The misadventures of a first time father

Monthly Archives: December 2014

Goofy as MarleyHave you ever played the Game of Jacob Marley?

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. 🙂

Old Fezzwig AleIt’s Christmas Eve.

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.

Thanks, Fezziwig.

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.

Candlelight Evening in Cooperstown, NY. (Courtesy of The Farmers' Museum)

Candlelight Evening in Cooperstown, NY. (Courtesy of The Farmers’ Museum)

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.

A very Merry Christmas from our family to yours!

Last year. All my expectations for this year were wrongly built upon this.

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.

Santa 14-01

Blurry, best we could get reality of this year.

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.

Hot wassail from a cauldron. (Courtesy of The Farmer's Museum)

Hot wassail from a cauldron. (Courtesy of The Farmer’s Museum)

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.

The Book Fair, in all its glory.

The Book Fair, in all its glory.

When I was in elementary school, there was nothing like the day the teacher would pass out those colored pieces of newsprint paper, folded into a makeshift catalog, brimming with choices of the literary sense. It was like a periodic Christmas catalog hunt, reading through every summary, your eyes passing over every book cover sitting there in the Scholastic book order form.

The only thing that probably matched up to it was when your book order actually came in. Even that might be questionable because, let’s face it – it was that cornucopia of choices, the anticipation for the books to arrive that brought about that feeling of excitement and euphoria moreso than actually having the book.

So, when Meg (who is a school librarian, or Library Media Specialist as they are today called, because they do much, much more than in years past) had her annual week of the Book Fair coming up for school, I thought two years old might be a good time to introduce the little guy to the awe and wonder that is the school Book Fair (as well as give him a peek into where mommy goes every day).

Making our way through some dark, snowy back roads one recent night, we made it to Meg’s school for the one evening during the week when she stays late for any parents who want to come with their kids after school or after extracurricular activities to check out the books.

Perusing the shelves.

Perusing the shelves.

It was truly an experience for the little guy, even before we stepped foot into the library. As we made our way from the car and across the parking lot, we talked about this being not only where mommy worked, but that it was a school. He’s heard of school before, in books and in cartoons. But he had never actually seen one, and he was truly excited that he was seeing ‘mommy’s school.’

Then we got to the library and you’d have thought we walked into Santa’s workshop.

Only a few customers were there when we arrived, but that didn’t stop the monkey from running exuberantly to the shelves and grabbing any book he could with a cover that appealed to him. It wasn’t long before he was plopping down on the floor of the library and just shifting through the colorful pages.

As Meg occasionally tended to the business at hand, I watched over the little guy – or chased after him as the case may be, once he noticed there was so much more to do beyond those Book Fair shelves. (Note: smartboard markers and erasers are not toys. But try telling a two year old that). In between her customers, we’d have the whole library to ourselves, where, as a family, we’d look through shelves, talk about which books we’d like, and generally just have a good time. Probably more fun than you were supposed to be having in the library as a kid. But, hey, we’ve got an in with the librarian. She’s pretty cool, I hear.

"Chase me, dada! Chase me!"

“Chase me, dada! Chase me!”

From shelf to shelf, book to book, it was an overwhelming experience. It was sort of like our trips to Barnes and Noble, but this time it was where mommy worked, and he seemed to fully understand the full advantage he was taking of the situation, from going behind the library desk, or just shouting ‘chase me, dada!’ as he ran through the library stacks.

He seemed to be having a “Mr. Social” Day, greeting many who came in to the Book Fair, getting in the way of walking around with other kids as they tried to peruse the book shelves. At one point, he even tried to play the role of assistant. A student who was probably about 8 or 9, I would say, came in and asked Meg for a book. It wasn’t on the Book Fair shelves, so Meg went to look in the back. At which point, our guy turned to the girl who was looking for the book and says “Nope. No more books…” Luckily, she took his passion for being a part of things with a smile.

It’s hard to express just how grateful I am that he loves books as much as he does. I know I’ve probably talked ad-nauseam since starting this blog about how special our pre-bedtime storytime routine is. It’s the sort of thing that pains me if I have to miss. We’ve been doing it, quite literally, since he got back from the hospital. Now, it’s just part of what we do. Only these days, he picks out the books he wants himself.

Just casually plopping down on the library floor.

Just casually plopping down on the library floor.

I’ve read that there are several points throughout life where children decide if they are going to continue being readers or not. My hope is that by having books (and such excitement for them) be such a presence in our lives, that it will help continue to foster that love of reading, and of the imagination he seems to have in abundance. I consider us truly blessed for this. I really do.

I bought several more books for him than I had intended, but a) it helps benefit the school  and b) there were so many good kids’ books, how could I not?!

All in all, we really had a great time.

Even I felt like an eight year old again when I walked amid the Book Fair shelves.

And it was awesome.

I wonder if Meg has any of those book order forms lying around…

A book for daddy!

A book for daddy!

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