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The Snowmobile Rodeo

My kids are like cockroaches. They adapt and thrive no matter what I do. Our 8-year-old wants to watch TV so badly that I decided to let her watch it continually. The idea here is that she would get so sick of it and not want to watch it ever again. This did not work. I thought it was another worthwhile parenting experiment. It’s often difficult to explain to the child why I’ve changed course so abruptly. “But, daddy, why is the ship sailing in the opposite direction?” She might say if she had just finished watching a marathon of Pippy Longstocking, upon giving her the news that the new plan is back to the old plan – of limited TV. Every Saturday morning the first thing we hear from our daughter is her seeking approval to watch TV. I’m all for it. Saturday morning is a child’s God-given right to watch TV, especially cartoons. Have at it.

Sunday morning I’m usually the first one up, of the two adults in the residence. As I’m walking down the steps I start hearing the footsteps coming from my daughter’s room. Lila and Hoyt have been up for awhile playing in her room. As an older child, Lila has become wily in the ways of how child number one plays the game. If Hoyt is available Lila will always put on his best adult protecting armour and send him out to do her bidding. Sometimes I even hear the whispering of Lila giving Hoyt his marching orders to go ask something. This usually involves asking if they can have something. At the ripe old age of 8 Lila knows that she must preserve all her cute for the bigger battles. The things that really matter to her. Hoyt is 4 and she feels most comfortable using up Hoyt’s cute on asking (begging) for things like having cake for breakfast or watching TV. So, I’m soon to find out that the steps coming from Lila’s room are those of soldier Hoyt coming out to do battle with me – the dad parent. If I give him a “no” he has a couple of options. He can report back to his leader Lila that the request was denied or he can flank me and move on to the mom parent and ask her the same question.  This second move could make him a hero in the eyes of his commanding officer older sister.

As he comes down the stairs for his attack on me I wait for him to catch up. We stop as we get to the bottom of the stairs. He asks me if he and Lila can watch a show. I say no. He says ok. He’s done his part. There’s no more he can do. He fought bravely and will fight again another day. He turns and quickly reports to Lila. Turns out Hoyt really didn’t want to watch TV. He would rather play with his Legos. All of a sudden, the general comes out of her room and I can hear her marching to the battle field. She comes down the stairs willing to spend some cute currency. She asks the same question her soldier just asked. She is more invested. It means more to her. I tell her to play with Hoyt. She says she doesn’t want to play with him. I then tell her to play by herself. She’s always been good at entertaining herself. She says that she doesn’t want to play by herself right now.

“Please, daddy. It’s so boring playing by myself. Can’t I just watch one cartoon?” She pleads.

Time freezes and I’m transported back in time 33 years to the dead of winter on the farm. We only had four channels. One was a PBS station where I learned about Monty Python and that there were more people out there like me. My coming out of the comedy closet. The farm was ten miles from the town where they had everything – all the latest video games, like Pac-Man and Donkey Kong. I had three siblings but we were all fairly independent. We played together a lot, but sometimes a kid just had to be alone. The day I teleported back to was one of those alone days. What does a fourteen year old do in the middle of nowhere in the middle of winter – by himself. I had an idea. My definition of fun was different than it is today.

A couple of years earlier my dad had purchased two old snowmobiles. These were late 1960s vintage. One was a 1968 Johnson widetrack (the year after the model with reverse) and the other was a 1969 Evinrude. My younger brother usually drove the Johnson widetrack. It was heavy enough to be able to run over small dead trees in a frozen swamp. That was some kind of fun. The Evinrude was a bit more speedy. My guess is that it could get up to 25 mph if necessary. My favorite thing about the Evinrude was that it had a throttle that stuck, essentially making it a “trick” snowmobile. I could stick the throttle and stand up and drive by the window of the house to my mom’s horror. I could ride on it backwards steerig with my elbows. If there would have been a snowmobile rodeo I would have been in it.

On that particular day I had a brainstorm. I would bring my entertainment career to another level. I had probably the best idea since synchronized swimming – but way more entertaining.  I gassed up the Evinrude and grabbed a thick rope that was about 10 feet in length. I drove my Evinrude to a desolate field on the edge of our farm. One side of the field there was a straight boring road that separates our farm field from another farm field. Both fields stood silent and white waiting to get plowed by spring tractors. The road could have been the road less traveled, possibly the road barely traveled. We knew most people who went by on the road or at least my parents knew most people and most knew them. I was not as well-known.

The Evinrude didn’t need a trail like most modern snowmobiles. It did its own thing. Snow got out of its way. On that day I drove across the field on my snowmobile slash plow and positioned myself at the beginning of the field where the road first comes next to it. I attached the rope to the front of my Evinrude and took a few practice runs. The trick was to be in motion when the vehicle came onto the road and within sight. This is what I practiced, but it was more of a random exercise, because I didn’t really know when a vehicle would be coming.

I got the snowmobile traveling at about 2-4 mph and stuck the throttle. The rope was pre-tied to the front of the snowmobile. I jumped off the snowmobile and ran in front of it, running ahead of it pulling the rope so it looked like I was pulling the snowmobile through the snow. This was no easy task because I was knee-deep in snow. Later I would think that this could have been part of the training for Rocky when he was going to fight the big Soviet. I did this snowmobile pulling trick multiple times that day until finally, mid pull, a vehicle came on the horizon of the road from behind. I was running and pulling the snowmobile parallel to the road and there was nothing else in sight. Let the show begin. As the vehicle passed me I realized it was Buff Fish’s Jeep. The Jeep slowed only slightly and I could see his bearded face looking out the window at the strange kid pulling the snowmobile in the middle of nowhere in the middle of the winter. The slight slowing of the Jeep was like a standing ovation for me. It was a curtain call and a top review in the New York Times all rolled into one. I knew I was going places. My several hours of rehearsals had paid off. I drove back home, taking my time, mainly because I didn’t have much of a choice with the Evinrude, and enjoying the success of my alone time.

As I sledded up into the yard, I started wondering if it was in my best interest to tell my family what I had just spent four hours doing. How was this really going to pay off in the long run. Maybe there’s a limit to how much creative alone time a kid should have. In today’s world my snowmobile activity would make me a rock star of creative child alone time playing. But, is there a point where a kid playing by themselves and making up stories and outlandish performances, for example, can push said kid too far over the edge. The correct answer is absolutely not. Nonetheless, I fast forwarded to my real-time life and Lila was still in front of me.

“Please, daddy. Can I just watch one show. I don’t want to play by myself.”

“Ok,” I said solidly. “You can watch a show.”

“Yehhhh.”

“And after that I’m going to tell you a story about an amazing snowmobile rodeo performer.”

“Ah, sure. Ok,” she responded the only way she could. And she ran to see if her foot soldier wanted to partake of the TV bounty and probably to tell him that these eggs called parents could be cracked. Even if the price to pay was to have to hear a story from the one called dad.

Sadly Yours,

Jason Spafford

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