I’m Not Sure My Kids Really Get It – I Used to Be Cool

I’m not sure my kids really get it – I used to be cool.

There was a time before I owned a Prius, rubbed sunblock on the top of my head, and slept with only one woman. How could they know? They see my wife and me as wholesome and have a vested interest in believing this is how it’s always been.

I have a duty to present this reality despite the gnawing dishonesty of it. My buddy Danny once told his kid, right in front of me, that he had only gotten high twice in his life. Danny got high twice A DAY in the ’80s but now has to disown all of that for a singular purpose: robbing his children of the excuse to say, “But daddy, YOU did it!”

I also partook frequently in the ’80s. I lived to test boundaries, often going past them to press up close to reality and stare it down. I was insufferably bored and felt an anxious loneliness when not out with my friends breaking rules and getting intoxicated.

I regarded kids who got good grades and respected authority with curiosity. It’s not that I didn’t like them, I just didn’t understand them. Didn’t they know they were wasting their time? How did they restrain from their primal impulses? How were they able to stand the boredom? Could they seriously be wearing boating shoes? The irony is that these are the children I am now trying to raise.

You know when I stopped being cool?  When you two assholes were born!”

And yet they treat me like I’m not now, nor ever have been, cool. Sometimes after dinner my kids like to play a game called, “Let’s all shit on Dad.” They get a charge out of calling me a nerd.  “Dad, you don’t get it!” “Dad, you’re so out of it!” “Dad you don’t know how to download an app.”

One night I snapped. “You don’t know me motherfucker! You don’t know who I was! You have no idea how I used to be!”

Eyes go wide as the family paradigm shifts faster than the GOP with Trump leading the race. “I used to be very cool. Way cooler than you will ever be. You know when I stopped being cool?  When you two assholes were born!”

My wife opens her mouth but then freezes and says nothing.

“Here’s a news flash for you. You will never be as cool as I was. You know why?”

They know it is a question that is directed towards them but ultimately has no answer because Dad is in 5th gear and they are not even strapped in yet.

“Because you’re not being raised by an abusive alcoholic parent. And that can change.”

Having never seen me drink or hit them they now recalibrate what their future might look like.  “When I was a kid I got into fistfights every day after school. You wear a helmet to ride a bicycle! When I was young only the really good athletes got trophies. Now they’re handing them out to the white kids too!”

My son casts his eyes down as he thinks about the wide trophy case in his room housing dozens of statues, many earned before the age of nine.

I know I’ve gone too far but I feel relief that the lie I’ve held in for so long is being rectified and I believe that my kids might actually feel closer to me knowing there is (or at least was) a different side.

I want to tell them more but reason starts to apply the brakes. I want to tell them all the crazy things I’ve done, but I can’t. I have to protect some image of my old self. I want to tell them that, in fact, I had a three-way in college – with two guys (this girl was supposed to show up but she was running late so we figured we’d just get started by ourselves. She never showed up. Good guys though. Can really keep a secret.)

The worst part is that my children think my wife is really cool. That part kills me. I decide to set the record straight.

“You think mommy is cool? Do you? Well, guess who’s banging her? This guy right here. She doesn’t look so cool when she’s on all fours hyperventilating.”

My daughter gently cracks her knuckles as my son pokes at the un-forkable bits of his now soggy salad. My wife’s face has the intensity of a bull rider waiting for the chute to open. I lean back and take in the moment. It is a turning point we will all grow from. There will be no more teasing.

I shift in my seat as I feel a vaguely familiar release from my nether regions. I smile as I realize it’s my old friends – my balls.

Confession: my car is a dumpster on wheels. And I’m ready to be ok with that.

The wayback, as we refer to it, is an ever-changing cornucopia of cast offs. It’s like a 7 layer dip of things that left the house with intention and have fallen into some sort of trunk purgatory.

Generally speaking, I’m not a messy person. My house is an average level of organized, save for that one corner of the kitchen counter that seems to collect every broken toy in need of superglue, school newsletters I plan to read eventually, and pennies that even the three-year-old has deemed useless.

I can’t stand getting dirty, which is a discomfort I’ve passed onto both of my children (note that my son has been known to wrap the end of a chicken wing with a paper towel.) My desk is pretty sparse, and 6 nights out of 7, I see to it that the kitchen sink is empty when I go to bed.

I offer this information to temper the confession I’m about to make.

My car is a dumpster on wheels. And I’m ready to be ok with that.

Here’s the thing. It’s not for lack of trying. But for six years, this slate blue Subaru Outback has been the sole vehicle for my family of four.

Years ago, when we took it on a test drive, my then 4 year old somewhat accidentally opened the door while we were (thankfully) at a stop light. We drove it back to the dealership at about 20 miles per hour (after initiating the child locks) and in a couple hours had made not only our first large purchase as a couple, but as individuals as well.

Though it wasn’t brand new, it sparkled. The cupholders, if once defiled, had been restored to a level of sterility they haven’t seen since. (Now they are dotted with stickiness and slime, a flytrap of sorts for spare change and receipts. I’ve scrubbed and wiped with vigor, but there’s really no coming back from spilled sunbaked chocolate milk and melted half-eaten lollipops. Have I mentioned the restraint in not yet trying to sell these kids on Ebay?)

It’s possible that enough snacks to feed a modest sized elementary school have been smashed into the backseat. Sure, we vacuum up the carnage from time to time, but short of actually taking a firehose to the interior, nothing could rid the nooks and crannies of being stuffed with a buffet of pulverized goldfish. There’s a slight film of filth, akin to what you may find in say, a roadside diner kitchen, and 75% of us have thrown up in it at least once. (But only one of us has done it while simultaneously operating the car, and I’m not going to name names, though it wasn’t me and two of us can’t see over the steering wheel. You do the math.)

The wayback, as we refer to it, is an ever changing cornucopia of cast offs. It’s like a 7 layer dip of things that left the house with intention and have fallen into some sort of trunk purgatory.

I prefer to think of it less as “laziness” and more of “an investment in my future unpredictable needs.”  Case in point, last week I picked my three year old up at preschool. As I hoisted her up onto my shoulders (a choice I’d regret for the rest of the day), I couldn’t help but notice an eau d’ subway station wafting from her person. I jerked her back to the ground inquiring about her successes and failures with the toilet that afternoon.

“Did you pee your pants?”

“Don’t worry, mama. How did you know? It was just a little bit. I can’t even feel it any more. It’s all the way dry.”

It was the last week of school. I hadn’t properly packed her backpack in at least a month, and it was completely void of anything that could be used to supplement the offending (formerly) piss soaked jeans.

Around to the back of the car I went, and dug through the garbage bag full of clothes I put in there two weeks ago to take to Goodwill. BAM. Problem solved.

It’s not lead us on any epic adventures, but it’s gotten us to New Jersey a few times. Never once has it left me standing on the side of the road with the hood open pretending I have any idea what the hell I could do to fix it (blow on something? I don’t know.) It’s handled the last few winters far better than I have.

It wears the battle wounds of a minor backing up incident and the various poles and shopping carts that have intercepted opening doors. Once, in the dimly lit parking lot of the grocery store, my son, unbeknownst to me, slipped from my right side to my left and I smashed the door right into his face. The damage to his lip was minimal. Even still, I mentally added a tick mark to the “failing parent” column, my eyes welling up as I willed him to be as angry at me as I was at myself.

The trunk has seen the comings and goings of baby furniture, hauled each piece of outgrown clothing to new owners (eventually), and assisted in the covert missions of playroom cleanouts. We’ve cleared it out completely, filled it with blankets and pillows and watched hours of drive-in movies while being devoured by mosquitoes. (There’s likely still a few kernels of popcorn clinging to the carpet.)

We’ll get a new car eventually. And though I’m tempted to hitch some sort of horse trailer to the back for the children when we do, I guess there’s no family memory making in that.

 

How a VW Westfalia obsession became my family’s best adventure

THE VOLKSWAGEN WESTFALIA camper van has been a symbol for the freedom of the open road and exploration since it was first introduced in the 60’s when the split window microbus had a pop-top installed in the middle of the van.

This simple modification was undoubtedly added so hippies following The Dead could easily stand up to change back into their dirty bajas after a quick skinny dip and a doobie in a roadside spring.

These vans have been through a slow but predictable evolution since those early days, but there has always been a nod to the generation of hippies that made them the icons that they are. Like those that drove them back in those days, the buses were unreliable and quirky, but they were also simple and charming .

There’s something about these vans that makes you think you could actually shrug off your responsibilities and live on the road.  This feeling has been the main draw for me.  I have owned three “Westys” and this is my love story.

When I was growing up, there was a guy down the street from me that owned a baby diarrhea brown 1980 Westy.  While cruising around on my Mongoose, I would often confess to the other neighborhood kids about how much I loved this guy’s van.  They used to laugh and say things like “No thanks, I’ll take a Countach or a 911.”

Just like them, I had supercar posters on my wall. But I was constantly curious about the life that this 40 something bachelor had built around his van.  I jealously watched from a few doors down every summer Friday as he loaded it up with expensive outdoor gear and a hot yoga instructor way before yoga was cool. I convinced myself that someday I would be just like this guy.

Fast forward to when I was 16. I approached my idol to see if he’d be willing to sell his weekend machine (which had developed some significant rust by this time).

He said yes, but for $5000. $5000 seemed like a TON of money for a van that was made during the Carter administration.  I had $2000 saved up from my paper route and summer job, so my dream would have to wait. (Probably a good thing –a 16yr old boy with a van with a built in futon would probably also quickly have a pregnant girlfriend.)

After buying a 1993 Eurovan with a tin top and a manual transmission as a consolation, I finally bought my first Westfalia for $3500. It was a rusty 1986 model with mismatched tires and brown velour interior. It was amazing, and I got to work right away making it my own.

inside-busIt became a bit of an obsession. I wanted to take what was already an incredible vehicle and make it even better. I spent an entire summer honing my new love of carpentry and completely customized the van’s interior.

My best friend, my brother, and I took the bus we affectionately named “The Turd” on a football pilgrimage hitting up games at two of the country’s hallowed stadiums, Notre Dame and Lambeau Field. We made it halfway across the country and back always wondering when it would break down.

It finally did break down while going through a toll booth during rush hour in Chicago.  We had to push it to the side of the road while enraged working stiffs on their way to boring status meetings honked and jeered. Luckily, the battery cable had just popped off so we were on the road in no time.

After learning that stopping to pee all the time was a real problem, I installed a urinal. This led to unwanted window washings for unsuspecting tailgaters, but was a godsend on cold nights when sleeping in the van.

So many awesome memories with my group of friends revolved around that bus. To this day, whenever we get together the times we shared together on the road in the bus always come up as the fondest of memories.

After many more camping and road trip adventures, I sold the bus to its next faithful steward for $8500.  Not a bad profit for a 20 year old bus with an unknown amount of miles.

What once was the perfect road trip vehicle for my buddies and I has become the best family vehicle of all time.

I purchased a 1990 Vanagon Westfalia Multivan (one of the rarest configurations) in great condition for what some would think was a crazy amount of money right after my son was born. It had been way too long since I had owned a bus and as a new father, I was overcome by the desire to get out there and explore New England with my family.

When the summer weather looks nice, we load up the van with all the things you need to bring a little one on the road and head out. Sure, the Westy is an awesome road trip vehicle, but it’s also amazing for just doing things around town. The thing is HUGE! You could easily fit an entire neighborhood’s weekend costco run into it.

full-vw-bus-pop-top

You don’t have to be going on a camping trip to take full advantage of the Westy. Nothing beats the Westy for day trips.  It has a fold down table so when your kid’s head starts spinning like the girl in the exorcist for lack of food, you can pull over, pop the table, open up the fridge and enjoy a comfortable lunch instead of having an apple sauce pack smashed into your car seat. The floor itself is gigantic and flat, so changing a diaper is incredibly easy and you can do it in complete peace.

It’s also amazing for events where there will be multiple families around. Every year, we go to the balloon festival in Stowe. Our bus ends up being home base for a bunch of families who want to go to the festival, but are dreading chasing their kids around in a crowd.  We park in a field, bring our own food and drinks and the balloons fly right over us.  We even have a chemical toilet in the van so the ladies can use it in privacy.

As before, I’ve been a little obsessed with modifying the van by making improvements that make it even better than it was when it was made 25 years ago.  We’ve added a deep cycle marine battery system so we can have power when we need it without draining the battery that starts the van.  We’ve also added USB ports throughout the van for charging devices, a 12volt fridge/freezer so we always have fresh food on hand, and dimmable LED lighting throughout the cabin so we have just the right amount of light when we need it.

This bus is so much more than a means of transportation.  It creates smiles wherever it goes.  I do almost all of the work on it myself and I’ve learned so much by keeping it going.

I think it’s going to serve me well as a way to teach my son about basic auto maintenance and the value of getting your hands dirty and learning how things work.

vw-bus-winner

The bus is 25 years old, so it’s not as reliable as it could be, although it has yet to leave us really stranded.  The bus is extremely underpowered by modern standards.  How does 90 horsepower in a 5000lb vehicle sound?  That was 90 horsepower when it was new, I can only imagine we’re working with about a whopping 75 now.

This lack of propulsion means that in many cases you’re almost forced to take the secondary roads if you want to actually keep up with traffic. What some would find annoying has turned out to be one of the best things about the van.  The license plate even says SLOLANE.

Beautiful VW Westy

When you’re in the bus, you’re not getting anywhere in a hurry, so your state of mind changes.  It’s refreshing to take your time and appreciate the journey as you cruise through all the little New England towns that were passed by when they built the interstate.

If you want to experience what it’s like to own a Volkswagen Westfalia, there are a few outfits that rent these wonderful vehicles.  California Campers, Dragonfly Vans, Wicked Westys, & VWsurfari all rent vans.  Some of these providers will rent for a little as one day.

However, I would highly suggest trying a van out for at least a long weekend if you’re really interested in a Westfalia. Driving one around with the family is a really smart move to consider before dropping some serious coin on a van in great condition.

One advantage to owning a van with a “cult” following is that there are no shortage of other Volkswagen fanatics out there who are more than happy to help out.  The online community scene for classic Busses, Vanagons and Eurovans (the Vanagon’s younger front-engine sibling) is huge.

Websites like The Samba have made owning an old vehicle like the Vanagon alot easier. The Vanagon & Eurovan community on The Samba has helped me keep my van running more than a few times.

The people involved in the community are plentiful and super helpful.  You can get advice on anything from how to find the right van for you to how to do a complete engine conversion.  There are also a ton of really great ideas and how-to tips for how to accessorize your van for your specific needs. I turn to The Samba every time I head out the garage to tinker with my van.

When you’re in need of parts, there are some really great, knowledgeable suppliers who are more than willing to help out. The top ones that come to mind are GoWesty and BusDepot.

I’m looking forward to years and years of adventures with my family in our bus.  Every time we use it, even if it’s just for a trip to the grocery store, it gets us thinking about where we should go next.

My wife and I find ourselves researching cool spots where we could take a day trip or break away for a weekend.  For me, this is bus is so much better than a Lamborghini.  Anyone with enough money can buy a fancy car, but because this bus is something I can enjoy with my whole family, it’s more than transportation.

It inspires us to do more things, go more places, and take our time while we do it.

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Own a T1 or T2 VW Microbus, Vanagon, or Eurovan? Enter our VW bus photo contest!

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5 Ways to Make Car Shopping Not Suck for the Family

Getting a new car is exciting for everyone in the family, especially kids.  For guys like me (I’ve personally owned over 40 cars), some of my fondest memories from childhood centered around negotiating and picking up a new car.

Here are some tips for making car shopping something everyone in the family can enjoy.

1. Fill in the family on your plan
Let the kids know that buying a new car is something special.  It’s a big purchase for the family and something everyone can weigh in on.  Discuss why you’re getting a new car and talk about why kind it will be, minivan, SUV, truck etc.

Show them a picture of the car type and talk about what colors everyone likes as well. This way, the kids can be on the look out for cars that fit the bill and point them out as you’re out driving.

2. Make it a game
When the kids see a vehicle they think would fit the description you’ve laid out for them, make it a game to find out what make and model the car is.  This will be a little tough for kids who can’t read yet, but even if they can’t, they can still point out the cars that fit the description you talked about in your plan.

If one of the cars they spot indeed becomes the one the family buys, let them choose a movie or the dinner for the family after you bring the new car home.

3. Set the expectation for the dealership
Ideally, if your kids are really young, you won’t have to bring the kids with you to the dealership, but if you do set the expectation that you want their input when checking out the car, but then you’ll need some quiet time to work with the salesperson. It’s also important to make sure you set the expectation that you may not leave with a new car.

The deal might not be right or the car might not fit your needs.  Let them know that sometimes it’s important to shop around for such a big purchase for the family to be sure you get it right.

4. For older kids, make it research project
First, if your kids are old enough to use the internet and you’re trading your car in, have them find out what your current car is worth.  They can ask you the questions to be sure they’re picking the right options, but have them use KBB.com or some other site to get your car’s value.

You can also have them dig into the list of cars that they thought fit the bill a bit more deeply.  For example, if you’re looking for an SUV with a 3rd row, have them look on the manufacturer websites at the vehicles in question to determine if they fit the criteria.

5. For older kids, explain negotiation
Bring them with you to see a negotiation in action.  Before you go, set the expectation based on their research on what kind of deal you’re hoping to get to.  It could be an amount for your trade you’d be happy with, or a monthly payment on the new vehicle that fits your family budget.

Explain to them that this is an important family purchase and you want to be sure the deal is right. Let them know if it doesn’t work out, you may just have to get up and leave and that’s okay.

All in all, buying a new car can really be a fun experience for the family if you make it participatory for everyone.

Also, maybe it’ll give the kid enough pride of ownership that they won’t throw their open apple sauce containers all over the floor. Probably not, but it’s worth a try.