The misadventures of a first time father

The train wreck that is the Thomas the Tank Engine Table

It's always a train wreck trying to get him away.

It’s always a train wreck trying to get him away.

Colorful book covers surround you at every turn, enticing you to crack open the spine and see what magic lies inside these children’s tales. A small stage where storytimes are held, entrancing children with tales of wonder. In a corner, a wooden table adorned with wooden train tracks, and little toy versions of Thomas and his Friends. And the blood curdling scream of a child who refuses to leave that table when it’s time to go.

Oh, wait. That child is ours.

And as the other children at the table look around at each other to fathom the situation, a familiar face to us, an employee of Barnes and Noble comes over to ask if everybody was okay and if anyone was hurt.

Only my pride. Only my pride.

You see, this has, unfortunately been more of the trend recently when we go to Barnes and Noble.

When he first started showing an interest in it, the challenge was getting him to not take the trains out of the hands of other kids who would either come over to play or already be there when we arrived.

He’s gotten much better at that, thankfully, so there are baby steps in the right direction.

But when it’s time to leave, look out. He wants to hear nothing but the little world in front of him and whether it be advance warning (“You can play for a bit more, buddy, but then we have to go” or the follow-up some time later that “We have to go now”) are met with a blood curdling “No! No! No! Noooooo!!!” that then devolves into very loud screaming and crying.

He’s 2 1/2 and I know that these are the times when we’re all trying to communicate with each other and he is still trying to understand and effectively communicate the many emotions he’s feeling. But I admit, in the heat of the moment, it can be rough.

As we resort to picking him up and carrying him out of the Children’s Section, a slew of questions fly through our brain:

  • Did we do the right thing?
  • Is everyone in this store staring at us?
  • Why is he SO angry?
  • Are we bad parents?
  • Are we raising a brat?

We’re hoping this is a phase. We work with him and talk with him all the time about sharing, behavior, both at home and in public, but sometimes it just can be all too much.

It’s a work in progress, but not without some bumps along the way.

Teaching an Old Dog New Tricks

Not our kid or dog, but you get the point.

Not our kid or dog, but you get the point.

While sure, there are many times where being in the presence of children can be downright exhausting – there’s also many a time when a child brings out something fresh, something new, something lost in a person. They can be rejuvenating. Whether it’s their laughter, their imagination or just their energy and innocence, it makes many of us feel young again.

I was lucky enough to see men in their 90s (our late neighbor, my wife’s late grandfather) light up like someone flipped a switch when our little guy would visit them. It’s truly extraordinary to see just how much life a child can bring to others simply by being there and being them.

And I think the same goes for animals too.

One of my parents’ dogs has been with the family since I was about 18 or 19. So that puts him at roughly 15 or 16 years old at this point. And there have been times, unfortunately, where he shows it, more old man than the spry young puppy that once fit in our hands.

But then, as our little guy turned from baby to toddler, running around the house, playing games, chatting up a storm, something happened in that old dog. His tail would wag, his feet would start bounding (albeit a little slower than they once did) and suddenly, he had the energy of a puppy again, running around my parents’ house with our little guy, chasing him, giving him kisses, and having energy.

You want the fountain of youth? Hang around little kids. They’ll make anyone feel young again.

Building a cat shelter for the strays

As the days get longer, they can also get quite a bit colder, and after bundling our little ones and ourselves up, making sure the car gets started and defrosts, you may be all set to battle the elements of your day.

But, while I know I risk the moniker of ‘Crazy Cat Guy,’ the cold weather always makes me think of the many cats and dogs that don’t have the fortune of having homes where they can escape subzero temperatures, or as is sometimes the case – the pets whose owners don’t let them inside, even in subzero temperatures.

We choose to keep our feline children inside, for their own safety. Not everyone feels the same way. It’s just the way we do it.

With that said, our area and neighborhood has had quite a lot of strays coming and going through its streets, sidewalks and yards in the time since we’ve moved in, and one place that several of them tend to regularly escape the elements and predators, is our garage. Built with the house, back in the 1920s, the doors are a little warped, leaving an opening at the bottom of one set of doors. It’s just enough for a cat or kitten to squeeze into and find their way into a garage that can’t fit a car, but serves its purpose for our storage of tables, chairs, garden equipment, etc.

Some of our visitors pass like ships in the night. Others are too skittish around humans and keep a good distance away when they see me. Others, as I’ve mentioned, become semi-regulars, and grab at my heartstrings, creating a very special bond that always leaves me concerned when they take off out of the realm and safety of our yard. Some, we’ve managed to get to a shelter, where they’ve been successfully adopted.

I do my best to do what I can, as I truly believe that a dog or cat, just like a human, does not deserve to die for the mere fact they lack a home or love (which is what so many, I’ve found, crave far beyond even a bowl of food). So, I periodically leave out food, some blankets, and try to create a shelter they can turn to when the weather (or other animals) get rough.

This winter, though, I felt the need to do a little more. Looking online, I found that some people were making shelters for strays in their neighborhood. They were for areas that had absolutely no shelter, but were being used by the animals nonetheless. I figured if they were already coming and going from the garage, an extra level of security and warmth couldn’t hurt.

So, using what I found online as a guideline, Meg and I set out to create a mini-shelter for the strays that come through.

I started by purchasing two inexpensive Rubbermaid-type containers. One bigger and one that fit within it.

IMG_0044

Feline senses detect something box-like.

IMG_0045

Scout mission into box-like structure underway.

Before we get to the next step, I’ll mention that it makes life easier if you have the following: some duct tape, a circular plate for tracing a hole, a permanent marker, and an exact o-knife.IMG_0047I used the plate/container to trace a hole with the marker, giving me a guideline of where I’ll be doing the damage.

IMG_0048Then, I cut a hole on the far side of each, big enough for a cat, but small enough so anything larger can’t get in. IMG_0050 IMG_0051 From the looks of things, there is a good chance cats will have an interest in peeking into these holes.

IMG_0052When the apocalypse comes and cats rule the earth, my life will be spared.

When the apocalypse comes and cats rule the earth, my life will be spared for my works.

We laid some towels down for bedding inside the smaller container (some people like to use hay). Putting the lid on the small container, we placed the smaller container in the big one. Then I took insulation leftover from a house project and put it between three sides of the small container, leaving the entrance way free, of course.

A layer on insulation then goes on top of the small one and the lid to the bigger container goes on as well.

Just place you insulation in the in-between spots, minus your entrance side, of course!

Just place your insulation in the in-between spots, minus your entrance side, of course!

Voila! Cat shelter! And our guys took an immediate interest in it, which was a good sign. Also, use the duct tape I mentioned earlier, to cover up the jagged edges from cutting the holes. You don’t want any animals to cut themselves going in or out.

IMG_0055I placed it in the garage, and as the nights got colder, I found it getting put to good use by the various guests who would come and go. Meg also had the bright idea of using some old, small dish towels stuffed into the areas around the hole (since there is no insulation on that side) to help keep warmth in as well as keep the kitties from going at the insulation if they see it.

IMG_0162

Aha! A tenant!

And there you have it. For a total of $12, and using some leftover materials around the house, I was able to add a little extra safety and warmth for souls who otherwise would be fighting to stay warm as the temperatures dip.

"Please stop taking my picture and let me eat during my hotel stay in piece, mister."

“Please stop taking my picture and let me eat during my hotel stay in peace, mister.”

Wordless Wednesday: It’s like looking into my own past

Yep. That's my boy.

                                                                              Yep. That’s my boy.

Impromptu slumber party

Sleepy Time StarsSometimes our little guy, now around 2 1/2 years old, will go to sleep like a champ. Other days, however, it’s a more…ongoing process.

He talks to himself and his toys for a bit, sometimes stories, sometimes giggles, and other times, the details of his day. And there are times when he will then fall into a slumber, giving mommy and daddy a chance to get done some of the things they just couldn’t pull together during the rest of the evening with a toddler running all around the house.

The days that he does not sleep so easily usually come with a myriad of stalling tactics and diversions.

“Maaaaaaammmmmmaaaa! Daaaadddddaaaa!” we will hear calling out from his room, usually ten minutes after he’s been put to bed.

Sometimes it’s “Me go potty!” which leads to a trip to the bathroom, and long conversations on the bathroom floor as he sits on the potty wanting to talk about everything under the sun.

At other times, it’s a request for a drink of water.

Recently, there was even the “there’s a monster in there” tactic, leading to very long talks, with the lights turned on, to show that things in the room just look a little different in the dark.

One recent night, though, nothing was going to get this kid to sleep and when I went in to check on him, he insisted that I stay with him.

“Stay, dada, stay!” he said, holding out his hand in that ‘stop’ motion.

So, I grabbed an extra pillow off his rocking chair, laid it on the floor and told him I would stay with him for a little bit. Putting my head down on the pillow, I saw him, occasionally looking up a few times to make sure I was still there.

It worked. He stopped crying out, stopped being worried, and eventually fell right asleep.

But then, so did I.

When I opened my eyes, I realized my attempt to put my head down to comfort him and put me out cold, and as I snuck out of the room, the little guy now fast asleep, I went downstairs to find Meg typing away at her computer and asking me what I had been working on upstairs.

Apparently I had been up there for well over an hour – out cold, asleep on his floor.

Holiday Wrap-Up: Oh, Christmas Tree

Picking out a treeWhen Meg and I started out, we had an artificial tree. It was nothing elaborate – just something simple and nice that she picked up on sale one Black Friday that worked fine for our little two-person Christmases.

Little by little, our household grew – one cat, two cats, three cats, and finally one tiny human, and that poor little tree didn’t last too long against the combined might of three felines and a baby. So, a few years ago, we started getting real trees for Christmas.

With it came the adventure and joy of having the little guy bundled up, walking with us among rows of trees, looking for just the right one for our little home. But that’s not to say it didn’t come without its own challenges, and this year certainly had plenty.

The plan was simple – while the little guy takes his nap, mom and dad will put up the tree. Easy, simple, no problem.

Easier said than done.

IMG_0517We got the tree inside and into the designated area with little difficulty, but getting it to stand up in the tree stand was a completely different story. In it would go, screws tightened, let go and…down it went in an instant.

Hmmm. Maybe the screws/fasteners just hit a bad spot.

Spin it around, try the screws in new spots and give it a whirl. Let go and…down it went again.

This went on for about 45 minutes as we each tried our best to figure out just how to get this tree to stop falling down on us, even though it was screwed into the stand. Meanwhile, the sounds from upstairs indicated the little guy had no intention of going to sleep that afternoon and was not in a happy mood.

Macys Elf on TreeFinally, in a last-ditch effort for any type of improvement, Meg suggested getting a small piece of wood from the garage. I keep odds and end pieces in there leftover from various projects around the house. Upon finding one small enough to fit inside the base, I brought it inside and she wedged it in the base, giving the tree just the support it needed to finally, thankfully, stand up straight.

With that, we were okay to bring the little guy downstairs (free of a falling-tree zone) and continue decorating with his occasional assistance. Upon our tree was a veritable memory book of our lives so far, from the Macy’s Elf Meg and I picked up on one of our several pre-parenthood trips to New York City, to the Scrooge McDuck as Ebeneezer Scrooge ornament that reminds me of my childhood love of the character, one that seems to have, inadvertently been picked up by our son.

Scrooge counts moneyThe holidays went very well overall, and the cats only broke a few ornaments this year and fortunately none of them were too sentimental, or glass.

Now, several weeks later, it’s all done.

This past weekend, it all got packed up. The tree out at the curb, ready to be re-purposed by our municipality, the gifts that sat under it now put away, as our the stockings and decorations that helped bring the season to life.

We didn’t get a white Christmas this year, it was too warm.

At times I thought it didn’t feel like the holiday season with the weather being the way it was, but as we tucked away all those decorations for another year, I realized that despite what was happening outside – inside our little home, stockings, vintage Santa postcards, and a beautiful Douglass Fir in front of a television playing classics we love (From White Christmas to the Bishop’s Wife, Mickey’s Christmas Carol to It’s a Wonderful Life), the season was in full swing in our home, and we had total control over that.

Christmas Tree with bauble

The Game of Jacob Marley

Goofy as MarleyHave you ever played the Game of Jacob Marley?

Yeah, me neither. Until I had a two-year old that it is.

The little guy has been quite a fan of “Mickey’s Christmas Carol” – an affection not just limited to this time of year. He’s requested to watch it pretty regularly since Summer, actually. It’s started a love of “Unca Scrooge” that has transitioned into flipping through many of my old comics (and any new ones we can find for him) featuring the World’s Richest Duck.

But it’s also made him familiar with characters that, through the Disney-Mickey interpretation, he might otherwise be completely unaware of – at least at two and a half years old, that is.

He talks about Tiny Tim, he talks about Scrooge, and he talks about the Ghost – most importantly, Marley’s ghost. He narrates the special for us, telling me “Marley ghost is comin.” or “Giant ghost in Scrooge’s room!” mere seconds before it happens on screen.

And not just limited to Dickens, it has made me appreciate how interpretations can resonate with audiences and individuals far more than the original source material. While he has to inclination to want to pick up a copy of Dickens’ classic – even if it were in board or Little Golden Book form, he knows this story, its themes (“Scrooge mean”…”Scrooge bein’ nice now,” as he says) because of this particular interpretation of the story.

Literary Purists might balk at this, but honestly, I find it wonderful that a toddler is understanding the characters, themes, and story in such a morality tale, thanks to it being told to him through characters he likes and understands.

With that said, that affection and familiarity seems to transition far out of the TV screen. This entire Christmas season he has been putting blankets on his head and walking around the house saying “me a ghost!”

The other night, he made me hide under the blanket with him. There I was, in darkness, with the face of my amazing little boy, also sitting under the blanket, staring right at me with a huge smile.

“Dada, we play game?”

“What game could we play under here, buddy?”

“We play Jacob Marley game.”

“How do we play the Jacob Marley Game?”

“Boo!!!:

(i pretend to be frightened and his giggling ensures)

There’s that song lyric about the ‘scary ghost stories’ of Christmas’ long, long ago.

Well don’t call it a comeback. If you ask this kid, they never left. :)


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