Tag Archives: Parenting

Bucket Dipper #parenting #storytelling

My son, who turns six in May, didn’t want to keep working on his dictation assignment for kindergarten.

The task called for me to read a short sentence, which he would then write on the paper. He’d had a decent day at school – even completed his in-class work – but it was late afternoon and I sensed he was tired.

I didn’t want him to quit, though. We were halfway through this. I just wanted him to finish. But he wouldn’t.

So, I said, after a long sigh: “OK, go to your room.”

“No,” he said, shaking his head.

“Yes,” I said. Calm, but firm.

His brow furrowed. Foot thumped against the chair leg. “No.”

“I’m counting to three. One…”

Eyes already glistening with tears: “No!”

“Two…”

Grimacing: “No! No!”

“Three.”

Fists clenched. Tears streamed from squinted eyes. “NOOOOO!” But he was already climbing down from the chair at our high kitchen table and stomping toward the stairs.

The baby monitor in his room is the same that let us keep tabs on him when he was an infant in the majestic old house on Pennsylvania Avenue in Durham in 2013. It now broadcasts to a speaker in the kitchen in the townhouse our family has called home since 2016. Through it, I could hear him ranting between sobs:

“You’re a…a…a…bucket dipper, Dad! That makes me so sad! I bet you didn’t know everybody’s got an invisible bucket! And bullies take from other people’s buckets! I can’t believe you dipped into my bucket! You’re a bucket dipper!”

While this went on, I plucked my iPhone off the counter and opened the web browser. Apparently, a teacher at school had read the students a book called Fill A Bucket. I’d never heard of it before, but the premise is that, as the boy related, everyone’s got a bucket and when you do nice things for people, you fill their buckets. When you do bad things, you take from them. You’re a bucket dipper.

Well. I wasn’t going to settle for that. “Get down here,” I said up the stairwell.

Sullen, he made his way back down.

“You don’t have to like the consequences I dish out for your actions,” I told him. “That’s fine. But I didn’t do anything to your bucket. I gave you time to pick a different path. You refused. You made your choice. You took from yourself and you kind of took from me too. I didn’t want to spend our time together this way today.”

He looked shocked, fresh tears spilling down his cheeks. “I can’t believe I dipped into my own bucket and poured it out.”

“It happens,” I told him. To a lot of people, kids and grownups alike. More often than I dared admit.

Struggling to fly casual

I didn’t read the fine print.

I was so excited that a friend had provided me a ticket for two to an advance screening of Solo: A Star Wars Story on Monday night that I didn’t pay proper attention to the warning that it was a “bag and tag” event. One condition of showing the movie in Durham early was for Disney representatives to confiscate all smartphones from the crowd so we couldn’t take photos or record.

And there’s nothing wrong with this. It makes perfect sense. And, as I understand it, this is common practice for advance screenings.

But for nearly 10 years, it’s been uncommon for me to be separated from my smartphone. It’s especially critical to me at a time like this, when I’m with my wife and we’ve left both our children with a babysitter so we can spend (gasp!) three hours escaping into the world of young Han Solo and Lando Calrissian.

We’d both be cut off from communication with the outside world in the event of an emergency.

I was ready to cut and run as my anxiety ratcheted upward, wrestling with the tug between responsibility for my kids and the feeling that, y’know, it’s just a few hours – they’ll be fine. Strangers in line assured me that our babysitter could just call the movie theater if something went wrong. They’d page us. And, although I appreciated what they were trying to do, it just set my imagination spinning into further anxiety about something so bad happening that they’d have to stop the movie, bring up the lights, call our names over a loudspeaker.

Which is when my wife Catherine took charge and told our babysitter to demand exactly that: make the biggest ruckus possible to spread the stress around, if it came to that.

So I stashed the phones in our car and returned to the theater. For a little while, we cut the cord and journeyed far, far away, and got a faint reminder of what life must’ve been like for my parents when they tried to escape from the kids and have a little fun.

Enjoyed the movie. The kids? Just fine.

I really need to calm down more.

The man’s always been there

This column appeared in The Herald-Sun in June 2014:

The first time Mom introduced us to him, he likes to joke, “she claimed you were circus dwarves.”

Not too long after that, Tom Berger became stepfather to me and my brother, Don.

I don’t know if he was ready to be a father. I certainly wasn’t ready to be a stepson. And although we loved each other in our own ways, I’m not sure we liked each other very much for a long time.

It’s never been for a lack of him trying.

I was kind of a jerk as a kid, but I blame that on divided loyalties – torn between undeniable ties to my biological father and the need to support my mother’s choice to invite an interloper into our house.

But here’s the thing: As much as I may physically resemble my father, Tom’s always been my dad. And I’m his son, even if it’s not by blood. I say this while 12-year-old me inside my mind covers his ears and closes his eyes and hums the theme to “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.”

Sorry, kid. I am who I am today because of him.

When I was a child, he brought home George Carlin vinyl records and let me listen to them – even the one with the seven awful words. He showed us Monty Python on PBS. He introduced me to the fiction of Kurt Vonnegut, Theodore Sturgeon, Harlan Ellison, Ursula K. LeGuin, Frank Herbert, J.R.R. Tolkien and Ray Bradbury. He told stories. He asked questions.

He helped me get my first real job at Walt Disney World, where he worked as an investigator in the security division. We often rode to work together. I’d read books to him along the way.

He took me to Enterprise 1701, the old tabletop gaming store in Orlando, and got Dungeons & Dragons manuals so I could try my hand at running adventures. He gave me my first curve ball as a referee, announcing during a game that his character suddenly rode upon a giant slug named Bernie and was using it to smash down my castle wall.

He hooked me on computer adventure games, from Zork to Ultima to Wizardry.

He’s been there through good and bad. He saw me graduate from Winter Park High School, Valencia Community College and the University of South Florida. Helped me struggle clear of the wreckage of my first marriage. He backed my decision to change careers from journalism to computer game design. Didn’t roll his eyes when I came back to the print media field. He supported Catherine and me in our effort to adopt John Michael. Well, John Michael Thomas Platt, to be precise.

Tom was adopted as a child. I remember sitting at the dinner table and hearing discussion about him legally adopting us. I didn’t know then that he’d been adopted. I didn’t know then that we’d share so much in common or that I’d go into the world with his curiosity, his sense of humor, his fondness for amusing others.

I remember hating the idea and raging at the thought of it.

Like I said, I was kind of a jerk.

He told me once that I’d be lucky to have more than a few great friends in my lifetime.

I’m proud now to count him among the greatest.

I’ve always loved him, but now I’m sure: I like my dad a lot.

Wes Platt can be reached at wplatt@heraldsun.com or 919-419-6684. Follow on Twitter at @HS_WesPlatt. Connect on Facebook at facebook.com/wesplattheraldsun.