Nacho Libre, Fruit Snacks, and The Better Part of Valor

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Parenthood is fraught with difficult decisions. There are very few hard and fast rules, which is how kids end up with neck tattoos, pet boa constrictors and skinny jeans. Parenting is basically a never-ending, exhausting series of judgement calls, where we must weigh our children’s wants and our wants against the likelihood of neighbors calling the Social Services hotline. Should you allow your son to shoot his crossbow at the neighbor’s dog? Should you leave your younger children in the care of your 13 year old son even though he doesn’t know what month comes after February? Should you allow your children to use their metal music stands as fencing foils in the dining room? (Answers: no; why not?; and it depends on the terms of your rental insurance.) So many questions…

Recently, my husband scored tickets to the concert of the century: The Vetaran’s Day Concert for Valor in Washington DC. Bruce Springsteen! Dave Grohl! That British guy from the Daily Show! Freedom may not be free, but sometimes concert tickets are, and the best way to honor our veterans might involve rocking out to Metallica. Plus, it sounded way more fun that our usual Veterans’ Day activity of watching people visit military graveyards on TV. Even the most militant anti-American Islamist extremist would be hard pressed to turn down tickets to see Bruce Springsteen for 0 dollars. In fact, that would be a pretty effective anti-terrorism strategy.

We were giddy with excitement. But, then began to wonder, should we bring the children? Like all good parents, we did some research to inform our decision: Was it free? Yes. Was food allowed? Yes. Would we have to find and pay a baby-sitter exorbitant amounts if the children stayed home? Yes. Decision made.

As veteran parents, we knew this was a high-risk operation. The problem with this maneuver was the timing. Any evening event with children carries the distinct possibility of crankiness, hunger, and frequent complaints about pain in various body parts (feet, tummy, pinky finger, etc.) In addition, there was the morning after to consider.

Veteran’s Day often falls mid-week. Everyone knows important holidays are celebrated either immediately on or after a weekend, to allow for three full days of revelry. Only lame holidays are celebrated mid-week, like Boss’s Day, Lyndon Baines Johnson Day (Wednesday, August 27th, in case you’re wondering) and the extremely confusing “Maundy Thursday” (pronounced “Monday Thursday”). If you’re honoring the Man, lame presidents and foot-washing, go ahead and do it Tuesday-Thursday. A holiday for Veterans deserves better, however.

Once the decision was made, it was time to implement standard TTP (Tactics, Techniques and Procedures). We have summarized our experience below in order to help advise those who may undertake similar missions in the future.

1. WEAR COMFORTABLE GEAR


Preparation is key to the success of any operation. Standard-issue zip-up hoodies should be tied apron-style around waists. Lace-up sneakers are key. Heading out on a challenging family assignment is not the time for your daughter to try out her sparkly new Sketchers. We found this out the hard way, when ten minutes after leaving the car, Anna insisted on being carried on her brother’s shoulders. Luckily, she was immediately distracted by an unexpected celebrity sighting. Jack Black – that’s right, Nacho Libre himself – walked by us as we passed the reflecting pool in front of the capitol building. “I love you Jack Black!” I called out to the back of his pea coat. He raised a hand in acknowledgment. The moment provided our mutinous troops with a crucial boost in morale.

2. COURAGE IS GREAT, BUT WARS ARE WON OR LOST DUE TO LOGISTICS

When we arrived at security, the guards warned us that “Once you’re in, you stay in,  ” furthermore, “there’s no food in there.” It was like Hunger Games with a funky base line. I gathered the children close to me, having gleaned from my dystopian novels that the hungry often prey on the weak. Luckily, experience has taught me that whether your mission is brief or extended, you should carry 3-4 snacks with you at all times. In particular, you cannot overestimate the restorative properties of gummy-based snack foods. In this particular situation, I fortified my pack with sun-chips, raisins, goldfish crackers, granola bars, and the nutritiously named “fruit snacks.” However, the dinnertime hour complicated matters, as my husband refused to enter the zone without sandwiches. That brings us to TTP#3:

3. DO NOT SPLIT FORCES WHEN IN CONTACT WITH THE ENEMY

Or, in this case, rock and roll royalty. My husband, not being a fan of gummy-based nourishment, told me: “The oldest boy and I will find dinner. The young ones will only slow us down. Take them inside and and set up a defensive perimeter.”

I thought about the twelve thousand people inside the gates.

“I don’t think we should split up,” I told him.

“Just keep your phone on and answer it when I call,” he told me confidently. “We’ll find you”

I doubted it, but sometimes it’s just easier not to argue, especially when food is involved.

And that’s when things went FUGAZI.

4. RETREAT WHEN NECESSARY

As I flashed my blue tickets to the various security personnel, I noticed very few children, if any. I wasn’t sure if that should worry me or make me feel like the coolest mom ever. Maybe both? The mostly young-adult crowd was milling around in what seemed to be a giant holding pen. As we neared the stage, we were stopped by a beefy security guard wearing a “volunteer” yellow sash, who informed us that the gate to the area in front of the stage was now closed.

Jostling now began in earnest as people tried to elbow their way up to the front to plead their case. The bottleneck grew ripe with the scents of liquor-breath, Marine sweat, and desperation as people continued to stumble and shove their way toward the gate. I can be just as determined as any drunk seaman or whored-up congressional aide, and I knew if I focused the laser-like intensity of my formidable nagging ability onto Mr. Yellow Sash, he would let us in. Oh yes, he would.

But the kids were anxious. Maybe even scared. Danny’s first and Anna’s only (dear God, please) encounter with drunk Marines was going poorly. One look at their pleading eyes, and I knew what I had to do. Sighing in defeat, I grabbed their hands, turned around and unapologetically shouldered my way out. I stepped on toes. I swung my backpack like a scythe through the crowd. I kneed some unfortunate seated soul – who may or may not have been a decorated combat veteran – in the head, stomped on a blanket and kicked a smartphone. Hell hath no fury like a mother denied access to the front section of a Bruce Springsteen concert.

Once we broke free from the crush, we found a strategic spot to set up camp in the back of the holding pen and hunkered down with some pita chips and Uno cards to await reinforcements. Seventeen dropped calls, two slightly hysterical messages and 7 unsent texts later, the children began to question my leadership and lack of sandwiches. I assured them the communication failure was not my fault, but after my 8th “WTFRU” text bounced back unsent, they became particularly concerned about the sorry state of our supply chain, and we decided to pack up and take the metro home.

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Adrift on a Coast Guard Academy blanket in a sea of drunken Springsteen fans.

 

4. ASSUME RESPONSIBILITY

Just as we initiated our retreat protocol, Eric and Jake miraculously appeared. They had just come from the stage area, which they entered without problem through another gate. I then got a lecture on the importance of answering my phone (I tried!!), leaving non-hysterical voice messages (again, I tried!!) , and the criticality of specific directional instructions. (“‘Turn left at jumbotron’ means nothing when there are four jumbotrons!”)

“We were just THIS CLOSE to Metallica!” Eric informed me. “Did you show the security guard your ticket? Why are you way back here?”

Thus, the next hour was spent with me calmly explaining how I had tried repeatedly to contact him, made decisions for the benefit of the children, and that by the way, he may remember that I TOLD HIM splitting up was a bad idea in the first place.

5. ENJOY THE SHOW

About an hour later, the sandwiches were eaten, healthy blood sugar levels were restored, and Eric and I were on speaking terms again. Finally, the Jumbotron flickered on, and someone onstage (we assumed, since we couldn’t see the stage) exhorted the crowd to “make some noise!”

After the obligatory screaming, Mayor Vincent Grey appeared on the Jumbotron to welcome the crowd, make an ill-timed bid for DC statehood, and deliver an unintentional warning about the dangers of too much botox. “What’s wrong with his face, mom?” asked Danny. So many, many things.

Then, Dave Grohl took the stage, and we forgot all about our operational difficulties. We crooned along to “Here Comes My Hero,” bobbed our heads to the the Black Keys’ “Lonely Boy”, and played some mean air ukelele to the Zac Brown Band. The children were riveted by the stories of bravery, heroism, and yes, valor that lit up the Jumbotron in between sets. The crowd around us watched and applauded reverently, and my 10 year old, who doesn’t cry when he gets whacked in the head with a hockey stick, teared up several times.

Things went downhill again with Carrie Underwood singing some crap about someone going off into the sunset. Danny showed his opinion by laying facedown on the blanket during her set. “I’m not tired, mom. This music just sucks.”

But then, in a bowel-shaking panzer blitz of heavy metal fury that made my 42 year old husband squeal like a pre-teen at a Taylor Swift concert, Metallica took the stage. After a little shock and a LOT of awe, I knew it was time to declare victory and leave.

We made our exit to the strains of Rihanna’s “Diamonds in the Sky,” skipping both the traffic and Eminem’s “f-bomb” laced performance.

In our post-operation debrief, it was unanimously decided that the outing was a success, resulting in minimal losses (a few UNO cards) and a 100% increase in awareness of the awesomeness of America’s veterans and James Hetfield’s thrashing guitar. What could be more patriotic than the Metallica frontman’s incomprehensible roaring over the fruited plains of Lars Ulrich’s pounding drums? Nothing, that’s what. When I heard the opening riff to “Enter Sandman,” I was proud to be an American, and so were my kids.

Mission accomplished.

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A Letter to Baby Callahan on her 17th Birthday

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Dear Baby C.,

Seventeen years (and a few months) ago, a bunch of ladies sat around a country club one afternoon and helped your mama prepare for your arrival by drinking mimosas, eating macaroons, and concocting birthday greetings for the first 30 years of your life.

You are a little over halfway through these yearly messages, and hopefully you have benefited from our nuggets of wit and wisdom. I imagine the tone and content of these letters changed over the years as well, from infancy: “I can’t stress this enough: do NOT eat your boogers!” to childhood: “Do NOT sit down in a port a potty, ever!” to adolescence, “Do NOT, under any circumstances, date the drummer in a rock band!” And now, you are at the cusp of adulthood, and it is my turn to offer my advice.

Assuming nobody has messed with the time-space continuum, the year is 2032, and everyone has long forgotten about the midterm elections, the ebola crisis, and the other petty problems of 2015. If pop culture and young adult literature have taught us anything about the future, your world is a bleak and torturous nightmare, possibly infested with zombies and/or evil robot clones. Fortunately, there should also be at least two strong, hot young men with great abs and unexplained powers to help you navigate this dystopian morass (and battle for your heart).

As you go about your day, sourcing food and shelter, dispatching slavering evil creatures and rebuilding society, keep in mind the following advice. Back in the day, these tips helped me get through the challenges of the Before Times, when people lived above ground and didn’t barter for food.

1. Appreciate Your Family

Sure, your parents might bug you, especially when they refuse to decapitate a roving monster or barbecue the nutria you caught for dinner. Maybe you don’t want them telling you how to wear your new rabbit pelt or how to use your budding supernatural powers. But, they are still your parents, and if you mouth off to them, storm off on a looting spree and then come home to find they were eaten by zombies, you will be really sorry. Words can be weapons, so wield them wisely. They have sacrificed a lot for you and worked hard to keep you from getting snatched by the slavering hordes. Be nice to your parents.

2. Friends Can Be Family

Whether you are lopping off heads, gathering intelligence for the rebel insurgency, or on a quest for a magical amplifier or other valuable artifact, life can be pretty lonely. Don’t ever be afraid to put yourself out there! When trying to make friends, be your best self. If you are kind, fun, funny, and good with a sword, good people/aliens/shapeshifters/faeries will be drawn to you. With good friends at your side, the apocalypse will suck a little less.

3. Don’t Listen to the Trolls

Don’t waste time with Negative Nellies or Fair-weather Friends! The first time a so-called friend tries to eat your brain, traps you in the aetheric otherworld, or suggests that you aren’t thin enough to be a cheerleader, hurl them into the Pit of Fire, Cold Abyss or whatever Dark Realm is most convenient. Life is too short to bother with these folks, and they don’t deserve you.

4. You, Woman, Can Do Anything!

If you are not afraid to work hard and make sacrifices, you will be successful, whether your goal is to overthrow the Robot Clone Overlord or earn the respect of the aloof guy with the drool-worthy abs. Even if you don’t feel confident, ACT confident, and that Overlord will think twice before nuking your village shantytown. Fake it ’til you make it!

And now a word about gender politics: Women have come a long way since the Before Times, when we were underrepresented in pretty much every arena and shackled by society’s limited idea of femininity. Now, you can wield that katana, crossbow, throwing star, or really well-constructed argument with authority. You will fight and you will win, and if your hair gets messed up or you get alien guts on your dress, nobody will care. In fact, the boys of the future will find alien goo an attractive accessory to any outfit and will flock to you in droves when you are fresh from the battlefield, triumphantly brandishing your bag of trophy heads. Boo-yah!

5. Take Care of You

Believe it or not, even with all the advances in medicine, and your surety to the contrary, you are not invincible. I will say it again: You. Are. Not. Invincible. Take your longevity pills. Eat healthy and nutritious food replacement bars and do NOT loot the abandoned Cheet-oh factory. Loot something wholesome, like a silo of grain or a warehouse of granola bars. Don’t skimp on your daily training and agility exercises, because you only get ONE body (unless you join the Evil Clone Conspiracy) and in order to effectively defend your settlement and live to fight another day, you must keep your body strong. Also, beware! There may be some shady sprites who offer you mysterious food, drink, or other suspicious substances, but here is some more good advice that has not lost its relevance in 60 years: Just Say No. If all the other Leaders of the Insurgency jumped off a bridge, would you do it too? No. Don’t bow to peer pressure! Avoid the frat boys with their Jaegermeister shots (they still exist, right?) and anyone else who tries to steer you down the wrong, unhealthy path.

I hope that these five tips prove useful to you in your 17th year on this earth. May you crush the zombie hordes, create a brave new world under the sea, and lastly and most importantly, find happiness with that handsome, brooding guy you have your eye on. Because whether the year is 2014 or 2032, love is the key to happiness. Love, and rock-hard abs.