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.
When 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.
We 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.
Finally, 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.
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.
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?”
(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. :)
And all I can think is ‘how the heck did it get here so quickly?!’
I’m not talking in that ‘I’m unprepared!” way when events sneak up on your despite their regularity every year. No, I mean, what the heck happened to the lead-up?
This revelation hit me when, of all things, I was putting some bottles of beer in the fridge.
Every winter, I get a pack of the Samuel Adams Winter/Holiday Pack. It comes with such staples as the Boston Lager, but some special winter-y mixes like White Christmas, Winter Lager and my favorite, Old Fezziwig Ale. It seems that even in years of recent memory, I would savor the dark days of winter (or quasi-winter, meaning when it’s not officially winter and just cold), leading up and thinking about the season – past, present and future – while savoring these favorite beers of mine.
And as I was loading them into the fridge last night I thought – ‘it’s almost Christmas Eve. In mere days, that’s it, the holiday is over.’
Then it struck me just how fast it’s been breezing by. While I was prepared for the holiday and any festivities that come with it, my shopping done early, our prep for family gatherings done, it dawned on me how I’ve yet to find that relaxed ‘ahhh. the holidays’ state of mind I’ve known in years past. And I can’t put my finger on why this may be.
Could it be the warmer, dreary and rainy weather this Christmas, making for a green, muddy holiday than the idealistic White Christmases of the past? Last year, it was expected to be green and on Christmas Eve, snowed by surprise – “A Christmas Miracle!”
Is it that the little guy is already 2 1/2, making the ticks of the clock and the tears of the calendar pages seem to move ever faster in general?
Or has all of life led to a hurry-up, checklist, get this done lifestyle that hasn’t lent itself to such relaxing and reflecting as before? Is that just the natural course of life and parenthood?
I have no concrete answer. But I do know that it’s yet another wake-up call to me to take heed of this fast-paced breeze through life and start living it before it passes us all by.
As the year comes to a close and another begins to start, I think it’s maybe appropriate that I’ve had this wake-up call when I have.
Every now and then I need that kind of kick in the pants to stop running around in that checklist-driven life and start just enjoying life for what it is. Otherwise it’s going to pass you by before you know it.
This past weekend, we took the little guy to see jolly old St. Nick, just as we had the year before.
We could’ve taken him to a mall, yes, but we’re fortunate to have, within an hour’s drive of us, something truly special – and that’s what’s known as the Candlelight Evening at the Farmer’s Museum in Cooperstown, NY.
Amid a Victorian village, horses draw carriages of guests, while people sip wassail from cauldron’s scattered throughout the village. Walkways are lined with luminaries to guide your way, with visits to such places as the Blacksmith Shop, the Typesetter’s, the Apothecary and much more, bringing to life what it was like to live, breathe, work and play in an era long gone.
But, above all else, it’s also where we find Santa. Not just any Santa. No, it’s the most wonderful, believable Santa I’ve ever had the pleasure to encounter. Even before we had a child, Meg and I would go to this yearly event and get our picture taken with ol’ St. Nick. Now a yearly pilgrimage for our family.
We had a wonderful time last year, carrying our little guy, then one, through the village, seeing the sights and sounds of life from over a century ago. The pictures were perfect, the experience, a delight.
This year, however, history did not exactly repeat itself.
In years past, we’ve purchased our tickets online, meaning when we were able to enter immediately upon our arrival – no lines, no waiting. This year, we waited a bit too long and the morning of, realized the ‘buy in advance’ option online was…no longer an option at that point.
The day had been filled from the start. We had a memorial service to attend, followed by some quick, last-minute holiday shopping before picking up the little guy from my parents’ house with plans to put him down for quick nap before heading out again.
Unfortunately, trying to cram so much into the morning and postponing his nap until we got home, was a disaster. It was too late in the afternoon by the time we got home and he refused to go down for a nap, no matter how desperately he needed one. And as the clock ticked on by into the afternoon, we realized our time was very limited to get to the event before it wrapped up.
So we decided we would head out and hope he slept along the way.
He did not.
Last year we had arrived at the start, finding parking relatively close by in a museum parking lot across the road, and providing plenty of daylight for great family pictures.
This year, we found ourselves driving in the dark for 45 minutes, up and down roads, in various parking lots and streets, in the hopes of someone, amid the crowded, filled-to-the-brim parking spaces, would be on their way out, giving us a way in. It finally came, thanks to my wife’s dedication of going back and forth to the same spots until something opened. Eventually, it did, and we got a space in that same museum lot across the road as last year.
When we crossed the street and made our way to the event, we found a line of probably more than 50 people stretching out from the entrance way, waiting to buy their tickets and head inside. With no tickets in hand, we had no other choice, and waited, each of us holding one of the little guy’s hands as he swayed back and forth, up and down out of boredom. A baby in a stroller behind us kept him occasionally entertained, as well as occasionally crossing that border between tickling and accosting that’s oh-so hard for a two year old to understand, no matter how you describe it to him.
He surprised us with how well he held it together waiting in line to get in, although once inside, the line around the building for horse-drawn carriage rides was just too much, and we instead opted to make our mission, above all-else, to find that jolly old elf.
Last year we were lucky enough to catch him walking along the Victorian village and got a family picture with him. (My wife and the little guy even ended up on the event website this year for it!) This year, however, dark had already fallen and there would be no bright outdoor pictures with Santa. So, we found the old schoolhouse, warmed with a wood-burning stove, where he was inside, telling stories by candlelight to the kids. As was the case this far into the event, the line went out the building and we plopped ourselves right at the end of it.
Twisting and turning ourselves through the small entryway to let others exit (some, unfortunately, more pushy and uncaring of the small children they were knocking over to get out), and made our way inside.
I battled with him to keep him away from the very hot wood-burning stove that sat next to the line, and finally, there we were – face to face with St. Nick. The little guy approached, wide-eyed, calling out “Santa! Santa!” and pointing out his “mama and dada” to the man in red. Was he good or bad? “Me good boy…a little bit naughty,” he said, using his tiny fingers to signify “a little bit.” A quick picture with the cell phone (wouldn’t you know it, mine was full and couldn’t take pictures, but luckily Meg came to the rescue) and off Santa’s lap he went. Santa gave him an old-fashioned piece of peppermint candy, and turning to that old elf, my son said “wait. wait. Santa, you bring me…the toys?” “On Christmas Eve,” Santa laughed, and off we went.
We took a seat in one of the desks in this old school house, while the little guy chomped and chewed on this peppermint stick and the room quickly filled with more Santa-seekers. Realizing it was time to exit, we thought it best to hold onto the peppermint stick since we wouldn’t be able to see him chewing on it (or how much he put in his mouth) out in the dark.
This, compounded with the lack of nap, was a big mistake, and resistance ensued.
“No! It’s mine. Santa gave it to me!”
I have rarely, even in his outbursts of ‘no!’ that have driven me crazy lately, seen him speak with such passion about something. This tiny piece of peppermint was special to him, because it came personally from Santa.
So we stayed, the crowds filling in around us, until he finished his peppermint. We exited the old schoolhouse, I grabbed a cup of wassail from one of the cauldrons heated over a wood fire, and we continued to the next great destination – all the animals in the barns at the far end of the village.
From sheep to cows, chickens to a bull – and even a barn cat – this was as big a highlight for the little guy as much as seeing Santa. Even in the days since, when someone asks him what he did over the weekend, he talks about seeing the animals.
As the night went on, we made our way back through the village and thought that, like last year, dinner would be a good way to cap off the night. In a ‘town mess hall’ type structure, with carolers singing Christmas songs outside its doors, we took a seat at a large table, and I proceeded to get in line for a turkey dinner, some dessert (Meg loves her old-fashioned gingerbread) and some hot cocoa.
And as I made my way through the line of people, slowly gathering and balancing all our food, I heard the screams from the far end of the hall, completely identifiable as our little guy having a meltdown.
When I got to the table, Meg was there, doing her best, along with a woman who took a seat next to them. Her husband was in line getting their food, and she was making conversation and doing her best to help distract the little guy. It was very nice.
We did our best to eat dinner and make conversation with this delightful couple. They had bought a house in the area almost a dozen years ago, moving from Long Island, and the more we talked, the more coincidences or common interests we found we had with them. From their one-time farm and residence in our favorite Vermont getaway village, to their son graduating from the same college as my brother and I, it was one wonderful discussion after the next.
Unfortunately, it was all amid the little one, cranky as could be, not wanting anything but gingerbread and brownie, calling false alarms for going to the bathroom, and generally being cantankerous.
We had reached a point where we knew the evening was not going to get much better and decided it was time to cut our losses and call it a night. We packed up and headed to the car, and eventually hit the road through the dark, snowy back roads for home, where that fresh air, exciting combination of animals and Santa, and lack of nap put the little guy right to sleep.
We took away three lessons from this:
1. Always buy your tickets in advance
2. Always arrive slightly earlier than the event’s start time.
3. Always find a way to schedule/work in sufficient naptime before you leave the house.
They aren’t always going to be spectacular, out of the park visits year after year, and sometimes I have to learn not to set such high expectations for family outings. Traveling with a toddler can sometimes bring the most joyous of moments, and also the most frustrating. I often forget, because of how big he is physically, and how verbal he is, that he is still only two year old, and I think I often set my expectations a bit too high for him because of this. There will be good, there will be bad, but the important thing is that, even through those difficult events, travels, etc, memories are being made. Time is being spent together.
And that’s what is most important.
“Talent + service to others = success and personal fulfillment.”
These were the words uttered by a friend as he brought to a close a passionate and inspiring eulogy about his dad.
His dad being a math teacher, my friend described it as “the most important equation” his dad ever taught.
The passing came unexpectedly, but came doing what he enjoyed most – helping others. In this case, helping at a local church. I had never met the man myself, but hearing my friend talk of him with such esteem, such reverence, I knew what a difference he made in the lives he touched.
As my friend spoke those words at the front of the service, I felt…I don’t know. Inspired. Motivated. Enlightened.
It was like those words went into the air, floated into my ear and sparked a fire inside my mind (and no doubt, many others as well that day).
We are all given something or somethings that we are good at, and to allow them to waste is the only true failure. Whether you succeed at something with flying colors or are don’t meet your goal but gave it all you’ve got, you’ve put your abilities to work.
I think of how easy it is for so many of us to become complacent in this life. To just accept things for how they are and lose the fire, the motivation that once pushed us to change our thoughts, our worlds. Heck, I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve sat down to write blog entries here, only to give up a few sentences in, filling up my account with dozens of unfinished blot posts.
This man inspired countless people in his time – be they the students he guided to find their true calling, the people he helped serving his country during the Korean War, or his own family, showing them, by example, what it means to believe in yourself, to have conviction, and to never put your abilities to waste, rather, to put them to use, making an impact, making a difference to others, making this world a little bit better.
It was a truly beautiful and touching tribute and my friend’s words echoed through my mind since we left the service, making me want to live a life that takes full advantage of any abilities I’ve been given, to make a difference (for the better) on the lives of the people I encounter, and most of all – to show my son, by example, just how happy life can be when you put it all together, stop focusing on the unimportant, the trivial, the superficial, and start focusing on what matters – making this world a little bit better.