sense to his 3.75-year-old brain. He stopped instigating a fight with his sister.

We sang more Moana songs as we headed up the mountain. When we pulled into our carport, everyone was happy. Five potty stops and over nine hours of bonding gave all of us increased confidence as travelers. If I were a Scientologist, I bet I would have leveled up.

We emerged from the trip with many a happy memory. The successful adventure had given us a certain shine, like a car being bathed in rainbow foam.

Serendipity Doo Dah

April 12, 2017

I like efficiency. It brings me much joy when I can wash dishes while listening to my favorite podcasts. I love it when my students use their post-recess moments to finish assignments or study for quizzes as their classmates filter in. I’m in a state of ecstasy when my flight lands ahead of schedule and the car rental line is short.

When I became a parent, I had to give up my membership in the efficiency union and fully embrace the character building and teeth grinding of the inefficiency club.

Drives that used to take 7.5 hours suddenly expanded to epic quests lasting 9-10 hours. There were stops due to carsickness and clean up. Meals went from in and out adventures to drawn-out negotiations. And then there were the potty stops.

Before we left on our journey, I made sure that Elliot sat on his rightful throne. But not even an hour into the trip, nature called on line one. “I need to go potty,” he stated. I sat bolt upright as I had to fight feelings of PTSD from the night before.

We were on the outskirts of L.A., near Arcadia. Usually, I don’t like stopping anywhere near L.A.. It’s usually not very efficient. But then I noticed a PetSmart right alongside the road. “Let’s use the bathroom there,” I said. This was instantly met with cheers, because the pet store might be my kids’ favorite place in the world. I clearly defined time limits. There would also be no purchases and certainly no adoptions. After using a remarkably clean bathroom, we looked at fish, birds, and snakes. We also met an adorable chinchilla and guinea pig. We even found some cats. Alice was particularly amused by Bob. This got our trip off to a good start. I definitely recommend the pet store potty.

And we were off. I figured we could at least go non-stop until lunchtime, but I was wrong. Elliot needed to go again. Fortunately, we were quickly upon the Vista Del Lago Visitor’s Center near Pyramid Lake. I had seen this building before, but never stopped. Upon hearing the name “Vista Del Lago” through the GPS, the kiddos christened it the “Mr. Gelato” visitor’s center. There were displays of animals, short videos, a light-up map of California, and an impressive interactivity that illustrated the water cycle. Unfortunately, there was no gelato. However, once again, there were clean bathrooms. We went in with full bladders and left with so much more.

For stop number three, we ate lunch at Panda Express. This added nearly an hour to our time, but the kids both ate well and for the sake of efficiency, I was able to fill up gas.

Based on the events of the previous night, I was positive that Elliot would fall asleep in the car. His bladder had other ideas. Just as his eyelids were getting heavier, he needed to make another stop. I pulled over at the rest area with two main goals: empty the bladders while avoiding dog poop. Much to Elliot’s disappointment, there would be no wrestling on the grass. Therefore, missions accomplished. While rest stop restrooms lack the cleanliness of a visitor’s center and the cuteness of a pet store, they do make for a fairly efficient stop.

We were on the road again and fatigue was setting in. So I guzzled down some Mountain Dew while on my way to potty stop number five. So much for efficiency records. In spite of all these stops we were just a little more than an hour off schedule. This made me rather happy.

For an extremely inefficient trip, I thought the stops were quite serendipitous. Everything seemed to show up at the right time. Elliot and Alice notified me ahead of time, so pants remained dry. They broke up the trip nicely so it wasn’t a nine-hour sitfest.

A couple hours out, I had a decision to make. We were about to head into the teeth of rush hour, as we approached around 4. My Waze app was giving me mixed messages, but ultimately it wanted to send me through Bay Area traffic. I did not agree. Instead, I stayed on I-5 and headed north past Stockton and through Rio Vista. I slowed down to about 40 mph just outside of Stockton, but that lasted for only one or two minutes. Eventually, we picked things back up to highway speed. Soon we were on Highway 12, racing by windmills, looking at grassy hills, and speeding over an undulating highway. The kids both loved the bumps. It was like a roller coaster. In fact, Alice wanted to drive back just so we could experience the sensation again.

Somehow we pulled into Napa without any major arguments, iPad time, or naps. We did have plenty of the Moana soundtrack, as well as soundtracks for The Sound of Music and Annie. That’s how we solved a problem like a road trip. Not quite the hard-knock life one might have expected.

Alice and Elliot made me so proud. I almost thought about taking them out for ice cream before they had dinner as a reward, but that wouldn’t have been very efficient. Instead we stopped for one of their favorite activities.