The misadventures of a first time father

Searching for Carvel

judgehardyandsonI’m a big fan of old movies.

And among those old movies that rank up there as some of my favorites are The Andy Hardy movies that starred Mickey Rooney as the impetuous, excitable youth learning about life, love, family and friendship in his small town of Carvel in the 1930s and ‘40s.

From his ‘man to man’ talks with his father, Carvel Judge James Hardy, to his active involvement in the school and its social scene, to walking down the sidewalks of a quaint Main Street full of grocers, mechanics, druggists and any other essential store, manned by a smiling face tha knows everyone in town, to gliding beside the white picket fences that adorned the houses of people who lived beside each other, laughed with each other and looked out for each other, the Andy Hardy movies provide life as an optimistic, we’re in this together, looking out for your fellow man journey to being a better person, even if you get into a scrape along the way.

It defines that ideal that we look back on thanks to those movies (and later, TV shows) of life during those years of perfection. Of Americana.

06-mickey-rooneyAnd it’s not real.

Oh, how I wish it was, but deep down, I know it’s not.

The films, set in the fictional town of Carvel (somewhere, never named, in the Midwest) were sentimental comedies that celebrated ordinary American life as if it walked off the cover of a Norman Rockwell cover to the Saturday Evening Post. The people in Carvel were generally pious, patriotic, generous and tolerant.

But it was not real. Not even for the time.

The town of Carvel was a representation of what MGM movie mogul Louis B. Mayer wanted his adoptive country of America to be. It was an idealized vision.

As writer Victoria Balloon points out in a 2011 Matinee at The Bijou Blog post brilliantly dissecting the Andy Hardy film series, Louis B. Mayer was not looking to reflect what America was at the time. He was instead looking to instill an idea of what he, as the son of Jewish-Russian immigrants, wanted America to be. Rooney himself referred to it as “part of L.B. Mayer’s master plan to reinvent America….He wanted values to be instilled in the country and knew how influential films could be…”

I know this. Every time I watch one of these movies I know this, and yet, it makes no difference in my longing to find such a place for my son (and soon to be children) grow up.

We love our little house, purchased right before we got married. Our next door neighbor’s are always there with a helping hand and watchful eye when we need it, families across and down the road that are a pleasure to see and chat with, and up until a few years ago, we had two WWII vets (one next to us and one across from us) also among our daily cast of characters. Both have since passed away.

Andy Hardy HomeBut I’m fooling myself if I didn’t admit that with our family expanding, we continue to be on the lookout for something a little bigger, something with a little more space. While our street itself is relatively calm (with a few exceptions), it’s becoming apparent to me that the surrounding area as a whole is not faring as well, be it crime, drugs, or other issues. Maybe it’s a residual effect of working in news and having the press releases constantly stream across your desk, making you realize what’s going on in your tiny village, but it of course has me concerned how long things can hold.

But when we do, even casually, look outward, I find myself constantly shrugging my shoulders at potential locations.

Because it’s not Carvel.

Maybe not Carvel specifically, but it’s because in the back of my mind, even if it’s not conscious, I am looking for Carvel. And it doesn’t exist.

It never did.

If I could just convince my subconscious mind of that…

Leaving Carvel

Nap-A-Roo

Every now and then I get a new book to try out at storytime via the Independent Book Publishers Association. Storytime always proves to be the best litmus test, as opposed to me just reading a book and telling you what I thought.

Honestly, who cares what I think if the book is for kids. Let’s see what the little guy thinks.

So, with that in mind, the other night we read “Nap-A-Roo” by Kristy Kurjan and Illustrated by Tyler Parker. A board book from KPO Creative LLC, it’s the quick tale of a Kangaroo in a zoo in Timbuktu who is ready to take a nap-a-roo.

Sensing a pattern yet?

That’s right. It’s my favorite type of book to read at bedtime. One with rhymes. And boy does our little guy love rhyming. There’s times in the car, or when he’s sitting on the potty that all he wants to do is rhyme, shouting out a word (“cat!” “bat!” “rat!”) and waiting for me to chime in with words that rhyme.

It causes fits of giggles, and needless to say, so did the cute rhymes of “Nap-A-Roo.”

In fact, by the time we got to page 3 and the word “Timbuktu” he was giggling, rhyming and having a wonderful time., even anticipating some of the rhyming words to come. I was able to pause at the end of one page and he instantly knew, based on the rhyming pattern, what word was coming.

A quick, brisk read, it really was a lot of fun. Coupled with adorable illustrations by Parker, I think this is one we’re going to be pulling out again and again.

Three

Father and SonThree years. How quickly they go by.

It seems like only yesterday I cradled you in my arms, swaddled in a blanket covered in baby footprints, wondering how I was so lucky to get to welcome you into this world.

When we brought you home, I never thought I could feel so exhausted again in my life. I wondered how how your mom was even standing. And yet, as I write this, we’ll be going through it all over again in just a few short months.

I sat in awe the first time you smiled. I laughed when you pooped on my hand during a diaper change. I watched you roll over, then crawl, then stand up and walk and with each step you took, you walked deeper and deeper into my heart.

The awe in which you saw everything for the first time left me inspired.

You gave me new eyes in which to see the world.

I sat awake in a chair in the hospital while you and your mom slept, unaware that febrile seizures even existed, let alone it was what put you there in the first place. We hoped and prayed we would see you return to the exuberant force of nature you are. Lucky for us, you did.

Pigeon HospitalAnd that was just the first year and a half.

You turned two and I thought how fast the time had passed. You impressed us with your counting and letter knowledge, and the way you’d chat up a storm. Now I look back at video of that time and realize how crude those words may have been in the beginning, but they were there, and we knew every word you meant.

Some days you were unhappy. It happens to us all. And when you’re a kid it can be magnified. Sure, it’s been 32 years since I’ve been in your shoes, but I get it. You’re having the time of your life, tons of fun, playing up a storm and suddenly being told you’ve got to go, that it’s time to go to sleep. You were just getting warmed up. Or it was a cool toy, a great book or the open space of green grass. I may tell you it’s time to nap or go home, buddy, but deep inside, I get it. I really do. Who wants to be dragged away from all of that with no choice in the matter?

Our car rides are legendary…well they are to me. The fact that you’ve made it your own game to guess which composer is on when I play the classical station makes me simultaneously chuckle and beam. Other days you want to listen to music from cartoons ranging from Thomas the Tank Engine to Winnie the Pooh, to DuckTales, and it makes me rediscover childhood all over again. Only I get to experience it with you.

To see you play with my old toys or watch cartoons that I watched as a kid and have just as much fun with them strikes a chord deep inside.

You help me stay eternally a child, little buddy. It’s something I’ve longed for and long-lost in this crazy world of adulthood. Some people never lose it, some never had it. Me, I’ve lost my way here and there, looking back wistfully at those bygone days. But thanks to you, I’ve been in touch with them all over again. And It’s something I’ve needed for quite a while.

I admit there have been times when I’ve wished we could speed through a troublesome phase or moment. But honestly, more often than not, I’ve wanted nothing more than to stop the sands of time, and live these moments forever with you.

I can’t believe I get to be your dad. Whether it’s the intelligence and thought you show in the decisions you make, the stories you tell, or the compassion and kindness you show to others, be they a baby, a fellow kid, an animal, or an adult, you inspire me.

You make me a better person each and every day and I thank the stars above every moment of my day (yes, even when you’re kicking and screaming) that you’re here.

Happy Birthday, little man.

Storytime.

I’m so excited and I just can’t…eh, not really…

When was the last time you were excited? I mean really, really excited? Not ‘hey, free coffee’ excited, but I mean, through the roof, all-consuming excited?

Because I don’t think I really have.

It came to my attention through, of all things, hockey.

You see, my hometown in just the past few years, has become home to an AHL team. While I’m not a sports person, I think it’s been a big boost for the area and many of the venues contained within. And it seems to bring people together. Like, really brings people together, en masse as they cheer on their team. I mean, for some, it’s like a ritual. They are at every game, they wear the paraphernalia, they know the players. It’s all-in. So there’s a lot of people enjoying it, which is great – for them, for the organizers, for the entire area.

And as the team progressed in their quest for titles or championships, or however it’s referred to (Meg often shakes her head at me for not really having any grasp of these things), I saw people reaching a level of excitability at the mere mention of the team’s name that I thought they would burst.

From social media, to news broadcasts, standing in line a day or so ahead of time, they were, as I say all-in like nothing I’ve ever seen.

And as I watched it all, I realized that aside from the birth of my son and getting married, I can’t think of too many other moments where I’ve been bursting from the gut excited. In fact, Meg will tell you that I was more nervous than excited on our wedding day. So let’s bring it down to the birth of our son.

So what’s going on? Is there something inherently off in me that I don’t seem to ever get that level of excited about things?

Of course, when I say never felt this way, I’m talking about adult-Dave. I’m sure, almost positive that as a child I felt that level of excitement. Heck, I see it in our little guy at something as small as getting to watch a cartoon he asks for, putting his hands together, a grin from ear to ear, looking like he’s about to leap off the ground shouting “goody! goody!” or “oh boy! oh boy!”

I don’t want him to lose that. The past month of seeing the excitement on the people of my hometown when it comes to their beloved hockey team shows me there’s many out there who haven’t.

So where and when did I? At what point did ‘oh boy! oh boy!,’ full of excitement Dave of youth become the ‘huh. neat.’ or ‘that’s pretty interesting’ Dave that seems to be so detached from the world at times that nothing ever rises to that level of exuberance any more.

I’d like to find him again. I’d like my son to meet him. But honestly, I have no idea where to start looking.

Kindermusik

The beat of the drums. The shaking of maracas. And our son running around a room wanting to play with a hula hoop on the wall.

It’s Kindermusik time.

What’s Kindermusik? I will explain to you, as I was completely unaware myself until Meg sent me the links one day that led to our signing the little guy up for our once a week outings.

Kindermusik is a musical class for kids and parents that uses music, singing, stories (and some occasional hopping and animal re-enactments) to help children as they develop fundamental skills. Those skills, for the toddler level that we’re currently enrolled in, is very much of the listening kind. It’s something we are, at times, struggling with, which makes the class all the more appropriate at this stage.

At the age level of our class (ages 2-3), parents are invited to take part with their children, which for us first-timers is good because we’re not quite at the ‘leave him on his own for a class’ stage yet ourselves. We’ll get there. Promise.

The first session, I went solo with the little guy. There were some kids and parents who were regulars and some other first-timers like us. When we walked into the carpeted room, walls adorned with animals and musical paraphernalia, instruments were in the middle of the room for the kids to try. Our guy immediately gravitated toward the triangle. Although, in all honesty, several minutes into it, the banging of the triangle had lost all novelty and he was using the wand (is it called a wand? I’m not a musician) to both be a conductor (shouting ‘Look, Dada! I’m a conductor! to the entire class) or to point it at me and tell me it was a magic wand (“I gonna shrink you now, dada!”) proceeded by a humming sound he makes to indicate magic.

I love his imagination.

The class itself had numerous, short activities that look to engage each of the kids (with parents joining in) from singing hello to each child with a different motion (clapping, rolling, stamping feet, etc) for each one, using the aforementioned maracas (which are more like little red eggs with rice in them, but they’re just as fun) and storytime with music to accompany it.

That first session’s storytime, it became obvious our guy was new to the group. Aside from being the tallest. He’s about to be three this summer, so in a class of 2-3 year olds, he falls on the older side of the spectrum in comparison to the others. When it was time for stories, some of the children, by routine, helped the instructor pull a blanket from the corner to set down and sit upon in order to hear the story. Well, our little guy hasn’t quite done that type of group storytime (at least not with a blanket involved. He HAS been to a few Barnes and Noble storytimes I’ve been involved with) and instead, he immediately put himself under the blanket, as though he was laying down in bed for one of our nightly stories.

You can’t blame him too much. That is HIS routine each night, after all and what he associates with hearing stories. Boy playing piano

Luckily, by week two, he had it down and was now only sitting ON the blanket, but was helping to move it for the teacher, which was great to see.

Both weeks had its moments (though for week two, both daddy AND mommy were there for class – and believe me, it was great having reinforcements) as he would have a mini meltdown if he wasn’t getting to use the instruments he wanted versus what the teacher wanted kids to use at the moment, or that he wanted the hula hoops hanging high up on the wall for use by another class.

It’s a 45 minute class and I suppose for a child, 45 minutes can seem like a longtime, especially one with as much energy as our has. The nice thing is that he’s not the only kid in the class who gets up and wanders around and the teacher is excellent in incorporating their individual attention spans and penchant for getting up into the class activities and discussion as they go.

I must have looked like a nervous wreck that first class, chasing him around whenever he’d go off for a wander, as a few of the moms there would smile and reassure me he was doing fine. After class, the teacher said the same thing, which was in stark contrast to the exaggerated nightmare version I was creating in my head.

And as I say, having both Meg and myself there the following week made a huge difference as well. Family doing the conga at family Christmas party

We had hoped by Week Three, we’d start finding a routine. I skipped out on the Week Three class and it was just Meg and he. I was having a rough morning mentally (more on that another time), and needed some time to reflect and re prioritize things. I chose to do that with a cup of coffee and sitting on a park bench.

When I returned to pick Meg and the little guy up, I immediately sensed things hadn’t gone well. Apparently it was the worst he had been yet. Not just the running around, but the constant not listening, hitting Meg, hitting the teacher, and riding another kid like a dinosaur, it was one big terrible, musical mess.

People tell us that at this stage of almost three years old, it’s a phase. And I’m sure it is. But while it may be a phase, these are issues. Issues we need to deal with now so that when the phase ends, the seeds aren’t planted for continued bad behavior and dismissiveness to everyone around him.

It’s worrisome. And likely a much more involved blog post for another day when I have time to both reflect on what’s happening, our approach, be it right or wrong, and do a little more research.

When it comes to Kindermusik, the end results those first two weeks were that he had fun.We had hoped him taking part in his very first class, interacting with a teacher and other kids would be good for him. At first, he got over the meltdowns and while wanting to do his own thing at times, was still taking part in the bulk of class activities. But last week seems like a major step backward.

Through a mere glitch in our schedule this week, we were unable to attend our usual class and shifted to another day of the week and time of day. It turned out that there were only two other children in that class, and making for a much better experience for us and the little guy. While he wasn’t necessarily angelic, he was much better behaved than he had been in the large group. Whether or not that’s the key to some progress as we move along, well, we’ll have to see.

“Father’s Day with Thomas the Tank Engine” OR “Sir Topham Hatt is very cross with you”

You know, just chillin' with my buddy, Sir Topham Hatt.

You know, just chillin’ with Sir Topham Hatt.

What? No blog entry on Father’s Day? You’re a dad blogger for crying out loud!

There’s a very simple reason I am blogging about Father’s Day today and not yesterday. I was too busy enjoying it.

Father’s Day was an absolute delight for me. I got up and Meg had made a wonderful breakfast for us of toast, eggs, bacon and hashbrowns with blue potatoes! After the delicious meal, we got ourselves dressed and headed out to the historic train station in my hometown for “A Day Out with Thomas” (as in, the tank engine).

The courtyard of the station was filled with activities for the family, ranging from a safety house by the fire department, to a table stationed by two police officers talking about safety tips for kids and families.

We rode a little train car around an enclosure with other families, got our picture taken with Sir Topham Hatt, where the little guy became instantly shy. Later he would tell me he was worried Sir Topham Hatt would be ‘cross’ with him, something that is a frequent habit when the trains do something wrong on the show.

Then, with a large whistle and puff of steam, along the tracks came Thomas, bright blue and red, pulling passenger cars behind him. Together, the three of us made our way inside, up stairs, down an overpass and back down to the other side of the tracks. As passengers from a previous ride got off, we walked up to the front of the train, where Thomas greeted us. Eyes and mouth moving, he literally came to life in front of us, and our little guy ‘beamed, from buffer to buffer,’ as they say.

Soon after, we boarded, the familiar sounds of songs from the show playing in the train and before we knew it, we were off, Thomas us pushing us about 15 minutes out of town, through a marsh, and our little guy glued to the window the whole time.

train 01He sang, surprising us with how many of the songs he knew and sang right along with, and pointed out all the characters that decorated the train windows as decals. He even got a certificate declaring him a Junior Conductor.

When the train returned to the station about a half hour later, we decided to hit up some of the other activities. I was relieved we had gotten pictures with Thomas and Sir Topham Hatt out of the way early on, as the lines at this point had grown crazy. Not good for an antsy child.

He gravitated toward a sand table, digging his hands into the gritty brown stuff, made a little wet by the myriad of constant bubbles coming from a machine nearby and saturating all the sand. He pushed trucks through it, let it sift through his hands…and then suddenly decided to tell other kids coming and playing in it that they couldn’t use the toys. We raised our voices and he begrudgingly conceded. When it happened again, we decided it was time to move on. We gave him one minute to wrap up. It wasn’t long before that minute arrived and we told him it was time to head to the gift shop before heading out.

And then came the meltdown.

Face red,eyes squinted. Mouth gaping open, wailing and screaming as if I was hurting him. All because it was time to move on.

I felt like the eyes of every parents and child at the train station in that moment were on us, wondering what the heck we were doing. Telling him we were going, asking him to take a breath and count to four, talking to him, being stern – nothing worked. It was a mess.

By the time we got to the car and loaded back up, he stopped screaming but was whiny, and we talked about our displeasure, discussing wiith him why he was being bad and had to go. I know. I know. Terrible Twos. Threenager. I’ve heard ‘em all. But in those moments, it doesn’t make it any easier.

We drove around in the car, making a stop to grab some cat food and then grabbing some lunch. By this time, he was calm, but tired. We even had trouble getting him to stand up in line. He kept doing the ‘jelly knees’ where he’d go limp and we’d be forced to continually try to pick him up just to make it to a table.

By the time lunch was over, and he held his head in that little hand, he finally admitted that he was tired. It was somewhat after noon and we were approaching what would normally be nap time.

And, whether sleep-deprived or just plain loopy, he turned to me and said “Happy Father’s Day, Daddy!”

As much as the meltdowns drive me nuts, causing me to question absolutely everything I do as a parent, looking at the day as a whole, they were a pretty small fraction. When I look past that (knowing we’re working to deal with it as best we can), and think of that boy who was bounding with a smile so big it was as if his face developed extra muscles at the site of Thomas, the laughter and awe as he looked out the window of the moving train, I realize, it was a pretty damn good day.

One Gorilla

http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/518df2Onf4L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgAnother book recently came our way from Independent Publishers Group – “One Gorilla” by Joy Dey and Nikki Johnson. Amid pages of watercolor images of various animals is a story of one good deed leading to another among the mighty creatures of the jungle, big and small.

The overall message of the book is great – that even one small act of kindness might be all it takes for a domino effect that changes the world, or your world at least. The animals of the jungle begin the story ready to pounce, to cackle, to frighten and to scare. But when a chimp, who often throws rocks and items at his animal neighbors, falls out of a tree and hits his head, he is the subject of laughter and ridicule by other animals. It’s not so nice being on the receiving end, the chimp learns. A helping hand from an elephant, who knows the hurt all too well, marks a sudden change in the jungle. The laughter stops, and the chimp begins to show the same kindness the elephant gave her. And it spreads through the jungle, even to the smallest turtle.

I really liked the message the book set out to deliver, and the watercolor images to accompany it are honestly unlike anything I’ve seen in a children’s book so far. I admit that it took me a little bit to register everything that was going on as we read.

We read this book, blindly, at bedtime, and the first part of the story, with the animals ready to hunt, prey, laugh, etc, alongside the splashes of paint, made some of the creatures seem a little nightmarish. But I quickly learned this was an intentional decision, as it sets up the jungle as a scary and not so kind place, leading to the change when one good act leads to another.

As we turned those pages, our 2 ½ year old there with us, I became a little anxious, unsure of where the story was going. In the end, I was able to see exactly what I think the author and illustrator set out to do – create a world of fright and mean behavior in the jungle, until one elephant acts kind enough to set off a chain reaction of good actions.

It works, and while I may have been apprehensive at first, I should have had more faith in my own son’s ability to grasp it, which he did far quicker than I. He knew the animals were acting bad at first, but started to be kind once they saw an example of it. And it must have struck a chord, as it wasn’t long before he asked for “the gorilla book” again.


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