The misadventures of a first time father

..And we all teamed up!

Well, it’s been awhile since I’ve actually sat down to talk a little bit about life, and that’s just because life’s been so crazy it’s been hard to find the time! As I’ve said before, I commend those of you who can post every day or even close to every day. Where do you find the time? Kudos.

So, with so much that has gone on, I couldn’t think of where to even begin as I try to get back to some semblance of regular updates on life.

And as if in answer to my internal dilemma, this morning awoke our son, now four. Four!!!  His little hands holding the sheets up to his chin, grinning ear to ear, excited to tell me about the dream he just woke up from.

I’ll leave it in his own, delightful words:

“Me…and Supergirl…and Superboy…and all the other superheroes…and the Mickey Mouse characters…and gramma…and even the characters from Sesame Street…we all teamed up!!!

“And there was this special type of kryptonite…and it only affected businessmen. But not business ladies.

“And it turned them all into bizarros.”

Crazy bizarros

Those crazy bizarros.

Man, I want to have this kid’s dreams.

And how about gramma getting in on the super hero action?

The Tooth Hurts

dentist-797305_960_720I was about 24 when I got my first cavities.

My son has his first four cavities 20 years younger, just shy of four years old.

Sitting there in a chair on wheels amid the jungle motif of the dentist’s office, I listened intently to the dentist’s words, a mixture of shock, guilt, and curiosity all blending together into a haze of mind that left me in a fog for hours to come.

This was his first visit to the dentist.

Four cavities.

Four.

How could this happen, I thought. We’ve been brushing his teeth every morning and every night. We don’t drink soda. Candy is an incredible rarity. What happened?

According to the pediatric dentist, the (in my mind unassuming) culprits were milk and juice. Not in his having them, but in the way he drinks them – having a little, setting the cup down and going to play or do something else, then coming back to the drink some time later and drinking a bit more.

The dentist says that each time he begins drinking, be it milk or juice, the clock starts for roughly a half hour of erosion to the teeth. So, if he begins, sets it down and gets back to it later, the clock starts all over again, adding up to what could be hours of erosion.

And leaving us with four cavities that need to be dealt with very soon. Now, a common question I’ve gotten after the visit is well, it’s baby teeth, so do they really need to come out?

dentist-428644_960_720The dentist fielded this one in the office, explaining that he could have his baby teeth until he’s anywhere from 7-9 years old. Left untouched, these issues could only magnify and leave him with incredible pain and infection.

So, we do need to take action.

I can not express how guilty I felt sitting there, listening to how this happened. Something I let happen out of pure ignorance. How could I have ever guessed giving him milk or juice could have such effects? That brushing twice a day wasn’t enough?

I felt like the worst parent in the world.

When I filled my wife in, that became an instant feeling of shared-guilt.

I don’t even remember going to the dentist yet at his age, but from the more I read, including a May 2015 Washington Post article from parent Cara McDonough, it’s becoming increasingly common for the recommendation be a visit once children first get their teeth.

toothbrush-390310_960_720According to research McDonough conducted for her article:

“By age 5, about 60 percent of U.S. children will have experienced tooth decay, according to the “State of Little Teeth Report,” a 2014 American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry document based on a survey of 1,000 parents. The report found that the rate of cavities in children 2 to 5 years old increased almost 17 percent from 1988-1994 to 1999-2004.

The report goes on to explain that tooth decay, particularly if left untreated, can result in infection, chewing difficulty and even malnutrition. If the decay is bad enough, abscesses may develop, affecting the health of the child’s permanent teeth.”

It was also somewhat refreshing to find we weren’t the only one who felt like the worst parents ever, with McDonough expressing the same type of guilt upon getting similar news with her daughter, who, at age 6, did fine with the same treatment our guy will be having – in-office with nitrous oxide.

dentist-428646_960_720As for our son, well, he did great for his examination, which, going in, was my biggest concern. Never did the thought of cavities cross my mind. I was more worried he’d be bouncing off the walls. But no, there he was, sitting in the chair, listening to the dentist, and when the little camera they used to take pictures of his teeth had a malfunction and they needed to take pictures again, he happily sat and went through the whole process again. He admittedly got antsy after the exam, with nothing to do while the dentist talked to daddy, but it turned into a long discussion, so I can understand the difficulty for a 3 year old with nothing to do to sit still for that long.

So, with new time restrictions on drinks (and meals), as well as a push to switch over to fluoride toothpaste versus the non-fluoride, training toothpaste we had been using for so long, we made our appointment to have the cavities filled (one day before his fourth birthday, the poor kid).

From there, he and I went to Target where he picked out a new electric toothbrush (and with some extra heads we can all use it), and I let him pick out a toy from the toy department. His choice du jour was a two-pack of DC Super Friends figures – Plastic Man and Martian Manhunter, which he excitedly was making up stories and adventures for in the backseat the whole ride home.

So, we move forward, hopefully learning from this.

There’s a joke from our son’s Little Golden Book of Jokes and Riddles that he loves to tell relatives. It goes like this:

Q: What time is it when you have to go to the dentist?

A: Tooth-hurty.

Lets hope between the lessons learned, the procedure to come, and the steps we’re taking from here on in, that’s a time that will never come.

Celebrating Father’s Day with some favorite on-screen dads

We’ve all seen that cliche image from times past – a father, back relaxed in an easy chair, legs propped up on a footrest. Perhaps he’s wearing a robe, smoking a pipe, and even wearing slippers. Or at the very least maybe the family dog is bringing the slippers or paper to him.

I don’t want to talk about those guys.

I want to talk about a few other fictional fathers of the screen that aren’t that stereotype of 1950s America so often thought of when reflecting on old TV shows of the past. I want to talk about a few fellas who, whether the present or the past, have, for the most part (they all have off days or an idea that’s a bit out of touch now and then, but we’ll forgive them) are solid foundations of fatherhood, and examples that those of us living outside the screen can look to for a little inspiration and example as to what it means to not just be a father, but to be a dad.

Judge James Hardy

hardy-father-son

Judge James Hardy and son, Andrew

Putting aside the one initial appearance of Lionel Barrymore, Judge James Hardy is most commonly known as being depicted by actor Lewis Stone in the plethora of films within the Andy Hardy series from MGM Studios throughout the 1930s and 40s. With themes of themes of  honor, integrity, courage in the face of scandal, and maturity, the sixteen films revolving around the Hardy Family were an idealized vision of what America could be, if everyone treated each other the right way and stood by a core set of values and honor.

 

While the films over time took their focus to young Andy Hardy, at the center of those themes and values was James Hardy – father, husband, member of the community, and never too busy for his family. While some onscreen fathers of the time were distant, driven by work, no time for distraction, Judge Hardy always had the time to recognize how crucial wife Emily was to the family and he, to lend an ear to son Andy or daughter Marion, and took the time to listen to their troubles and emotions. Often referred to as ‘man-to-man talks,’ James rarely ordered his children around, instead offering the guidance and wisdom that allowed them to come to their own revelations and decisions of character, that laid the foundation for good, honest people of the next generation.

(Sadly, hard as I try, I couldn’t find a classic Hardy ‘man-to-man’ talk online to post)

 

Rob Petrie

Rob PetrieGood-natured, goofy, but absolutely neurotic, Rob Petrie, played by Dick Van Dyke in the aptly titled The Dick Van Dyke Show, seemed to have a dream life, despite the sitcom hijinks. A loving wife who wasn’t afraid to speak her mind and difference of opinion, a son with many questions for the ever-worrying dad, and a dream job as a comedy writer for the sketch comedy show – The Alan Brady Show. Rob had a good heart, even if he did trip over himself at times in trying to be the good dad and husband he wanted to be, and it made he, and the entire Petrie family, all the more human.

The Dick Van Dyke Show, still today, ranks among one of the best sitcoms of all time. 50 years later. And it’s just as enjoyable for audiences. Whereas some shows of decades past feel dated, out of touch, it’s never the case with the Dick Van Dyke Show, Rob, Laura, Richie, or any of the characters. Because the brilliant Carl Reiner (who created the show) was making a show about real people. And though times may change, human emotions do not. It’s because of that brilliant writing that Rob is just as great an example of a person, co-worker, husband, and father today that he was five decades ago.

Jonathan Kent

martha-jonathan-clark1

The Kent Family as depicted in the TV series, Smallville.

A farmer from Kansas traveling with his wife when they find a baby, abandoned in a field. Oh, and that baby’s inside a spaceship that obviously just fell from outer space.

Jonathan and Martha Kent had no idea what that baby was or what he would become. But they knew, before them, stood a child with no one other than they to help him make this planet his home. Saving him from the government containment, dissection, or weaponization that could possibly follow upon finding an alien, the Kents, salt of the Earth, good, virtuous people, decided to take this baby into their home and their lives, and raise him as their own.

When little Clark Kent grew up, the Kents had no idea who or what he would be or represent. But they knew they had the task to raise a good boy, who cared about others, and one who, as he started to show special talents and gifts beyond those of mortal men, would use those powers to help the world, to save lives, to be a beacon of hope.

That spaceship could have landed anywhere on Earth. And who knows what type of person baby Kal-El of the planet Krypton would have grown up to be? Fortunately for humanity in the pages of comics, novels, cartoons, television, and films, he landed in a corn field and was found by the Kents, whose salt of the Earth personalities, and lives of good morality laid the foundation for the hard-working, virtuous, optimistic, and all-around good person Superman is today. (in most interpretations lately. I hear it varies in recent years)

Mr Tiger

Tiger FamilySo he may not be anyone’s top pick, and that’s okay. He wasn’t necessarily mine either. However, there was something about the way Daniel Tiger’s dad, seen multiple days a week on PBS Kids Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood, quietly, gently handles fatherhood. At times he may seem like a figure that fades into the surroundings, but it could easily be because he and Mrs Tiger are such equal partners.

Sometimes he’s silly, sometimes he’s childlike, rolling around on the floor or crawling through pillow and sheet tunnels with Daniel, understanding and experiencing first-hand what it’s like to be a child alongside Daniel and baby Margaret.

And he works in a clock factory that’s shaped like a giant grandfather clock. Tell me you wouldn’t want to show up to work at a building that looked like that everyday.

There’s a bit of him, and the entire show that for those of us old enough to remember, hearkens back to the soft-spoken, big-hearted, watch-wearing tiger cat on Mr Roger’s Neighborhood that inspired this entirely new generation of lessons in what it means to be a good person.

 

The Man in the Yellow Hat

2a570fae_The-man-in-the-yellow-hatIt takes a lot of patience to be a father-figure to a precocious monkey. But somehow, The Man in the Yellow Hat seems to have the endless patience I can only wish for. Whether it’s a trashed apartment, a lost portfolio, or a stampede of pumpkins causing chaos and scattering crowds in a small town, there’s usually a monkey with the curiosity of a preschooler behind it, and the understanding Man in the Yellow Hat to explain it without losing his top.

While preschoolers can see the world through the relatable eyes of George and his wonder of the world, the level of fear, over-protection, and sheer joy with every uttered “oh boy” or “be a good little monkey” is the parental heart of the series for us grown ups and makes the Man in the Yellow Hat a source of joy, wonder, guidance and learning, and fun for George that I hope we could all be for our own kids.

Of course, this list is by no means conclusive. Merely a sampling of some of my own favorites of fictional dads that I think help set the bar.

 

What about you? What on-screen dad examples have you ever looked at with a feeling of inspiration?

Something very odd is happening

When something’s odd in your neighborhood, who ya gonna call?

Nope, not those guys.

Not the ladies currently carrying the torch either.

Nope. You’re going to call a group of kids who work for an organization run by kids to investigate the odd.

You call Odd Squad.

I make no bones about my love of the show, which the whole family watches on PBS Kids. Like many great programs, it’s produced out of Canada (which might also explain the appearances by several members of the Kids in the Hall).

Agents Otto and Olive

Created by Tim McKeon and Adam Peltzman, it’s also co-produced by the Fred Rogers Company (you know, of Mr Rogers) and features a cast of incredibly charming young actors who work for the titular Odd Squad, solving odd incidents with the use of math.

What kind of odd incidents? Well, the kind that certainly appeal to the imagination of a child…and most parents with a good sense of humor – people whose heads turn into lemons upon drinking lemonade, giant cat-spider hybrids, voice-overs following you around. If it’s odd enough, you call these kids.

Oscar and Ms. O

Though the series premise allows for various Odd Squad agents to get their day in the sun, the core team is made up of four primary team members, partners Olive and Otto, their boss, the usually yelling Miss O, and Oscar, providing the team with gadgets like a Door-inator, the Shrink-inator, the TV-get-out-inator, and, well, you get the idea.

You notice the O pattern in the characters yet? It keeps going. Octavia, Olaf, Oren, etc.

The kid characters themselves hover just around the pre-teen age or younger, leaving the goofy and often clueless supporting characters of the episode (someone in trouble, a villain, etc) to just as well-cast adult actors.

Undercover Olive up against a bevy of baddies

Together, Olive, Otto, and other members of the team find themselves stopping the plans of villains like Odd Todd (who wants the world as odd as he is), Fladam (who stepped on a cube building block as a child and now sets out to flatten all cubes into flat squares), The Shapeshifter (who can change her shape into anything from a tree to another person), among many many other great adult guest stars.

There’s even one episode, the Agatha Christie/Clue-inspired “The Crime at Shapely Manor” that features 3 out of the 5 members of The Kids in the Hall – Kevin McDonald as Lord Rectangle, Mark McKinney as General Pentagon, and Scott Thompson as Professor Square.

Kids in the Hall Mark McKinney, Kevin McDonald, and Scott Thompson

But to stop the dastardly villains, the keys to cracking their schemes usually lie in solving any number of math problems, be it what color will Oscar’s infected hand turn next when one sees blue, blue, yellow, blue, blue…you guessed it, yellow, using measurement to stop an on the loose blue blob, or learning how to use a calendar to send a time duplicate of one of their own back into the past.  And these math problems are often woven into the storyline so seamlessly that even I don’t seem to notice I’m getting a lesson in the subject I needed the most help in back in school.

Yes, this show provides some valuable math lessons for little ones in a way so entertaining that they’re bound to remember. My son brings up patterns all the time and I’m convinced that he picked it up from the numerous problems agents have had to solve through the use of patterns in the course of the series. But he doesn’t realize that. From his perspective, he’s watching an action-packed adventure with kids stopping threats to the world. The lessons just happen to come along the way amid the derring-do.

Owen, Oscar, Olive, Otto, Oren, Olaf…see a pattern?

Here, in the world of Odd Squad, kids rule. They’re the ones in charge. They’re the ones you call for help when something is incredibly strange. That sense of empowerment is irresistible to both a child and the child still alive in each of us.

In January 2015, Forbes reported that the show’s special Odd Squad Saves the World reported 3.7 million viewers watching the broadcast on PBS with 44 million others watching the episode online.  It is no wonder that Odd Squad is such a hit for PBS across age ranges, making it no surprise that a second season is now set to get well underway on June 20, 2016.

However, that new season won’t come without changes.

Spoilers ahead!

On Memorial Day, the episode that PBS promos touted as the one where “everything changes” lived up to its hype – with cast members Dalila Bela and Filip Geljo (Olive and Otto, respectively) receiving promotions to become a new “Ms and Mr O” (though, no Otto, you don’t have to get married) to co-run a branch of Odd Squad elsewhere.

Changing of the guard.

I had a feeling this would happen sooner or later, as a show whose entire premise revolved around an organization run by kids can only keep kids in those roles for so long before they age out of them. Though the premise also lends itself to its own self-sustainability. As some cast members grow up and out, the show revolves around the organization, meaning new casts, new agents, new kids can come and go as the series grows. That’s not to say that the fun and charming acting of Bela and Geljo won’t be missed. They are a core reason for the show’s appeal. Though I’m sure both would likely want to be moving toward other material elsewhere in the way of film and television eventually anyway, it would be nice to see them from time to time in a guest appearance if the stars align.

Recurring Odd Squad villain Odd Todd

I should note as well, that this episode that changed it all also could lead one to believe it’s the end (at least for now) for recurring villain Odd Todd, played wonderfully and humorously wicked by young actor Joshua Kliminik. As Olive’s former partner turned bad guy out for revenge, and Olive no longer a regular, it seems unlikely Odd Todd has much reason to hang around so much anymore.

It remains to be seen who will take Olive and Otto’s place as the show’s new primary agents, but while the casting of the show thus far has never failed, those are some big blue suits and red ties to fill. It’s comforting to know that the entire cast is not getting an overhaul, with Sean Michael Kyer (Oscar) and Millie Davis (Ms. O) remaining in their roles, hopefully alongside other characters like the hilariously droll lunch lady Oksana or the incredibly serious Dr. O.

I felt like I was watching a finale to any long-running prime time series where viewers inevitably get attached to the characters. When Otto and Olive hugged Ms. O and resident techie Oscar got ready to send the duo on their way, the often humorous actor Sean Michael Kyer had a twinge of sadness in his voice that echoed the same feeling inside many of us watching at home.

Was I really getting this invested in a live action PBS Kids show?

I was. I completely was. And that is due, in no small part to these wonderful young performers, and the writers, directors, and crew that help them bring this goofy, fun world to life each day.

This is not a kids show slapped together and called a day. It’s a goofy, fun, educational, but always entertaining romp that spans age groups and demographics with evident care put into each and every episode.

This show is so entertaining, so amusing, so well written and well acted (and seriously…the odds of finding an entire cast of great kid actors…it doesn’t happen often), makes Odd Squad so darn charming that you don’t even need to be a parent to enjoy it.

Now how in the world can I play one of those goofy grown ups…

I slept in the hallway

Beardslee walkingWe haven’t been getting much sleep lately, and it has nothing to do with our six month old.

No, we’ve been quite lucky that she has been sleeping, for the most part, through the night. Sometimes a need to nurse arises in the wee hours, but on the whole – she’s been great.

One of our little kitties however, has not.

It usually begins around 3:30 in the morning. Sometimes four.

Meow. Meow.

Sometimes I try to ignore it, or my arm instinctively falls out of the sheets and down the side of the bed to pet his orange fur, hoping it’s just some attention and affection he’s looking for at these early morning hours. He takes the petting, of course, for a moment or two before turning around to walk away.

Though I wouldn’t call it a success as his battle plan then takes one of several paths – one is to scratch at the bed itself, always conveniently out of our reach, making one of us get up and out of bed to stop him.

Another tactic involves jumping onto my wife’s nightstand and knocking over any myriad of objects atop – a pile of books, a stack of magazines, remote controls, or her water bottle. It used to be a glass of water. We’ve learned that lesson time and time again.

If his plan involves my side of the bed, it means any number of magazine, books, or comics thrown with his back feet across the floor beside my bed, or knocking over any notepads, paper, etc, atop. He’s tried for my alarm clock, with a fifty-fifty shot at success, or the lamp. There’s nothing quite like being awakened by a table lamp, tall, slim in the middle giving it easy tipping ability, landing on your head as you sleep.

beardslee ornamentNow I should mention, this little guy has been a part of our family longer than either of our kids. In fact, we got him right before we got married, six years ago. And in those six years, he’s found a comfortable spot or two and slept right on through the night. Perhaps a little frisky fighting with his brothers now and then, but otherwise, it’s been dreamland for him. So it wasn’t always this way. In fact, it started just before our little girl was born six months ago.

When the petting did not get us anywhere, I thought that maybe his stomach was the one in the driver’s seat. So, I’d either guide him downstairs, or pick him up and carry him downstairs, setting him down in front of his bowl, always full of food, to remind him he has food there. He starts snacking, to which I then proceed back upstairs to fall asleep, only to have him wake me up about a half hour to 45 minutes later and we start the dance again.

Thinking it was his stomach, I began putting a dish of food in our room before we go to bed. Perhaps having it closer will help and put an end to this.

It hasn’t, and all it’s done is create the expectation that this extra dish will be there.

I should note, with the age and condition of our house, the doors to rooms do not close and latch like you’d find in most homes. That means that even if you close a door, it can with great ease be pushed open by a feline head. So, that option has been ruled out.

And rather than risk him waking Meg (although he sometimes still does), the baby, or our little guy, I continue to get up when he waltzes in at that 3:30-4 a.m. point every morning, and the intervals that follow.

At one point, I woke up in our hallway. I had lured him out of the room and downstairs only to have him come up again, and I fell asleep without making it back to the room.

I just can not fathom what exactly sparked this, and still, months later have not figured out what it is he wants. Petting, hugging, holding – he’ll have none of it in those wee morning hours. Food – a few bites then back at it.

At first I thought perhaps the Daylight Saving change in the fall/winter, but that disappeared in the spring to no change. Could it have been the baby? But this behavior started before she was born? And it didn’t happen when our son was born.

We’ve often wondered if there’s something neurological underlying within him. He was a pretty bad case when we found him. Curled up in the bushes, barely able to move, he lifted one paw up and placed it on my wife as she bent down near him, and our hearts melted. We scooped him up and took him home where he wouldn’t eat, drink or anything. Getting him to a vet, he stayed there for a week before we could take him home with us.

Beardslee sleepingThe doctor said had he been on his own a few more hours before we found him, he wouldn’t have made it. He was sick, beat-up, and barely had the ability to move, or even meow. He would try, but nothing would come out.

He was estimated at the time to be about a year or a year and a half by the vet, making him about 7 years old today, though we’ve always suspected he’s either older than their estimation or just lived enough life to seem that way.

Whatever they did at the vets that week, they brought him back from death’s door, and we couldn’t be more grateful. But being that close to the end, we’ve always accepted that his return came with a series of chronic health issues as a trade off. Many an issue that we’ve dealt with short-term, some long, but we’ve handled them.

Could this be among those issues? If so, why only surface now?

I have no idea.

All I know is that I love him, but man am I exhausted and befuddled as to what it is he wants. But, though many probably think of me as crazy, I will continue…because I love him.

Learned Fear

Slide Feet 04His tiny feet lifted up as a hand grabbed one of the metal bars alongside. He pulled himself up one, then another, then…froze.

Our little guy, all 40 pounds of him, a kid who has leapt before he looked more times than I’d truly like to count, suddenly froze. “I can’t do it. I’m scared,” he said.

At first, I thought he was playing a game, joking. A few moments later, I realized he was serious…and nervous.

He wasn’t far off the ground at all. Nothing more so than usual. In fact, we’d seen him tackle much taller heights, sometimes to our chagrin, without a single thought. But suddenly, three steps up to the next level of this playground while we visited friends out of town, was causing him to freeze with fear.

Was it because it was unfamiliar territory? How could this be? What was going on?

I was perplexed.

Then he suddenly started doing the same thing back at home, on the playground set at my parents’ house which he had used time and time again. Up the ladder, down the slide, up the ladder, down the slide. It was as routine to his day as eating breakfast, but suddenly there was the same frozen fear that left him clinging to the four or five foot ladder and asking for help going up or going down.

Where did this come from? Was it a learned fear? And if so, were we to blame?

I know I’m a worrier. I feel as though I’ve gotten better at it as he grows, but I admit, I’m usually the first to say “be careful!” or “I don’t want you getting hurt!” or something else equally concerned. Immediately, that worry then culminated in worry that I had somehow crippled our son from this activity he loves with a past barrage of warnings.

Even as I write that, I see my mind has made my blame more melodramatic than it is. It’s not entirely out of the question, though, as Psychology Today notes in this 2012 article:

“If a parent is obviously anxious, the child will become anxious. If a parent seems calm, this will help the child to calm down. One of the key ways that a parent can help a child to reduce their anxiety is by managing the parent’s own anxiety.”

Luckily, when these incidents happened, we did, what seems to be the right thing. While we at first mentioned that he’s never been scared before, we didn’t dismiss his response of “But I am now,” instead asking him why he’s scared.

That same article from Psychology Today: “Many times a parent will say “You’re not scared,” to their child. The goal is to reduce the child’s anxiety but often what it does is invalidate what the child is feeling. If you were about to do something anxiety-provoking and someone told you what you were feeling, it would not be helpful. In fact, it might be frustrating. For a child, it conveys to the child that the child does not know what they are feeling and can also make the child feel that the parent does not understand. Instead, validate the child’s experience but also encourage the child to remain in the situation. “Are you scared?”

Slide Feet 01For us, that validation came in telling him it’s all right, that no one will make him go up and down the ladder and slide, and if he’d like to not use the slide, he doesn’t have to. So this went on for about two weeks. Then, suddenly, it was as if nothing had happened. Suddenly, he was back up on the ladder, asking us to join him, and that was that.

What caused him to change back? I have no idea. And some internet sleuthing didn’t turn up much to explain the no fear-fear-no fear change at such a quick turn at this just-shy-of-four phase of life. A lot out there on the development of fear, but little I could find at this writing about the back and forth switch.

Regardless, it’s okay, and I’m glad we’re back to a point that embraces his love of adventure and “the new.” I’m okay that it didn’t turn out that I had scarred him for life through my own worries. In fact, if anything, this little dip in and out of the fear pool has been good, for me at least, to offer me this little step out of the moment and realize maybe there’s a balance between protection, cautiousness and insulation and fear. He won’t be running out into the street anytime soon (especially the way some people drive down our street), but maybe the backyard and the playground can be a little more exploratory than dad’s kept it from being.

Dear Cousin Gus…

Gus LetterWhen you were a kid, did you ever write a letter to a celebrity? Obviously, I’m talking in the days before the internet, email, etc.

I have fond memories as a kid of (somehow) getting hold of some celebrity addresses and writing letters to Frank Gorshin, the actor/stand-up comedian known to many as The Riddler on the 1960s Batman TV show. This was during a time long before superheroes were a mainstay at movie theatres, but Batman reruns were a fun treat every afternoon in the 80s. To my delight, Mr Gorshin wrote back a few times, including two glossy photos (one as himself, one as The Riddler), with messages to me written on them. I remember just how over the moon I was when an envelope would arrive with the return address “Gorshin” on it.

I should note that my brother had a similar experience when an envelope labeled “Romero” showed up after his writing to another Batman classic baddie – Cesar Romero.

There is something almost magical about receiving mail as a kid. Heck, there’s something almost magical about receiving mail as an adult when it’s not bills and junk mail. I still get excited when a new copy of Archie comics or Saturday Evening Post shows up in my mailbox. But it’s still no match for the level of excitement my son gets when a birthday or holiday card or his book of the month from the Imagination Library shows up, grinning ear to ear that someone took the time to send him, yes him – this almost 4 year old boy, something. Something that through the magic of the U.S. Postal Service left one location, went into a big blue box, and found its way across the country, to his very house.

It’s humbling and yet grand all at the same time. And for a child, it’s wondrous.

So, when my wife and I recently saw online that there is an address for children to write to their favorite Disney character (via the Disney Communications Department), we asked the little guy if he’d like to write a letter to his favorite Disney character. “Of course!” he replied exuberantly. So who would it be? Mickey? Donald? Goofy? One of the numerous Disney Princesses?

Nope.

“Cousin Gus!” he excitedly told us. “I want to write a letter to Cousin Gus! He’s my favorite!”

Yep. Cousin Gus. Cousin Gus who appeared in one Donald Duck short from 1939, aptly titled “Donald’s Cousin Gus,” about Donald’s cousin who shows up for a visit, doesn’t speak a word of dialogue, but eats Donald out of house and home.

And our little guy loves it. He roars with laughter at every antic as Gus maneuvers food away from Donald’s plate and fridge and into his tummy. Naturally, Donald’s temper doesn’t stay under wraps long.

So, with a piece of bright green construction paper, a red crayon, and my hand guiding his, he set out to write a simple, but heartfelt letter to his favorite Disney character. And off in the mail it went, with a little note from mom and dad explaining to whoever answers Gus’ mail our little guy’s affection for even the most obscure of Duck Family members.

Next time we’ll send some food along with it, Gus.


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