The misadventures of a first time father

Coloring our composers

Colorful Composters“What’s the purple guy’s name?”

The question came out of the blue from the backseat of the car one afternoon driving home,

I looked around – nope, no one dressed in purple out shoveling their driveway or going for a jog that he might be looking at.

Just a moment or two ago, we were talking about the music on the radio. He always likes to ask “What’s this guy’s name?” which I’ve come to learn is his way of asking who the artist is. I tend to keep it to two channels in the car when he’s with me – SiriusXm Symphony Hall for classical and sometimes 40s on 4 for some music from the Big Band era. (I save the 80s and 60s music for when I’m on my own.)

We go over the names, and his retention has been fantastic, remembering names like Mozart and Beethoven, and even Vivaldi, of whom he says “That’s a silly name!”

So, as he kept asking me who the ‘purple guy’ is, I honestly had no idea what he was talking about.

Then he kept going, informing me that Beethoven is red, Mozart is blue, and Vivaldi is orange, and asking once, again “What’s the purple guy’s name?”

I didn’t have an answer for him, but while confused, felt like I finally had some kind of explanation. Whoever this ‘purple guy’ was, it must have been someone associated with the music.

This could have just been some one and done car game he was playing, but it also made me look a little further into something I was only peripherally aware of previously – something called synesthesia.

I’m not saying that what he did was any indication of synesthesia, just that it prompted me to look into it a little more out of curiosity.

Synesthesia is defined as a condition where one of our senses (such as hearing) is, at the same time, perceived as if by one or more additional senses, such as our sight. There is another form of synesthesia that associates objects like letters, shapes, numbers or people’s names with a sensory perception such as smell, color or flavor. The word synesthesia comes from two Greek words, syn (together) and aisthesis (perception). Therefore, synesthesia literally means “joined perception.”

The most common form of synesthesia is colored letters and numbers, when someone always sees a particular color in response to a certain letter or number. (“Nine is green, B is red,” that sort of thing.)

According to a Neuroscience for Kids site by a faculty member at the University of Washington, there isn’t an official way to diagnose synesthesia, but researchers have set up some guidelines (although it isn’t something all are in agreement upon; it serves merely as a starting point for diagnosis):

  • a potential synesthete does not actively think about their perceptions; they just happen.
  • instead of experiencing something in the “mind’s eye,” such as when you’re asked to think of or imagine a color, a synesthete often actually, physically sees a color projected outside of the body.
  • it has to be perceived the same way every time. If you see red when you hear the letter B, it has to be red every time.
  • the color is often remembered better than the object, name, letter, etc associated with it. (i.e. you’d remember orange better than you would Vivaldi).
  • The perceptions also cause emotional reactions and feelings.

There doesn’t seem to be a definite estimate of how many people can have synesthesia, according to the research by the Washington University faculty member. The ranges seem to go from 1 in 200 to 1 in 100,000, and notes that there are probably many more folks who have it but don’t realize they have it. They often tend to be women (three times more likely in the U.S. than men), are more often left-handed, are of normal or possibly above-average intelligence and that it often times seems to be inherited.

I find this to be a fascinating area of study, and whether the little guy actually did see a color, or our little composer bit was just a one and done episode of silliness that prompted me to learn a little more about synesthesia, well, color me interested.

Happy Birthday, Mr Rogers

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Courtesy of TheDailyQuotes.com

Today, Mr Fred Rogers would have been 87 years old.

While the gentle “Won’t you be my neighbor?” has, over the years, sometimes turned into a bit of a sarcastic punchline in pop culture, Mr Rogers himself, and the lessons and values that he presented, left a lasting impact on my life, as no doubt it did countless other lives over the course of multiple generations.

I was about 3 or 4 when I first joined ‘the neighborhood.’ My brother was just born/was a baby, and we lived in a two-family apartment building in an area of our city that, while maybe not that great, was home. I still remember running from one of the apartment to the other when Sesame Street would end, grabbing my sweater and sneakers because I knew what was up next.

And as Mr Rogers walked through that door and greeted us viewers, I sat in the living room of our apartment, putting on and zipping up my little sweater along with him, and tossing my sneaker from one hand to the next. I wanted to be just like that guy, I would think.

As I got older and grew out of the daily routine of my Sesame Street/Mr Rogers TV block, the values that came from them remained, even if I didn’t realize it.

No, I would have to wait until I was a great deal older, and much more introspective about myself and my life before I would see that. But now I do. I realize that while I was watching with a childhood curiosity and thirst for entertainment back then, what I was getting was a reinforcement of values and morals that taught all of us what it meant to be a good person.

It was really special. I knew it then, even if I didn’t know why. And while it took a few decades later and becoming a father myself, I know it again.

Thankfully, those lessons are being taught to new generations today through Fred Rogers’ Company in shows like the animated Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood.

So thank you, Fred Rogers, for all you did for me and for so many other kids over the years. For teaching us, not our ABCs or 1, 2, 3s, but how to be kind, why to be kind, and how to help.

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Bam! Pow! Whiff! – Good Guy and Bad Guy Play

Our son has been, I’m not sure what the word would be…categorizing, perhaps? Compartmentalizing?

There’s been a lot of “You a good guy” or “he a a bad guy.” There’s even been some “Me have to fight you, dada,” to which I ask simply, ‘why?’

“Cuz you a bad guy,” he tells me.

Some things I’ve read refer to this as “Power Play,” when children start to play in power roles such as superheroes.

According to Preschooleducation.com, this kind of play crosses all backgrounds, economic statuses and is something many, many children go through.

The article states that while characters change, the common characteristics are:

  • There is always a good guy and bad guy. It’s always good vs evil. You’re one or the other. No gray areas.
  • There’s always a conflict. It’s the responsibility of the good guys to fight the bad guys.
  • Control or power is the issue, always – who will win.

But they also say that children go through it between the ages of four and six. Our son is 2 1/2. And I’m worried that I bear a lot of the blame.

For so long, I’ve been sticking to PBS and Disney shows for him. Sesame Street has been a longtime favorite, and he’s recently jumped into a train phase making Thomas the Tank Engine all the rage at the moment. The toys he plays with the most are stuffed animals, Legos, cars and trucks, a wooden train set, and his Fisher Price Little People. Some of the Little People are generic – a cook, an astronaut, an alien, a farmer, a cow, etc, but some are little smiling versions of characters like Batman, Wonder Woman, The Joker, etc that he received on his birthday. That teamed with my own stuff around the house, he’s seen and recognizes these characters.

So when he saw the box of Adam West 1966 Batman DVDs I got for Christmas, he recognized Batman immediately and went INSANE begging to watch it.

There was plenty of hemming and hawing, until finally I gave in, telling myself ‘well, it’s innocuous enough, right? if I watch it with him, it’ll be okay.’

With its giant props, ridiculous and cartoonish scenarios, I felt like it’s as over the top at times as a Donald Duck cartoon. And I say this all in an endearing way. After all, I’m a huge fan of Batman ’66 myself.

I’ll admit, however, that I have started wondering if this ‘bad guy/good guy’ and ‘me have to fight you’ stuff kicked into high gear because of my allowing him to watch it (always with us there, talking about what’s the bad thing to do, the good thing to do, etc).

Car rides now have him asking me to list off ‘the bad guys from Batman’ or him doing it himself, mumbling “The Joker, The Riddler, Catwoman, Bookworm…” in the backseat and me sitting in the front wondering if I’ve made such a huge slip-up that I’m severely altering my son’s development.

However, it’s also very possible that he might have started doing this anyway, and the names for ‘bad guys’ being rattled off in the back seat could just would have been something else, or something generic otherwise.

I’ve talked to other parents who say their children started these phases early too, but it doesn’t mean I don’t still question my own decisions. So, for better or for worse, I decided to look into this type of play a little more.

In this PBS Parents Expert Q & A, Dr. Michael Thompson, Consultant, Author and Psychologist Specializing in Children and Families, responds to a mother asking about her child often playing the role of the villain when he pretends. She is concerned about him and what it might mean. Thompson’s response is interesting.

“I’m not worried about your son’s gun play as long as it really is play. Children’s play is just play. Play and real violence are two different things. If your son hits people, gets real angry at them, pokes them in the eye, or does scary things to them, that’s a bad sign. If other boys don’t want to play with him; if they leave your house crying, that’s not good. If , however, he is playing with toy guns, running around the house using his imagination, pretending to be someone big and powerful — even a villain — but only only pretending, then I am NOT WORRIED AT ALL. He’s just playing.

You haven’t told me your son’s age, but I think these questions might work for most boys under ten. Is he a loving boy most of the time? Do the teachers at school or preschool tell you that he behaves in class? Does he curl up next to you when you’re watching television? Is he respectful of you and his grandparents? Does he like being read to at bedtime? Does he have good freinds? If the answer to all of those question is “yes” then I am pretty sure that he’s not going to grow up to be a dangerous boy.

Psychologists know that children need to play out many things in their imagination. Boys seem to love to play at being bad, or having super powers. It makes them feel strong and masculine. It is exciting. If you are a good boy in real life, pretending that you are a bad guy can be exciting, because we all have a few villainous fantasies in our minds, don’t we? (Come on, haven’t you ever had a fantasy of breaking the law, or getting even with someone you hated? ) Little boys work these tensions out in their play. And I repeat: It is just play.”

Just as interesting was this research out of the University of Maine that I came across, where children in a preschool environment were observed as the scripts and scenarios for their play was changed over time. Even play that started out as just kids playing with dolls in the corner, over time would have moments of ‘It’s an emergency! My baby has a boo boo!’ and even evolve to children assigning who would be ‘the bad guy’ and ‘take the babies.’ A slightly uneasy teacher went along with it for the sake of the research and found that whether she was assigned as ‘the bad guy’ or if it was to another child, the children always seemed to know and reassure the teacher that it was ‘only pretend.’ It also caused the children to rally and work together to rescue their babies back. I’m paraphrasing, of course, what is a very interesting read, so check it out at the link for something a little more in-depth.

When I first wrote this blog post, it was nothing but self-doubt and self-criticism about my decision and how I felt like a terrible father. With a little perspective from my wife, and more research, I’m finding that the scenario I’m experiencing is not all that uncommon.

Does it still make me uneasy at times? Absolutely, but that doesn’t mean that the worst-case scenarios playing out in my head are coming to fruition and that I’ve started our son down a path of being a criminal.

It means he is learning how to pretend, he’s categorizing.

He’s not getting violent or even real aggressive. He does seem to be truly playing make-believe. And while I would like it to always be the sort of make-believe like being animals on the farm, or something a little more tame, I’m beginning to understand that in growing up comes the need to feel useful, to feel courageous, to feel you’re being brave and helping others.

And that’s not a totally bad thing. If this kind of play can be turned into examples of ‘doing the right thing,’ then maybe I need to stop looking at it as a potential disaster. Instead, maybe I can look at it as an opportunity to take his creativity and new ways of playing and deepen it, understand it, and talk to him about what he’s getting out of it, observe what he’s learning from it, and be a little less restrictive, until reason shows me I need to truly step in.

I’m going to try, at least. After all, I’m learning about all this just as much as he is as we go along.

Cartoon Madness!!!

You would think the media giants were reading this blog (or my mind) with the pop culture news coming out this week, tailor-made for those of us who grew up watching cartoons in the era of John Hughes movies and Balki Bartokomous.

Some time ago, I wrote about my disappointment when childhood favorite Inspector Gadget disappeared off of Netflix‘s streaming service.

Even more recently, I wrote a bit of a public rally for Disney to jump on the wave of nostalgia as my generation becomes parents with kids of their own, to revive such great animated shows as DuckTales or Darkwing Duck.

Well, this week, word came out that Disney IS in fact working on a revival of DuckTales.

“An all-new DuckTales series is coming to Disney XD in 2017! The Emmy Award-winning series from the late ‘80s/early ‘90s is absolutely treasured by our generation, and we are so excited that “every day they’re out there making DuckTales” again,” stated the announcement on Oh My Disney.

“DuckTales has a special place in Disney’s TV animation history, it drew its inspiration from Disney Legend Carl Barks’ comic books and through its storytelling and artistic showmanship, set an enduring standard for animated entertainment that connects with both kids and adults,” said Marc Buhaj, Senior Vice President, Programming and General Manager of Disney XD. “Our new series will bring that same energy and adventurous spirit to a new generation.”

The announcement went on to say that all the familiar faces would be there –  Scrooge McDuck, Huey, Dewey, Louie, Launchpad McQuack, Donald Duck, Duckworth, Gyro Gearloose, Flintheart Glomgold, Magica DeSpell, Poe, Ma Beagle, the Beagle Boys, Mrs. Beakley, and Webbigail Vanderquack.

Not sure who is more excited – me or my son, who has taken quite a liking to some classic DuckTales I have at home. Who am I kidding. It’s me who’s more excited. I just hope he’ll watch them with me when 2017 rolls around.

There’s no word yet on the voice cast or format (traditional animation or CGI), but I would be lying if I didn’t say I had a selfish dream that at some point the mucky-mucks at Disney were wise enough to lock Alan Young in a soundbooth for a day to record every phrase and word known to man so it can be plugged into a computer and he can remain the voice of Scrooge McDuck for all time. :) While we’re at it, let’s get June Foray (Magica DeSpell and Ma Beagle) to do the same thing.

Young is 95. Foray is 97. Now would certainly be the time.

Who else but Terence McGovern can voice Launchpad McQuack? I say get McGovern on the horn, pronto! (And maybe get him prepped for a Darkwing Duck revival while we’re at it. :)

Hamilton Camp (Fenton Crackshell and Gizmoduck) and Hal Smith (Gyro Gearloose and Flintheart Glomgold), are, sadly, no longer around.  Side note – Hal Smith, who also voiced Owl in Winnie the Pooh, and Pooh himself at times, was once a DJ at a radio station in my hometown.

If that morning hadn’t blown up Twitter and Facebook, the additional news in the afternoon that very same day was likely to break the internet, as they say. Netflix announced that Inspector Gadget AND another childhood favorite, Danger Mouse, would be getting revived series via their streaming service.

The new Danger Mouse is slated to appear in Spring 2016 and Inspector Gadget much sooner, in March 2015.

The plot of the new Inspector Gadget show is said to revolve around the villainous Dr. Claw reactivating M.A.D., his global crime syndicate, and Inspector Gadget is tasked with coming out of retirement to stop him.

There is sadly no more Don Adams with us, but I’m hoping that someone did their due diligence and found someone who can like him for this new series. After all, Adams made that character what he is, and you really can’t ‘go in a different direction’ when the entire character’s existence has been formed from that performance.

So, as they say, what’s old is new again. The characters and adventures I grew up loving are back, and I really, really look forward watching them with my own little guy.

Needless to say, I’m excited. Very excited.

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.

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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.”


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