C9SPh9oM4pnV1s2ytKUuENT5UtK-ANYTfGjaiiXWRMwBy Tim Sullivan

Let me tell you about the time we didn’t See Rock City. You know the place outside of Chattanooga with the incredible rock formations and hiking trails on Lookout Mountain where you can see seven states at once? Yeah, we didn’t see that. We were supposed to, but we didn’t.

Our Fall calendar is a blitzkrieg of baseball games, birthday parties, other parties, festivals and football. So when Elliott’s baseball game set for Saturday. Oct. 24 was canceled in advance because of a scheduling conflict, we found ourselves with the oasis of a plan-free day.

We were giddy at first. Should we do something or perhaps even better yet, nothing? I was torn. I can waste a day watching football with the best of ‘em and not driving four hours on a Saturday is always fun, too… but admittedly, the rest of the family might get antsy. Kristen had no such ambivalence. We were going to “See Rock City.” She’s always wanted to and now we had the perfect opportunity. If we did nothing, she argued, the kids would be watching TV or looking at an iPad until they were miserable at the mere suggestion they do something else. She was right, as usual.

So when our friends invited us for a drink on Friday night we politely declined, “Not tonight. Getting up early to See Rock City!” But we all slept in a smidge later than we intended to. I threw a questioning glance Kristen’s way and her unspoken reply was clear: Don’t screw this up. I got in the shower and gave myself a pep talk. It’ll be great. You’re going to love it. The kids are going to love it. We’ll get a birdhouse! We’ll get a bumper sticker! You must convey this or all will be lost.

While the Sullivans of Decatur didn’t make it to Rock City, the Pintos of Stirling, NJ did.

All was lost.

The kids moaned as if I had declared this Clean the Toilets Saturday. Elliott wanted to go to his schoolyard and play Wall Ball. Seriously? I googled up Rock City images – see we’re going here today. Isn’t that awesome? You guys like hiking. You do it all the time at your afterschool program, right? We’ll get a birdhouse! We’ll get a bumper sticker! The Pintos went and said this place is basically a giant, scenic gift shop – you’ll love it!

Apparently it was still not as thrilling as a match of Father-Son Wall Ball – a game that is meant to be played with 10 or more at his school – the place he groaned about all week. He added salt by pointing out that we adults were excited about hiking because we never get to do it but they have to do it every week. Margo simply added that going to Rock City was “a terrible idea” without offering an alternative plan. I might need to wean her off those presidential debates.

We’re not completely inept at getting our kids to do things, but the prospect of them whining about it over breakfast and then a sour, 120 mile drive was pretty unappealing. Kristen seethed in an adjacent room, eavesdropping on my failed pitch. She was folding laundry like a wobbly ceiling fan on high. At any given moment she might come completely unhinged and lethal.

I summoned my best efforts to save the Saturday. We carved a pumpkin into an owl and cooked the seeds. We went to Agnes Scott College to ride bikes and play football in the quad. Elliott and I even went up to his school and played a smashing round of Wall Ball. On paper it was a decent day, but the pall of family failure hung thick. Should we have been more insistent or does their reaction indicate we schedule too much already? The mood lightened that evening when Kristen took the kids out for FroYo. Hindsight being 20/20 I’m now thinking they must have FroYo in Rock City, right?

Tim Sullivan grew up in a large family in the Northeast and now lives with his small family in Oakhurst. He can be reached at tim@sullivanfinerugs.com.

Collin Kelley

Collin Kelley has been the editor of Atlanta Intown for two decades and has been a journalist and freelance writer for 35 years. He’s also an award-winning poet and novelist.