The misadventures of a first time father

A simple thank you

Thank You trash binI was in the grocery store grabbing a few things this past week (safely keeping my distance away from fellow shoppers and staff). Like any grocery store across the U.S. right now, it can be a madhouse.

I only had a bag or two worth of items so decided my quickest exit (and avoiding getting too close to anyone) was the self checkout. As I was bagging the last of my items I saw an older woman bagging at the register over. I asked her how she was holding up. She told me she’s never seen anything like this and it’s not hard to believe her. I could see there were other folks in line behind me so I grabbed my things, smiled and told her thank you for everything she and her co-workers are doing and dealing with, that it’s making a difference to people.

At home, it was garbage night and we put our son’s creative abilities to work with some signs. They were bright, they were colorful and they had a simple message – thank you.

One was left on our mailbox and the other on our garbage bin. Just a note to let the folks helping keep things clean and the person making sure letters, cards and these days so many packages get to and from.

Thank you replyOur son smiled as he watched from the window, a big honk honk coming from the garbage truck as they pulled away and waved. And the next day, atop a package was a note commending his art and appreciation for the sign.

Just two simple words but words that are oh so important and words that many folks don’t hear enough, even in ‘normal times.’

And things aren’t normal right n ow. We’re in some strange times at the moment. Times when the best thing we can do to help others and stop the spread of infection is to just stay put if we’re able to.

But there are many who are still on the job every day, doing what they do to allow our society and our lives to continue, even in chaos like now.

And for that – thank you.

Thank your healthcare workers.
Thank your grocery store employees.
Thank your sanitation workers.
Thank your postal carriers.
Thank your public safety officers.
Thank your journalists.
Thank your food services folks.

And thank everyone else who’s out there working every day in a crazy, uncertain time for you.

And pay them appropriately.

Social Distancing

img_5420We certainly live in strange times.

Like much of the world as of this writing, America is dealing with the growing impact and spread of the COVID-19 virus. The numbers seem to grow at more rapid paces each day, and this week the big word has been “social distancing.”

In our area, like countless others, schools have been shut down, and health officials from the federal to the state and local levels are urging those who have the ability to work from home to do so and stay put.

Let me stop right here to acknowledge upfront my privilege, in that I am lucky to have a workplace that, in attempts to be proactive, has directed many of its employees to work from home during this time. My wife, an educator, has the same luxury.

So many are not as fortunate and I want to take a moment to recognize all you’re dealing with – physically, mentally, emotionally, and economically amid already heightened times.

My father, my brother, and other family and friends are among them.

I worry about my parents. I worry about whether my father (who has had 3-4 bouts with respiratory health issues this year) is coming into contact with individuals who could be carriers and not even know it, in a job that shows no sign of making changes to their daily business. I worry about my mother, who has her own share of health issues, who watches our children during the workday and whom I Skyped with for the very first time Sunday night.

It felt a little surreal. They weren’t in another state. They weren’t on vacation. They were their usually 20+ minute drive away. It’s surreal and weird, and I’m sure it unnerved them as well to be talking to a son and grandchildren they see practically every day through now only a screen, but it’s to do our best and protect them. Or at least as best we can.

We’re all just trying our best to watch out for one another. And keep each other safe. Our family. Our friends. Our communities.

In our household, these first few days we are setting our expectations low, but hoping to do our best managing the day to day office work while trying to maintain some type of routine or schedule for the kids when it comes to schoolwork and learning so they don’t fall behind. It will be rough, it will be messy, and it will require patience that I’m not convinced we have, but we’re going to do our best.

It’s an adjustment to a whole new way of living for a bit and acknowledging (and accepting) the interruption to the way of daily life you’re used to.

I have no doubt that, to many, these types of actions may seem overreactive. It’s hard to really feel a threat that you not only don’t see, but don’t see it’s effects immediately around you. But then, I guess that’s the point. If nothing happens, then that means it worked. And that’s good.

Sometimes doing what you feel is right is not always what’s popular.

How I Met Your Mother

Bar Busy with peopleSit down, kids, and I’ll tell you a story.

One of the greatest things I ever did was to take a low point in my life and esteem and turn it into motivation to focus on time for myself, and getting back in touch with things I enjoyed.

I was in my late 20s, single, and going through what might have been classified in retrospect as a form of depression. A good portion of that time was admittedly spent going out, drinking, dating, and in some form or another, always landing right back to the same starting point again, rinse and repeat. I also (being able to look back retrospectively and introspectively on myself) was not my best self and feel that I lacked a bit of maturity and awareness of the world outside my own interests and vision. Perhaps a symptom of my age at the time, perhaps just something that develops through our life experiences. But I’m glad I can see and admit that now.

I wasn’t happy and at the time I looked at many outside factors as things that might potentially make me happy. Only now, almost but not quite 15 years later, am I able to have the perspective to realize that nothing, not a thing that I could have obtained (a different job, a different living space, a relationship with XY or Z), none of it would have actually made a difference.

Because now I’m incredibly fortunate enough to realize that happiness can’t be found in any particular thing. You can chase it, but if you get it, you’ll find yourself still struggling to understand why you’re not better. That’s because being happy comes from something much closer to home. It can only be found within oneself. It’s in your outlook, your mindset, your gratitude for the good in life and letting it tip the scale on the bad.

Hand holding remote controlOne particular Fall/Winter season, after a few of those vicious cycles, I decided it was time to pull back and focus on a new way and a new focus, namely myself. I didn’t go out. I’d come home to my apartment after work, get cozy, make some food, watch some television or read, maybe work on something creative, and call it a night.

To some I think it might have looked like turning into a hermit, but for me at the time, it was refocusing my energies back onto time for myself and things I enjoyed. Quiet time. A time to get back in touch with myself again.

I tried theatre again – something I hadn’t done at that point since high school. Eventually that led to a small part at a playhouse I had never heard of about a half hour away. A friend had suggested to me that I give it a try. There, I met a wonderful group of people in what seemed like a rag tag group of performers trying their best with minimal resources to put on a show (paralleling a similar type of circumstance in the play’s story itself). And among that crew was a new friend – well, sort of. She’d make fun of me a lot. And I’d often leave thinking “that girl is so weird.”

Theatre stage curtain seatsBut, we were becoming friends.

About five or six months later, another play came around at the same playhouse and having had such a fun experience, I tried again. Lo and behold, “that weird girl” and I were both in the cast again and we found our friendship beginning to grow.

By the time the show’s run ended a few months later, we must have realized that we liked each other because I asked her out to a touring production of a Broadway show that came through town.

And I guess the rest, as they say, is history. Three-kids later history.

The realization to look inward for my happiness, that season of reconnecting with myself led me somewhere I never would have guessed, and somewhere I wouldn’t change for the world.

And that, kids, is how I met your mother.

Fifty Years of Sunny Days

Classic SesameCan you tell me how to get…how to get to Sesame Street?

I think you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone in this world who can’t tell you where on dial (okay, even if there are no dials anymore) to find that famous neighborhood where sunny days sweep the clouds away.

I personally have a hard time thinking of any other children’s television program that has consistency come into the homes of families as long as Sesame Street has, talking directly to their audience and guiding them through the essentials of childhood learning, from ABCs and 123s, colors and patterns, and just plain being good people.

The show has left five decades worth of legacy behind as of this writing. Five decades. It is incredible to stop and think about how many childhoods that encompasses, that have been touched and impacted by this product of the Children’s Television Workshop, now known as Sesame Workshop.

So it was with great joy that our family gathered around the television a few weeks back to watch Sesame Street’s 50th Anniversary Special on PBS Kids. For us, it was a family event. I even made popcorn.

The look-back celebration didn’t disappoint. With songs and clips from throughout the shows storied history, it was a trip down nostalgia lane with Muppets last seen long ago reappearing in various cameos (looking at you, Amazing Mumford, Roosevelt Franklin, Sherlock Hemlock, Harvey Kneeslapper, and Guy Smiley, among so many others).

Even the Baker who famously dropped his plate of whatever it would be at the time, re-emerged, most of his face cleverly hidden by pies, but his voice still provided thanks to a recording from the late, great Jim Henson. “Ten…banana cream…pies!!!!” **tumble** **crash**

And much to my delight, even Kermit the Frog re-emerged for a visit back to Sesame Street, as let’s not forget Kermit was once a regular on the Street back in the day.

Sesame 50th - Susan and BobAnd the humans. Sigh. It just wouldn’t have been a Sesame Street anniversary without a check-in of the human cast members from days gone by. Maria, Gordon, Susan, Luis, Bob, even Linda were all back to join in the fun with a few lines and songs that would make even the most curmudgeonly viewers feel like a kid again. I beamed.

All that in itself would have been enough, but they did even better by having a few performers on the special’s back end to talk about what the show meant to them personally. I was especially touched by the words of Jason Schwartzman, who talked about what the introduction of the character Julia meant to his family.

I can’t think of Sesame Street without thinking of the episode that stayed with me my entire life. Sure, there were songs, and characters and skits that were memorable. And yes, long before I had been working in the world of journalism as a reporter, toddler-aged me used to sit in our apartment using a paper lunch bag to make a trench coat for my stuffed Kermit the Frog so he could be “Kermit the Frog, reporting live from Sesame Street.”

sesame - mr hooperBut what struck me the most throughout the years, no matter how old I got, was the episode that dealt with the death of actor Will Lee, who played Mr. Hooper. The episode first aired in 1982, and my memory can’t distinguish if I had seen it then (I would have been 2 at the time) or as a rerun a year or so after that. But it’s the one that I’ll never forget. It was my first understanding of death, just like Big Bird, and an emotional impact that stays with me to this day.

Five decades of teaching. Five decades of helping. Five decades of giving kids from all backgrounds and all walks of life a chance to say “hey, that’s like me.” It’s what makes Sesame Street so darn special to so many people and has for so many years.

It’s part of why we all wish we could live on a street like Sesame.

Sesame 50th Group

Voicing the childhood of generations

russi taylorI think about Russi Taylor a lot.

I know that’s a weird sentence to start a piece with, but it’s true.

It’s said that when she was a little girl, Russi was at Disneyland with her mother and brother when she spotted Walt Disney sitting on a bench in the park at night. They started up a conversation and when Walt asked her what she wanted to do when she grew up, the young Russi replied, “Work for you!” And she did.

In 1986 she beat out 200 others auditioning for the role of the famous female mouse and she has voiced her ever since.

She was no one-trick pony either. Her career included voice-overs for countless other characters across television and film, including Martin Prince on The Simpsons and Huey, Dewey and Louie in the original DuckTales. And those who work with her say she was just as sweet as the Minnie she portrayed.

She passed away in July at the age of 75, but her work…well, like so many others, it’s around me every single day.

Minnie and DaisyWith three kids at home, we watch a lot of Mickey and Minnie Mouse cartoons. From Mickey’s Clubhouse and Minnie’s Bow-tique to Roadster Racers and Mixed Up Adventures, Minnie’s with us every there. And that means that Russi Taylor’s Minnie is a constant presence. Throw in any Minnie Mouse doll, toy car, toy phone or anything else that talks in-character, and well, she’s heard about as much as any family member.

That’s a little strange, right? This person whom I’ve never met in my life but felt sadness for upon hearing of her passing. I didn’t know Russi Taylor. But like so many who experience characters that have become such a part of our lives, you don’t need to know them personally for them to mean something to you. She gave voice and life for more than 30 years to a beloved character that’s been a part of multiple childhoods.

CHIP, DALE, DONALD, MICKEY, PLUTO, MINNIE, JIMINY JOHNSON, DANNI SUE, DAISY, CUCKOO LOCA, GOOFYAnd yet, though she is no longer with us, the Disney Legend continues to live on in every character she brought to life and every childhood she touched and brought joy to. The sound of Minnie Mouse surrounds so many of us every day, and because of that, she has become such a large part of so many childhoods, lives, and lives on in some small way in each person whose face she brought a smile to, even if it was remotely, through the wonder of animation and technology.

I’m fixing a hole

I spent a lot of time patching up holes at our house this summer. I’m not going to lie. I often spent much of that time simultaneously patching and singing The Beatles 1967 hit of the same name.

I’m fixing a hole where the rain gets in

And stops my mind from wandering

Where it will go

I’m filling the cracks that ran through the door

And kept my mind from wandering

Where it will go

But why? What holes? Why was this such an ongoing project throughout the summer?

The answer, my friends, is a small one. A chipmunk-sized one. Because it’s a chipmunk.

June 28, 2019 - Driveway chipmunk problem 02Early this summer we noticed a hole in our driveway, not far from where the garage door is. We assumed, as it was below the path of gutters above, that excess water had worn it away over time. So, one afternoon I went out, filled it with some rocks, mixed up a little concrete (with plans to cover it with cold patch once it dried) and filled up the hole. Inside the house I went and peeked out the window about an hour later to see if it had dried up yet and ready for the next step.

I did a double take at the window. Wait, what?

June 28, 2019 - Driveway chipmunk problem 06The entire hole had been dug up, or rather pushed up from the inside. Before the concrete could dry, it and the rocks below it now sat in the driveway, scattered about. As I inspected closer, I found that it wasn’t just a hole. It was a tunnel! A tunnel that led to the grass just off to the side of our driveway, where a tiny little chipmunk looked at me before running off.

I couldn’t believe it.

So, I patched up the hole again, this time covering it with a bucket and stone on top, while covering the other end of the tunnel with a big brick. This time it worked.

June 28, 2019 - Driveway chipmunk problem 07Until another hole popped up a few feet away. And then we discovered multiple holes in the masonry walls of the garage itself where our little friend was coming and going, leaving his droppings and gnawing away at any bags of birdseed. Which I discovered by picking up said bag and having it spill out from the bottom thanks to a chewed hole on the bottom.

Because I apparently live in a reality akin to 1940s Donald Duck cartoons where yes, I’m playing the role of Donald to my tiny co-star of Chip, Dale, whichever one is burrowing holes into our driveway and garage.

Adonald chip and dales the sun begins to set on summer, so too (at least I think) has the sun set on the cartoonish ongoing battle with our small antagonist (or are they the protagonist and I’m the antagonist?). The holes have been successfully filled in with rocks, concrete and a layer of cold patch on top. The holes in the garage walls have been filled in with steel wool, spray foam insulation, and where possible, a layer of concrete.

All those years of laughing at Donald Duck’s over the top attempts to stop those little chipmunks from causing chaos in his quiet little world have finally come back to bite me, I suppose.

But if you see me in my driveway, doing the Donald Duck angry tantrum bit again next season, you’ll know why.

Donald Duck tantrum

Grown-Up Time Outs

Mad DOnaldI lost my temper this weekend.

Our kids were being especially challenging. Refusing to eat any food option for dinner, nearly hitting the baby with their feet/legs from constant rolling around/gymnastics across the living room, and an answer for absolutely everything to counter any suggestion mom and dad may have.

At one point, a small glimmer of hope as we tried to get dinner ready. One of our daughters took it upon herself to play waitress, going around and asking everyone, pen in hand, what everyone wanted. It kept her busy, she was enjoying it and it gave us the time Meg and I needed to try and just get something done in the kitchen.

Until she asked her big brother what he would like to eat.

Silence.

She tried again to take his ‘order.’

Silence.

One more time to nothing and I finally shouted from the kitchen, “Can you please answer her?!”

“I don’t want anything to eat!” he angrily shouted back.

“It’s just pretend!” I retorted. “Just pretend what you want to eat!”

Upside down in a half somersault, half cartwheel, he angrily yelled “I don’t know how to pretend.”

Sidenote: this is a blatant lie, as he’s constantly creating stories on paper, making creations from the great beyond with LEGOs and often overheard with elaborate action figure set ups and scenarios from his bedroom.

So the angry response of “I don’t know how to pretend” set me off. I yelled. I told him if he didn’t know how to pretend that maybe he didn’t need his art supplies, maybe he didn’t need his action figures, or his LEGOs, or any of the other countless things for pretend that he says he doesn’t know how to do.

I was frustrated. I was angry. Then Meg intervened telling not just he, but I too, that a time out was needed. So we went to our respective rooms to cool off. Which was needed. By both of us – the seven year old AND the 39 year old.

Donald Duck tantrumThe kids aren’t the only ones who can head down that slippery slope of things that can’t be taken back. It’s incredibly easy for all of us, adults included, to fall down that incline and be forced to live with what comes out on the way down. I’m very appreciative for the foresight my wife had to know he and I were both heading down that slope and needed to it pause and clear our heads. Incredibly grateful.

A few minutes later, as I sat in a room reflecting on my reaction, there was a knock at the door. In he came, giving me a big hug and telling me he was sorry. We both sat down on the bed and I told him I was sorry too. I shouldn’t have gotten as angry as I did. I shouldn’t have said the things I did. It wasn’t right. I was frustrated, but it didn’t make it right. He tried to take the blame “It’s my fault, Daddy.” and I was quick to correct him that it wasn’t. It was mine.

No matter how frustrated he or I may get it, it doesn’t give us the right to become that angry and talk the way we did to each other. The only one who can control what I say, how angry I get, and the words I use to react with, is me. The same goes for him. I made sure to tell him that. I was frustrated, because he was being a bit of a jerk to his sister, but that still didn’t warrant my reaction. Again, I apologized, and we tried to start anew, a lesson hopefully learned.

hardy-father-sonIn both my younger days, as well as my younger parent days (wide-eyed, idealistic, and looking at what parenthood would be like very differently than how parenthood truly is) I just pictured a sit down, talk ala any 50s-80s family sitcom (or 30s-40s Andy Hardy movie) where parent knows exactly what to say to quell the problem, teach the lesson, and save the day.

Life isn’t like that. I rarely know what to say in the moment and find myself in a state of improvisation, trying to piece together the balance of rationale and words to try and explain what went wrong and how we can make make it better. It’s never the perfect on-screen moment I picture in my naive youth.

But honestly, it’s something. Even if we parents are just making it up as we go each day, running from one fire to the next, if we’re trying, if we’re doing our best, letting ourselves learn from our mistakes, and admitting that we too are capable of mistakes, then maybe we might just succeed in raising these little folks to become good people.

We’re not perfect. Maybe we don’t need to be. We’re just flawed humans like everybody else, trying to evolve, to grow, to become better people. And maybe being willing to admit that to our kids can help them grow too.


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