Choose Your Own Adventure

By Anna Mitchael


We were imagining a world made of Oreos when he switched the topic to “Skechees.” I’m learning this is life with a 4-year-old. People warn that you will be physically exhausted, but few mention the mental stamina required to keep up. In five minutes we can cover the difference between a city and a state, why strawberries have juice but bananas don’t, and how far he will be able to jump at ages 5, 6 and 86, respectively.

He wants to know if I’ve heard of these Skechees. And every blade I’ve got in my helicopter-parent arsenal starts spinning in the direction of great worry. Oh, the amount of sketchy things I’ve heard of! And how I hoped he would live to 86 without knowing any of them!
He mistakes my alarm for adult idiocy, which I didn’t expect to start happening until his teen years, and spells it out for me.

“Skechees,” he announces, “make you run fast.”

Then he runs a hand along the bottom of his foot — a gesture that rather charmingly reminds me of a shoe salesman from yesteryear.

Finally I understand he’s talking about Skechers, and so I ask if one of his preschool friends has a pair of these “Skechees” — is that how he heard of the shoes? He says no. He saw a commercial about them on TV.

The engine of my helicopter flips on, and I prepare to take flight.

For 15 years I’ve worked in advertising. I took breaks for babies and a brief mid-20s crisis, but otherwise I’ve been writing ads for companies big and small, nice and not-so-nice, transparent and sometimes downright muddy. As Darth Vader might say, “the love-hate is strong with this one.”

I’ve written ads for so long that I do it on autopilot. The perfect tagline for the man waiting for coffee at Starbucks: Jitter less, buzz more. Or for the drive to my son’s preschool across bucolic countryscapes: Still staring after all these years.

You think you know where I’m going with this — that advertising is poison, and here I am, rethinking my existence because I saw my child step into the apothecary. But it’s not quite as damning as that. I like my life. I like the parts of my life that my work makes possible. I don’t like that even after years of being privy to the magicians’ secrets, I still get suckered into the rabbit coming out of the hat.

On rare mornings when I am in town and can pay someone else a silly amount of money to make me a coffee, I literally cheer. The country life still captures me, even though I know that the innocent landscapes hide houses loaded with the same messy complexities that follow humans wherever they go.

I wish for something stronger to offer my kids, like the resilience to see through what’s flashy and fresh, to resist the trappings that these days get mistaken too easily as signs of a well-lived life.

I could try to tell them this lesson, but I worry it will not ring true. Eventually they will find me out anyway — me and the closet I have filled with my own versions of “Skechees,” yoga pants to make me thin, high heels so I can be sexy, the navy blazer for confidence.

Instead I challenge my son to a jog up our county road.

“You know the only thing that can really make you a faster runner is practice,” I say.

And oh, how do I want him to be speedy. Even more, I want Oreo bridges and roads crushing under his feet as he averts his eyes from billboards and ignores suggested paths, then sprints on to adventures of his own design.

The tagline: Helicopter can’t keep up. Pilot cheers.

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