Tonawanda News — OXNARD, Calif. — My two-week California adventure has taken me to Universal Studios, Disneyland, the beach and downtown Los Angeles.
But the most fascinating part of this journey actually took place back home in Western New York.
I found out early in our excursion that Penny had been named Student of the Month at her school — yes, that’s right (flipping into Proud Dad mode), the entire school. I gushed to the point Penny shied away in embarrassment.
I had no idea she was in the running, or that her school held such a contest, or that a kindergartner could ever possibly attain such a lofty honor (and Proud Dad mode will shut down ... now). In working nights and weekends, I tend to miss out on a lot of what’s going on in my kids’ lives.
I only get to spend a full day with Penny during the summer on my two days per week off from work — and that’s if she isn’t sleeping over at a relative’s house. So I haven’t had any sustained time with either of them — especially her — since our last vacation 11 months ago.
That’s part of the reason — along with the reduced cost and relative lack of heat — we opted to take vacation in early November, taking the kids out of school in the process. School is definitely important, but the trade-off has proven invaluable, at least at this early stage in their educational careers.
I surely wanted to spend more time with them, but I honestly didn’t even consider “catching up” with the kids to be a major part of this trip. I mean, how much can a 5- and 3-year-old be involved in?
More than I ever would have imagined.
For starters, Rigby eats pears. I take him shopping when I can and let him have his run of the produce section, but he’d never picked pears. I don’t know where or why he tried them, but I now know he loves them.
Rigby also knows Spanish. We were playing with neighbors who were only speaking Spanish. They left to go inside, and I prompted Riggs to say goodbye. Without my urging, he blurted out, “Adios, amigos!” I shockingly asked how he knew to say that, and he gave me a surly, “I don’t know, Dad! I just do!”
Penny, meanwhile, has developed a somewhat saintly level of compassion. The way she interacted with other little kids on our playground excursions was nothing short of amazing. She shared the ribbons she found on the ground — even tearing them in half — helped the younger ones climb up the ladders and made sure everyone was involved in the games they played, even the little shy girl who kept retreating to her dad.
Unless another woman steps up in the next 30 years, Penny apparently will also become the first female president in our great nation’s history. I don’t get to see her interact much with other kids, but she’s vivacious and takes charge without being pushy. She even negotiated entry for Rigby into the Girls Club she’d founded at the park, persuading the other two female members to bend the rules for her little brother.
Penny’s understanding of the world around her in general is expanding more quickly than I can keep pace with. She got her first lesson about Sept. 11 from me at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and said she was sad but the firemen who went in were brave. While there, she also heard the term “Iran” for the first time but swiftly deduced our soldiers will keep her safe. And while watching “To Kill a Mockingbird,” she knew enough to know Atticus Finch was on the right side of that plot.
She’s also become quite the innocent conniver — and has taken her little brother on as her padawan. If I turn them loose in the park near their great-aunt’s house for 90 minutes or more, they’re complaining when I drag them away and ready to keep running. But as soon as we cross the street, they start up. First Rigby, shuffling in front me with arms outstretched: “Carry me!”
Then Penny, trying to pull off some sort of fake limp that resembles a cast-wearing penguin waddling toward the water: “Daddy, my ankle hurts. I don’t think I can walk home anymore.” After I say more, I get an expertly delivered, “But Daddy, it’s just too, too sore. This is just too much to take!”
Mind you, they’re still jumping and leaping while screaming at new-found friends still on the playground. And racing each other down the sidewalk.
But that’s OK. Not even a stiff back and sore neck can bring me down. Not when I can hear Rigby retell the day’s events with a Shakespearian actor’s flair and Morgan Freeman’s mastery of the spoken word.
Not when Penny is so excited to see the waves of the ocean for the first time that she nearly suffocates me with the seat belt while pulling on it to lean over me in the back seat for a better look out the opposite window.
Definitely not when Penny and Rigby engage in their first “serious” jam session at Aunt Patti and Uncle Aaron’s house, in spite of the thumping noise still occupying every spare of cranial space I have (and Rigby can hold his own in terms of making a beat).
Unfortunately, I will miss my fair share of moments with Penny and Rigby on their way to the presidency, rock stardom or wherever else the future takes them. But I got these two weeks with them.
That makes the cross-continent trip worth it every single time.
Contact Paul Lane
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