BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
In the fall of 2011 I had an emotional breakdown. I don’t cry very much as an adult, but I sobbed like a baby filling my tank with gas outside of the University of Central Florida, I think it was Hess station. I remember facing east, tears running down my face, and in a full bodied cry as I just dropped off my oldest daughter at college and was heading back to Iowa.
This was the same girl that made me cry when she was eating a french fry, I think she was, like, six at the time, and ate too far down forgetting to move her fingers back in time. I looked over to see huge crocodile tears running down her face.
“What’s wrong, honey.”
“I bit my finger eating my french fry,” she said breaking into a full cry. I got that nervy feeling in my stomach you get just before you tear up. It was heartbreaking. Dad hadn’t taught her the proper way to eat a french fry.
Now my youngest is skipping her senior year at FMHS and going on to college as part of an academy that brings about a dozen students to the University of Iowa. She’s earned it and I couldn’t be more proud of a child. I worry about the social implications of skipping your senior year of high school to go off to college, but I’m comforted that the academy is filled with two grades of students just like her ready to begin the process.
So I find myself facing a life with an awesome wife who gets my crazy sense of humor, lost on most, and a large home with no children.
Our cats have become the kids’ surrogates. And if you don’t believe me, I offer you this.
I was outside watering my dying perennials Wednesday (I’ll blame it on the heat). I leave the door open because our two cats like to come outside and roll around on the pitted concrete patio. It’s warm and feels good on their hides. After about two minutes of watering I hear some panicked chirping. I ignored it for a couple seconds because birds are crazy creatures. But then I turned and see the boy, Bailey, hunkered down on the brick step as several robins dive bomb him.
“Hey, whatya think you’re doing,” I yelled over at the crazed robins with their feathers all poofed out. I start to walk over as Bailey belly crawls toward the house, looking around, still under attack.
But he sees me coming and looks at me, “Dad….what the hell?” is what I imagine from the look on his face.
I actually say out loud, “You OK, buddy?” He stops and turns around now feeling a little more confident with his wing man.
“I can grab a snow shovel or something…?” yep, actually said that to the cat.
The enemy barnstorming robins flitter up to the top of the fence and look at me and the boy. Angry birds, both of them. Both with ticked off looks in their eyes. I’m a little intimidated.
Bailey starts to flank from their right and to my left. He looks up at me, “I got this, dad.” I creep toward the house looking up at the tree. There’s a cardinal in there yapping, too. I started thinking Hitchcock and again thought about the shovel, but it was under where the birds were perched and that would have required some serious speed.
Now, this all happens in about 30 seconds, with all kinds of birds yapping, and an adult man making attack strategies with a cat on a couple of birds.
Then I see a new nest on one of the branches.
“Stand down, Bailey. We’ve got newbies in the tree.”
He looks back as the two robins stare menacingly down from the pickets of the fence. They, too, have a plan.
“C’mere buddy.” He doesn’t want to give ground. Then my wife comes out.
“What’s going on out here,” she said.
“Uh..I don’t know, these birds were, like, attacking Bailey and I was, like – trying to help – and then he was all, like, squatted down and I thought about grabbing the shovel, but he was going back inside and then turned around…and now he’s, like, trying to go over by the fence and I don’t ..really know…”
“Are they trying to get you, Bailey,” she asks. He sees mom and comes running to the house.
We had a plan…together….Bird wars.
We laughed a little on the way in, but I realized that these two cats, the girl was inside – she wanted none of that nonsense, were going to become our children. Not that I ever battled critters with my daughters except on Pokemon (and I think a bat once or twice), but we did go to war on room cleaning, showering, homework and safe driving, respect of others.
My oldest survives, barely, in New York City…literally the aspiring actress waiting tables in anticipation of her big break. But did I prepare her right? She’s not living on the streets, so mom and I must have done something right. Maybe a little too much culture and not enough science, but she’s a wonderful girl with wide-eyed aspirations and the biggest city in the world is her playground.
The youngest is smart. Learned from the lessons of the oldest child, a little spoiled – it happens. Mature in many ways and still a baby in others. But now is the time when I question if I did my part to prepare her, too, for the real world.
I guess we’re going to find out soon enough. She moves in Aug. 13, a mere eight weeks away.
In the meantime, I get this crazy job to keep me from going into battle with my cat on the neighborhood vermin.
But that’s Beside the Point.