You goddamn right I went to the Spanish Canobie Lake Park

…only better. Because, does Canobie Lake Park have LIONS? I thought not.

Kid activities are sort of hard. And sort of boring. And, in the summer, often sort of super horribly hot. Walking places, playing tag, throwing balls when you really just want to sit in the shade and drink beer – all of these things represent the victory of children over adults in the “What Should We Do Today Since It’s Vacation?” wars.

But some time ago, a sweaty Spaniard at the zoo probably had a series of exchanges with his kids something like this:

Dad: Hey, guys, want to go to the zoo?

Kids: Not really. Can we watch TV and then, when it’s hotter, play tag?

Dad: Ask your mother. C’mon, let’s go to the zoo.

Kids: Can we have ice cream? Then YES!

… (two hours and 50 Euros worth of tickets and soda later)

Kids: We’re hot. We’re bored. We’re bored and hot. We saw the elephant and it was just sitting there. You won’t buy us any more stuff. We’re hotter now. And now we’re even more bored. Can we go home and watch TV?

Dad: (Does math in head…25 Euros/hour is not a good deal) Ummm…let’s go see the lizards. (But thinks: Christ, there has got to be a soccer match on tv in an air conditioned bar somewhere. This is hot and boring and it sucks. Am I a bad or good father for staying here regardless of what my kids want to do? Oh, I’m so torn!) To the lizards! (Why don’t zoos have pools, anyway? Holy fucking shit, why *don’t* zoos have pools?) I mean, let’s go. Daddy has to go get a huge commercial loan to buy a zoo and build some pools at it.

Yeah, so, AguaLeon. Even if you didn’t take any Spanish or Latin in high school, you can see they worked overtime on the naming of this place. First, you drive past some antelope. Ok, not bad. Antelope (or something with horns, anyway) and then zebras, five feet from the car.

Then you get in a bus to go see the tigers and lions and bears and super crazy acting black panthers, which are apparently so badass that they live in the same gated field savannah thing as the lions, but they are in a cage within the gated savannah. And we were in a reinforced bus. So I do not want to know what those panthers did before they decided to double cage them like Hannibal Lecter.

And then, after 45 minutes of animals, the kids, right on cue, got hot and bored, and WHAT LUCK – there was a water park there, already bought and paid for with the same ticket. First we sent Abe down a kiddie water slide. As the velocity he achieved made it impossible for me to catch him, he shot under water, then came up in a small breath-holding ball and declared “I had enough” in a very small and waterlogged but not fucking around voice. And so we just swam with him, and then he fell asleep.

Max went down the same slide for about 4 hours in a row. I tried to not look wimpy while also being very wimpy and avoiding the waterslides. But then they started to look fun and Leah and I did one of moderate challenge. Then, we heard about a “lazy river” type deal where we could all go together on floats. But when we got there, it turned out it was not Abe-friendly, and it was every man for himself, not flotilla-style, and Max was having no part of that.

Having already hiked up a huge hill to get there, I waited in line for whatever was nearest. It looked, to be honest, really slow. First I was worried that it actually would get super fast by the bottom, and then, watching people go, I got worried that it would be so slow that, like many of them, I would get stuck and everybody would yell at me in Spanish, and then I thought, “Oh, that never happens,” and then I remembered, “Whenever I think that, the thing I think it about happens to me,” which is why I got pretty much completely stuck on a waterslide. Luckily, a 200 pound woman behind me picked up quite a bit more speed than I did and smashed into me, sending me mercifully into the pool. To redeem myself, I found the scariest, steepest slide and ran into line before I could change my mind. Of course it was so fun that I forgot why I had avoided it all afternoon.

On the way home, to distract all the kids from asking to stop on the way to dinner for snacks, we went around and named our favorite things: everyone’s was my getting stuck. Max said, “That was so great when you got stuck because I was so bored watching for you from the bottom and then it was SO FUNNY when you couldn’t get down and that lady smashed into you. Did you do it on purpose?” And man, was it tempting to say yes. Which I almost did, except all the other adults spoke up first and clarified things for Max.  But it was nice to be the highlight of everyone’s day.

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Paco Meralgo

Max has still not eaten squid ink rice, but got some gum and these little pieces of ice cream that come surrounded with chocolate, so he hasn’t complained.

Leah and I, only the other hand, have eaten like kings. Well, not today when we had potato chips for dinner, but yesterday. Our friend Melissa babysat and we headed off to a tapas place called Paco Meralgo for dinner. It’s not someone’s name, it’s like the S and S Diner – it means “to eat something.” Funny, right?

Well, I will tell you what’s not funny: razor clams. Yes, razor clams. You’ve seen the shells all over the beach on Cape Cod, but have you ever actually seen a clam? I thought not. Me neither. But that is some delicious shellfish, mi amigo. It tastes like [insert pretentious food blog line here referencing some BS about how the taste of the Mediterranean is so distinctive that blah blah blah]. Like a super awesome clam, is what it tastes like, actually.

But now we’re getting ahead of ourselves, aren’t we. First we had tiny fried squid. Super delicious. Also crunchy, which I once read in Food and Wine is America’s top rated flavor, which is awesome, since it isn’t even a flavor, really. Then, sauteed wild mushrooms from some forest in Catalunya. Oooh, localvoricious. Also, we thought we should probably have a salad, so we had one, of tuna belly, tomato, and onion. This was a little disappointing, since I think of tuna belly as a sushi thing, and cooked, well, it’s basically tunafish. Not bad, but not tiny fried squid. And sure as hell not razor clams.

Then we took a break and drank for a while. We also watched a guy from Connecticut yell, “Uno hora de la Nueva York!” at a confused waiter and then tip him 20 Euros, which is about 19 Euros above the typical tip in Spain. Not a terrible way to spend 30 minutes, honestly.

But then, fresh shrimp in garlic, tuna carpaccio and something described as a giant oyster which wasn’t super giant but was highly oysterrific nonetheless. If you don’t eat tuna carpaccio now and then you are a big huge idiot.

We were nearly full, but honestly why stop eating when you are only nearly full. We also had octopus stewed with onions, which was rich enough that we almost regretted eating it after all that, but, I mean, almost. Not actually.

For dessert we had crema catalana, the news of which actually almost made Max cry when he heard that he had missed some. Explaining that people all over Barcelona eat crema catalana every day without Max did not help, though it did prove that I am sort of stupid from time to time.We also had bread, grilled, with a huge pile of melted chocolate and sea salt on it. Chef Tom on Top Chef would say that it didn’t hang together, but, seriously, Chef Tom, I mean, the Chef Tom that I made up in my head, lighten up, because a bunch of melted chocolate with sea salt is not something you should have to pack your knives and go for. Kind of a mess though.

After dinner, we went to take the Metro. It was closer, but with a glass door, which I almost walked into. Good stuff.

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Fancy lunch!

Yeah, so since I go to work I get to rock it Spanish-style and dine like a mangy old man for 90 minutes. If I lived here, I would weigh 9000 kilopounds. I went to La Flauta, a nice lunch place for neighborhood folk yesterday and had me some black rice and lamb chops. You know, lunch. For 3 days.

Leah likes lunch, too, and not just PB and J, so she and the fellas joined me today. Abe found the toothpicks, unwrapped them all, and stuck them into the wall. Fabulous! That kept him busy for 4 minutes. Max ate a bunch of ravioli (Viva Espana!) and played tic tac toe until dessert to ease the pain of not getting to eat black squid ink rice. He was pissed, I’ve got to hand it to him.

Until the crema catalana arrived. This is creme brulee, though Catalans are not cool with it being defined that way, since Spain came first. Abe liked smashing the burnt sugar, since he likes smashing anything. It’s being sweet and edible was just gravy. If gravy were sweet. Max ate all of it and declared it the best dessert he had ever had, counting the apple and melon gelato from yesterday. When I told him that we own a blowtorch which I actually bought to make crema catalana, he nearly fell off of his chair.

As we saved him, Abe ran away. Why? Because there was a slot machine in this restaurant, and he wanted to play it. I should send his photo to the Foxwoods police now and save us all some time when he is 16.

Actually, that’s a stupid idea: he’ll probably look different.

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You know what? We’re in Spain.

Don’t tell us what happened on the final Friday Night Lights.

So, yeah, we did it again. Swapped our house for an apartment in Gracia, a nice neighborhood just outside the center of Barcelona and kicked around for 3 weeks. Max hasn’t really learned any Spanish, but he has memorized all the starters on the Barca soccer team, learned from his buddy C. that we hate Real Madrid, and begun pining for a Leo Messi jersey to wear to his JP Soccer games. He noticed that Sr. Messi was shorter than all the other players, and when I told him that some people call Messi the best player in the world, he got ecstatic: “Dad! You know what? I am shorter than almost all of my friends! So maybe I will also be pretty much the best at soccer.” And so we will buy a jersey. Someday he will realize that he has sports fan genes, not really athlete genes, but for now he is pretty damn excited.

I had all these great intentions of writing every day, like Hemingway did in his blog when he went to Spain, but, you know how life is when you are lazy and forget to bring your camera cord and also forget to take very many pictures. Here’s my best shot at a recap of the past two weeks:

  1. Flew overnight separated into two and two. Asked people to swap seats with us: no go. Made sure to take Max to pee by asking the grumpy woman who wouldn’t switch seats to get up over and over. Played Bejeweled on the airplane video game system, first with, and then for, Max, for about 3 hours. Not. That. Much. Fun.
  2. Got reacquainted with our old plaza. Kicked a lot of soccer balls around. Played some tennis. Chased some pigeons.
  3. Went to visit our friend Melissa in San Vincent de Calders at a huge crazy modern house with a pool and no kitchen equipment, but a really nice kitchen. Opened all the drawers 1,000 times to find bottle openers, pizza cutters, and so on. Swam and swam.
  4. Somehow changed the kids’ bedtimes from 8:30 to 10 pm without changing their wake up time. Dumb.
  5. Took the train to Sitges to see Jose and Colby. Swam in the pool for hours. Max actually swam all the way across and was thrilled, both by his accomplishment and by the price he had extracted to practice swimming: 4 nights of going out for ice cream.
  6. Looked up from pool to see Abe flying off pool deck towards me yelling, “Dive!” Note: Abe can’t swim
  7. Ate almost no green vegetables for entire time. Even the kids complained of craving broccoli
  8. Made up for this with gallons of melon gelato. Pretty much a 1:1 trade
  9. Worked for a week. Not so bad, really. The days are loooong here (see #4) and so I get to see the kids much more than when I am working at home in the USA
  10. Introduced Max to squid ink pasta. The verdict: “This is the most salty thing I’ve ever eaten that was so awesome.” Note: tomorrow, we try arroz negro, which is squid ink rice. My prediction? He’ll like it, but not as much as crema catalana, which is like creme brulee
  11. Played so much tag. So much.
  12. Yearly quota of cured pork products: filled. Sorry, Grandma.

The weather has been amazing – nice and cool, which is great for me since I don’t really dig on summer heat. This makes it easier to chase Abe down the street when he erupts from his stroller to chase a moto or pick up something filthy from the ground. Why is he so attracted to things filthy? The other day he tried to bite a fence. And don’t even get me started about all the buttons and moving rails in the bathroom on the train. His comment: “Dad, I forget why I wanted to come in here.” Me: “You said you had to poop.”  Abe: “Now I can’t remember to poop or not.”  Me: “Uh, well, it’s not really like that. Sit down.” But the door opened with a button, and the button was green and blinking, and there was just no way he could not press it, and then he was gone. Whoosh.

What’s left? Leah and I will try to go out to dinner so I have more to report on in the food department than just ice cream and jamon serrano, we’ll buy you some presents (no, not you), and maybe I’ll get new shoes. Max also declared that he wants new shoes. 4 things like that on a to do list are pretty much all we can handle in a week, along with seeing some friends.

Maybe some more later.

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That is having your cake and eating it too, little man

Max was invited to a party at which he would be the only boy. Since the primary role of parents, after buying groceries, is messing shit up, I said, “Wow, you’ll be the only boy, huh? How you feeling about that?”

Max: What?

Me: Are you ok being the only boy?

Max: Why?

Me: Oh, uh, no reason. So, E. (the birthday girl) is a good friend of yours?

Max: Oh, definitely.

Me:  You play together?

Max: Dad [implied by tone of voice: Dad, you’re the dumbest person ever. Who cares about the things you’re asking about?], no, of course not.

Me: But you’re going to her party, and she didn’t invite any other boys, so you must do something together

Max: It’s going to be great! We’re watching a movie and we get to eat in front of the TV! [To Max, this is absolutely the holy grail of a Big Night]

Me: But you don’t play with E.?

Max: No, of course we don’t play. She doesn’t like playing.

Me: So how are you friends?

Max: [long, patient, condescending – without meaning to be, which is even more condescending – sigh] Because. We have conversations.

Me: Oh, of course. About what?

Max: Dad, what do you think?

Me: Honestly, I have no idea, Max.

Max: What else would we talk about? Sports, dad. We talk about sports.

Tell it, Little Man.

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Go Fish

The scene:  Max and I are playing Go Fish. Abe is “on my team,” which means he throws the cards around, gets taken upstairs for a breather, laughs at me, and we start again. Finally he settles down and sort of gets into the game. Sort of.

Max: Hey, Abe, ask me for something.

Abe: What?

Max: Ask me for something. A card. What card do you want? Like, “Got any…”

Abe:  Got any butterflies?

Max: (dramatic sigh) No, Abe. Not, like, anything you want. Something that’s on the cards.

Abe: Ummmmmmmm….got any ….numbers?

Max: (Angry, he thinks Abe is trying to trick him) Yes, Abe, obviously. But you’re trying to get me to say what numbers I have. Nice try. You have to say what number you want.

Abe: Oh. Sixty-three.

Max: Abe! You have to ask for something right here, that you can see. Not sixty-three, that isn’t even a number in cards!

Abe looks out the window, thinking.

Abe: Got any windows?

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Abe the Cowboy

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If we have a 3rd, we will name him Mario

Max has his cousins over. Big night! First ever sleepover! Too much TV, too much pizza, too much ice cream. But can you have more fun than a sleepover? No. Anyway, nothing goes with a sleepover and cousins like a delicious dose of arguing and bragging.

Cousin K: Well, the real party will be upstairs. We’ve got a laptop and can stay up all night.

Cousin S: No way. We will have the DS. We’ve got Super Mario Brothers!

Max gets a look on his face with the kind of smug that only a person who has no idea at all what he is talking about can get.

Max: Whatever, S. [Small, slightly superior laugh] Super Mario Brothers, ha! You don’t even have a brother.

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If you want white lies, don’t have kids

The scene: It’s the day of the Superbowl (I know, but, honestly, who has the time?). Max falls asleep for nearly 3 hours on the couch. Oh well, we figure, he’ll be up late for the game. Did I mention the kid has become obsessed with football? He’s one of the seven people in the world to have watched the entire Pro Bowl. Anyway, too much sleep. At halftime, we put him to bed, but he couldn’t fall asleep.

I tried to leave his room – Abe had long since fallen asleep – but he started to freak out and insisted that I stay.

Max: Don’t go! Lay down on my bed.

Me: Ok, ok. A few minutes.

Max: No. Twenty minutes.

Me: Ok, sure. [He can’t exactly tell time]

A few minutes pass. Max starts to snore a little. I try to sneak out.

Max: Don’t go!

Time passes. And passes. And passes. I try to sneak out twice more, to no avail. Finally…

Max: Ok, you can go.

Me: Great, I’m proud of you. You can totally go to sleep by yourself…

Max: [cutting me off] No, you just smell too much like beer.

Me: Uh, ok, goodnight.

Max: Don’t forget to record the rest of the game for me.



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To the mountains: a weekend with Max

So, for the third year in a row, I decided it was time to teach Max to ski. He’s liked it each of the past two years, but learned very little other than that a ski lodge is an excellent place to whine for candy.

We headed out on Friday evening. After five minutes of talking excitedly about skiing and visiting his cousins, Max said, “I. Am. So. Bored.”

I suggested games, singing, sleeping, and eating. No dice.

“I know,” said Max.

“Yes?”

“I need a snack.”

“Chips? Clementine? Apple juice? Pretzels?”

The unmistakable sigh of the child cursed with exceptionally dumb parents came from the back seat. “Dad,” he said. “You know what I need: something chewy. And sour.”

“Hmm,” I said. “Lemon peels?”

“Dad!!! You know I mean Skittles.”

I did know that. Luckily, or unluckily, Route 2 in Lincoln is not a great place for skittles, the fancier towns outside of Boston having long since outlawed all candy not made in an artesanal manner. We drove and whined. It. Was. Super. Fun.

Finally we got off the highway and found our way to a gas station. Gas stations on the highway are essentially supermarkets of crap, and it makes it nearly impossible to take a kid in from a car trip to the bathroom without a candy-based argument. But we didn’t have an argument: we had a collapse by one side, mine, and a victory by Max’s. So it goes. I still am taller, for what its worth.

Skittles in hand, we continued on to VT. He used a flashlight to identify them by color.

“Dad, look at this one: half yellow, half green!”

“I’ll look when we get to Vermont.”

“Yes,” he said. “Please do.”

Finally Max fell asleep, then woke up, ready to rock, at 11 o’clock, and arriving at a ginormous mansion in the woods inhabited by his grandparents was plenty of stimulation to wake him up completely. Ninety minutes later, he was asleep. At 12:30 in the morning. Ok, father of the year nomination: locked up tight.

The next day we climbed up and down a teeny hill 1000 times and he sort of got it and then we took the chairlift up. I had him on a harness and we sort of picked our way down. I figured I was supposed to do some teaching, so I yelled helpful things like, “Turn left!” When I told Max that he could tell me to shut up if all my commands were bothering him he said, “Oh, I wish you had told me that before, because I really wanted to this morning.”

And then, oddly, by the end of the second day, he had done it: he wedged his tiny skis into a snowplow and made his little turns all the way down the bunny slope. And again. And again. More skittles, some gum, and 6 hot chocolates sealed the deal. No crap is too crappy for a skiing food.

Just before the crying. But still a good day.

Finally, my dad wanted to take a picture at the end of the day. Max stood and proudly smiled, until suddenly the thrill of skiing wore off. “Dad,” he wailed. “I am so cold that I can’t take it anymore! Get me inside!” So we did.

The ski harness has a handle, and I just lifted him up, slung him over my shoulder and carried him in. Ten minutes later, he was agitating for more gum. Apparently he had recovered.

Then he went to bed at 8, and slept until 9:30. 9:30! We should do this every weekend.

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