Saturday, February 18, 2012

Stretch Armstrong's Guide to Parenting

As a child growing up in the 1970s, I was fortunate to play with a variety of extremely cool toys.

Some were later discontinued or modified because of caustic chemicals (i.e. Shrinky Dinks), choking hazards (old school Weebles) or their ability to impale players or spectators (lawn darts).

One of the coolest - which also had some staying power in the marketplace - was Stretch Armstrong.

Those younger than 40 may not be familiar with good old Stretch. He was a familiar character in my neighborhood, along with the 10-inch GI Joe action figures (with accessories!) and the Bionic Man ("...Steve Austin...a man barely alive...we can rebuild him...").

Together, they fought the forces of evil that reared their ugly heads from the sandbox, the backyard maple and the rickety clubhouse fashioned with plywood scraps.

Of all the "good guys," Stretch was the best.

The seemingly indestructable 15-inch character - made of highly pliable rubber and filled with a "space age" reddish goo - could endure just about anything.

He could be stretched to the point of breaking, dropped from heights, frozen, buried, run over by Schwinn bikes, name it.

The extent of Stretch's abuse was limited only by our imaginations. And, best of all, if Stretch developed a tear in his rubberized flesh, it could be repaired with a simple BAND-AID - something we always kept in good supply.

I hadn't thought of Stretch Armstrong for more than 30 years. Kenner stopped making the original version of the toy in 1980 and the adult clutter in my brain long ago stored the miscellaneous childhood info in a box in my mind's attic.

As I inhaled a large mug of coffee on a very sluggish morning earlier this week, however, old Stretch crossed my mind. I realized I had become him...nearly 14 years ago...when I became a parent for the first time. My wife Missy shares these characteristics and, amazingly, has even greater stretching capabilities. She is a mother, after all.

The similiarities between Stretch and us have increased dramatically over the years as our three children have grown into third-, fifth- and eighth-graders.

With each passing day, we are called to stretch seemingly beyond our physical capabilities - with homework assistance; Cub Scouts; multiple sports practices and games; PTA, booster club and school board meetings; intricate classroom project design and construction efforts; and the many other responsibilities that come with parenting active children.

We endure late nights, early mornings, "homework I forgot I had" surprises and a resounding, ever-present physical and emotional fatigue that seems to carry over from one day to the next.

And yet, like Stretch, we are resilient. The blonde-haired, swim trunk-wearing superhero would return to his box each time we finished playing with him and miraculously would return to his original shape - refreshed and renewed - ready for the next adventure.

Our "box," in keeping with the analogy, is an 17-year-old bed with a memory foam mattress that we share with a snoring bulldog and a wiry Jack Russell terrier-chihuahua mix named Oscar.

The memory foam helps return us to almost factory condition; the morning coffee completes the process.

With my oldest child preparing to enter high school next year and the other two to follow in just a few short years, I know - in the grand scheme of life - that my role as Stretch Dad will someday have an end point.

Until I get there, however, I hope the kids keep the patch kit handy in case some emergency repairs are needed.


  1. So nice to find this in my inbox this morning....I've missed your writing. Love you, Joyce

  2. Brings a smile and thoughts of happy times! Your writing never ceases to amaze me ;o)