It’s no big secret that I’m a list maker.
Usually, prior to calling it a day and heading to bed, I pull out my planner and start jotting down what I would like to accomplish the following day. It ranges from work assignments that I need to wade through to personal projects or writings (“blog post” shows up rather often. Guess how many times it doesn’t get crossed off the list?) to house maintenance and errands (“pick up coat from tailor” or “buy gutter downspout” were just some this week).
Needless to say, it’s gotten harder to work my way through the daily lists as the years progress, especially when there’s the daily responsibilities of parenthood involved. I’m often told that I put too much on the list each day, and I agree that it’s probably accurate.
Unfortunately it doesn’t make me feel any better when I stare at an incomplete list that’s not completely crossed off at the end of the night.
But I’m trying to take on a new perspective. It’s not easy by any means, and my instincts immediately become reluctant to do so, feeling like I’m not being productive enough.
However, I’m doing my best to cut back and cut some slack.
There comes a point where we have to stop beating ourselves up over what doesn’t get done on a laundry list of daily to-dos and take a moment to accept and celebrate what we did manage to accomplish.
Amid work, transporting kids here, there and everywhere, meals, bathtimes, storytimes, bedtimes, and all the questions in between, the weight of these little people’s world rests upon our shoulders as parents. That in itself can become monumental tasks on anyone’s endurance and energy. So we can not realistically expect ourselves to be as productive now, shouldering all that has to get done in a day just to survive, as we did against our lives at 27, 24, or the years when it was just us, be it just us as couple or just as individuals.
If we as parents can accomplish even one additional thing on top of the requirements of each day, then I think we need to teach ourselves to accept that as a win. Some days there will be more, some days there will be less, but speaking from experience we have to stop beating ourselves up when there just sometimes isn’t enough time in the day. Allow yourself a chance to breathe, to say “I did something” even if it’s just one thing. You’ve earned the small victory. Don’t let stress take it away from you.We have to give ourselves the small victories.
Because that’s honestly what they are amid everything else – victories.
It was just one of those nights. No matter what hour the clock ticked away to, it all played out like a CD that wouldn’t stop skipping – the crying from our daughter’s room going on and on as the night stretched to early morning.
Fortunately for us, our son slept soundly through it all. For Meg and I, however, it was a constant struggle of trying anything and everything to soothe her – milk, cuddles, food, singing, touch, rocking, a little medicine thinking it was teething – all to no avail. No matter what we did, she would do nothing but scream. Not just a crying scream, but an angry scream like we’ve rarely heard.
We reached shortly after 2 in the morning when I felt completely out of options, and completely out of our minds. At this rate, I felt, no one in the house was going to sleep. Neither Meg nor I had yet to hit the pillow, and who knew how long our son’s sound sleep through it would last? So, in an act of desperation, I bundled up our 16 month old little lady in her coat and hood, put her in her car seat, and she and I went for an early morning drive.
Anywhere and everywhere along the open road was the map of our journey, through the streets of downtown, to the country routes of neighboring villages and towns.
Once we got moving, the savage beast was soothed, enjoying the sights and sounds outside her window, from the street lamps that passed us by to the lights of the theater marquee or the new clock tower downtown. In time, she was asleep, but attempts to park caused her to rustle and start to wake again, so I kept driving, her eyes once again closing, falling back into the arms of Morpheus, our routes sometimes repeating over and over again, to keep her that way.
Fueled from the start by a large McDonald’s coffee (the only place open at 2:30 in the morning in our area, I found, the lights upon every donut shop and cafe with a drive thru darkened), we saw our region as it slept off the worries of the previous day and, as the hours ticked by, prepared for a brand new day. The empty streets that were all ours at the start, by journey’s end hours later were beginning to fill with traffic as people hurried to their morning shifts of work.
Shortly after 6, we returned to the driveway, the sun’s appearance in the sky marking the end of our quest, and the start of our morning routine (albeit a much more caffeine-fueled one) for another day.
This past Valentine’s Day, our son and daughter each got cards in the mail from their grandparents. Inside our son’s card was a ten dollar bill. He immediately became very excited, with a wide smile and look of excitement on his face. I imagined that images of a new action figure or some type of toy was dancing through his head.
He pulled the money from the card, his smile still ear to ear, looked at Meg and I and said “I know exactly what I want to do with it!”
Here it comes. We braced ourselves for whatever store he’s earmarked this for already.
“I want to donate it to someone who doesn’t have a lot of money so that they can use it.”
Flabbergasted. The only way to explain our reaction as we stood there taking in the response that we completely did not expect.
Don’t mistake my surprise for anything but, as despite my shock, Meg and I were so incredibly proud to realize this is where our little guy’s heart lies. Trips down the toy aisle, looking through store ads, or the ubiquitous little mini catalogs that seem to come with many of his Imaginext action figures could often make us think that’s all he thinks about, point to each one he wants (and it’s usually the equivalent of, oh, all of them).
But here, faced with the reality of cash in his hand, he wanted to give it away, to help someone less fortunate than he and it meant the absolute world to see.
Altruism is defined as the belief in or practice of disinterested and selfless concern for the well-being of others.
During a 2008 talk at Stanford University, Michael Tomasello, co-director of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany discussed about his research on “processes of social cognition, social learning and communication, and language in human children and great apes” and very notably, the idea of altruism and its natural occurrence in children.
According to Tomasello, children have an almost instinctual desire to help, inform and share, doing so without expectation or the desire for a reward.
“There is very little evidence in any of these cases that children’s altruism is created by parents or any other form of socialization,” Tomasello said during the discussion as chronicled by the Stanford Report.
As the children grow older, though, their spirit of cooperation becomes shaped by how they judge their surroundings and perceive what others think of them. As they become more aware of what’s around them, Tomasello says they also become more worried about what it means to be a member of a group.
“They arrive at the process with a predisposition for helpfulness and cooperation,” he said. “But then they learn to be selective about whom to help, inform and share with, and they also learn to manage the impression they are making on others – their public reputation and self – as a way of influencing the actions of those others toward themselves.”
In contrast, Tomasello’s studies showed that apes were in it mostly for themselves. Undergoing similar experiments as the children were, the apes had the ability to work together and share but instead chose not to do so. He says that while a child’s sense of guilt or shame might guide a decision to share candy with another child who helped them get it, the apes had no qualms about working with another to get a piece of food and then keeping it to themselves.
According to Tomasello, human beings have a sense of “we,” a shared purpose, a bond that he says explains even simple social norms such as what makes it rude to walk away from an activity with another person without any type of advance warning.
“This sense that we are doing something together – which creates mutual expectations, and even rights and obligations – is arguably uniquely human even in this simple case,” Tomasello said.
Uniquely human. Yet it’s amazing how many of us, so uniquely human in our altruism at that early age, have it fade away as the years go on, focused more on how any given situation, person, or the world, can benefit us, rather than those around us. I think that we’re all guilty of it.
So what do we do? How do we help a child maintain that sense of heart and generosity? How do you foster it now so that they can keep it as they continue to age? And is there a way to turn back the dial on ourselves and shed the selfishness that for some come with age?
I have no idea. I wish I knew the answers.
What I do know, though, is how proud Meg and I are of the boy he is today and have no doubt he’ll continue making us proud for many years to come.
“Today you are you. That is truer than true. There is no one alive more youer than you.”
That comes from Happy Birthday To You, one of the myriad of books in the catalog of Dr. Seuss masterpieces that decorate many a bookshelf and have influenced any number of childhood, and foster a creativity across all ages.
And today, March 2, 2017 marks the 113th birthday of Dr. Seuss, or Theodore Geisel, as he was born.
You look quite terrific for one hundred thirteen,
the lessons from you, we still every day glean.
These days, it’s hard to think of a time before Seussian rhyming and characters like the Grinch and the Cat in the Hat weren’t part of our everyday culture. Words like Nook, and Grinch have become a part of our lexicon.
There is so much that could be talked about personally about Geisel, who was born to German immigrants in Springfield, Massachusetts. He experienced quite the share of discrimination and hate as a child as Americans fought Germany in the era of The Great War, now known as World War I. He lived on Mulberry Street, and it’s been said that on walks with his older sister, other children would throw bricks at them, spout hateful threats and call them names due to their heritage. It’s said he was the final scout in line to receive a medal when Theodore Roosevelt came to town, but by the time it was his turn, he received no medal but a lecture from Roosevelt. Some historians theorize that anti-German people within the town tampered with the medal count that day and believe that incident teamed with the screaming lecture from TR may have led to the classic Horton Hears a Who Line “a person’s a person, no matter how small.”
Throughout many, if not all of his tales, Geisel seems to have a common theme that resonates no matter our age – fairness, justice for what’s right, doing the right thing, and celebrating the differences among all of us.
Whether it’s Horton in Horton Hears a Who, trying to save the Whos that are on the head of the flower despite the other creatures of the jungle making life downright miserable and tortuous for him, the Sneetches learning that just because some have stars on their bellies and some do not does not mean that they’re truly any different from each other and can get along, or the importance of opening our eyes to what is around us and seeking out knowledge to better understand people, places and our shared world in I Can Read with My Eyes Shut, it’s all about learning to better understand each other.
So many of these books that we read as children, we now read to our own kids. A well-preserved copy of One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish of mine now sits on my son’s bookshelf amid other classic Seuss outings as well as some newer editions by new authors influenced by his trademark style. Most notable of these newer entries is The Cat in the Hat Learning Library series, which our son adores, each book engaging young minds as the Cat and his rhymes teach about everything from bugs, to space, to money, or animals.
One of the running gags between my son and I are to suddenly take our conversations into rhyming territory, going back and forth, sometimes to a point where he ends up making up his own Seussian type words just to keep the rhyme going.
And while it’s all in good fun, it’s even better to know that some researchers say there’s more than just the silliness behind Dr. Seuss’ rhymes.
“The words that he made up are fun for children — they see the cleverness behind the word construct and the meaning of the word,” said Ann Neely, a professor of children’s literature at Vanderbilt University’s Peabody College in Nashville, Tennessee told Live Science in 2015.
It is true that some parents have concerns about the silly, made-up Seussian words, that it could lead to confusion in children, but Neely goes on to say that all that nonsensical jumble actually helps children on the path to reading, raising their awareness of the sounds that letters make.
“The words that he made up were often funny, and it helps children with their literacy skills later on as they’re learning to read if they’ve heard how language can be played with,” Neely also told Live Science.
She added that the predictable rhythm of the sentences also could play a large role in teaching children to read.
“That gave children confidence in their own reading ability,” Neely said. “In some ways, it’s like Mother Goose rhymes, in that when we say, ‘Oh, he’s like Humpty Dumpty,’ we know that it’s because ‘all the king’s horses and all the king’s men couldn’t put Humpty together again.'”
Theodore Geisel or Dr. Seuss leaves a legacy that still carries on generation after generation, and as I say, it’s hard to imagine a world without his imagination, his doodles, his rhyme, and his wonderful way to make us all think about the world we share.
“Shout loud, I am lucky to be what I am! Thank goodness I’m not just a clam or a ham! Or a dusty old jar of gooseberry ham!”
What’s your favorite Seussian tale?
Some time back I publicly gushed about what I normally gush about to any parent who will listen – my love of the PBS Kids series Odd Squad.
For those uninitiated, Odd Squad is an organization run by kids that investigate anything odd. Be it people who drink lemonade that turns their head to lemons, being turned into puppets, or stopping blobs and flying books, the agents of Odd Squad are on the case. Using (and through the power of entertainment and television, teaching) math skills, they get the job done with a lot of fun along the way.
And come on. Their Rogues Gallery is made up of the likes of Odd Todd, Noisemaker, Fladam, Symettric Al, Shapeshifter and more, this is creative gimmick-villainy on par with baddies out of Gotham City or The Flash.
It’s the kind of show you love to watch with your kids because it’s just as entertaining for the adults as it is for the young ones. And I love it.
At the time I originally wrote, the show was setting up for a big transition trading in its two leading characters of 40 episodes for, at the time, new, unknown characters. And with so much love for (original agents) Olive and Otto’s adventures combating odd, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect.
But I had faith in the show’s creators to keep the laughs and lessons coming in the same way they had since the beginning, despite any new faces.
And new faces is what we got. Gone were straight-laced Olive (Delila Bela) and goofball Otto (Filip Geljo), off to be bosses of their own Odd Squad branch. I had hoped we would get to keep scientist Oscar (Sean Michael Kyer) around a bit longer, but while his exit seemed necessary following quite the growth spurt between seasons, he did stick around for a few extra episodes to train a protege and allow his change to create perhaps one of my favorite jokes of the show..
We even get some more Dr. O (Peyton Kennedy) for a few episodes, which is fine by me, as her constantly introducing herself as “a doctor” and reminding people how they know her “we work together” never stops being funny.
The biggest upside is that despite the exits of beloved regulars, we still get Millie Davis as Ms. O at the helm, sending agents on their missions, making them scatter with a yell, and best of all, getting to show some great new sides to her with an enlarged role out from behind the boss’ desk in many episodes. She not only helps create a common thread throughout the various cast changes, but is just an absolute delight to watch.
I’m still holding out hope for another 1980s-set episode with Ms. O…sorry…Oprah when she was an agent.
Even Odd Squad arch-nemesis Odd Todd pops by for an episode in this hilariously titled Mid Day in the Garden of Good and Odd where the now reformed-Todd-turned-gardener helps the new agents crack a case only a former villain’s POV could. And along the way, Joshua Kilimnik once again gets the chance to show off his acting abilities jumping between cackling-Todd, conflicted-Todd, and master gardener-Todd.
But wait. All I’ve done is talk about who stuck around, right? Did this show even have a cast change? What are you doing to us, man?!
Okay, okay. So I wanted to get the kudos to the returning champs up front. So what are the major changes we’ve seen. The biggest, of course is who would fill the shoes of Olive and Otto as the squad’s main agents. For that we get the overly-excitable Olympia (Anna Cathcart) and the straight-laced, no-nonsense Otis (Isaac Kragten) in a somewhat personality reversal to Olive and Otto.
I waited a few episodes before deciding what I thought of this new team and I have to say…I like them. I really, really do. I can’t use the term pleasantly surprised because I had faith in the show’s creators to keep delivering the same great casting choices, writing, humor, and production that has made the show so darn enjoyable already. And they didn’t let us down.
The thing is, change can be tough for television audiences, but with Odd Squad, the concept lends itself to periodic change. Grown-ups aren’t allowed to be agents (only bumbling, hapless victims in town and man do I want to play one some day. would several years experience on camera as a News Anchor and a few decades of theater get me a shot? Guys?! Hello? Is this thing on?) so with that in mind, as agents age, they move on and new ones come in.
It’s built right into the concept and so far, the first round of transition has worked pretty well. Carrying over cast members where they can (Oscar for a few episodes, Ms. O and Dr. O more regularly into the new season) help create a level of comfort and familiarity for the audience as new faces emerge. Eventually, those new faces become the regulars as even newer faces could move in. It’s created to be self-sustaining, and the fresh faces means new characters, new situations, and keeps the writers, I would think, on their toes. Kid or adult, this show has never made a bad casting decision yet, providing some of the best acting and comedic timing I’ve ever seen in young actors. It’s hard to come by at any age and Odd Squad does it in spades every time.
The fact of the matter with any type of show that revolves around kids is that kids grow up. We all do. Fortunately with a show like Odd Squad, no matter our age, we can be a kid again.
I hope they’re solving missions for a long time.
The other night, I was standing in our dining room, leaning up against a piece of furniture, chiming into conversation but primarily scrolling through my phone, looking at the latest news going on in the outside world (no lack of those lately), what friends were up to, and checking in to see if any emails I had been waiting for popped up.
The family was going about various evening norms – unpacking the array of bags that seem like we’re boarding an airplane but really just make up our collective day, sorting through the mail, looking at what’s in the fridge and at recipes for dinner possibilities. A one year old little girl wandering about with that cute little waddle, babbling away with sounds that we think we understand but can never be sure, and a 4 year old little boy bouncing around the house with more energy than any of us could hope to muster at any given point of day, let alone the exhausting post work, kid-pick-up, drive home, kid unload, baggage unload, figure out dinner part of the day.
I was there, completely exhausted and mindlessly moving my hand across the screen, when that little voice chimed in “Wanna play with me daddy?”
And, tiredly, I looked at him, smiled…and gave him some reason of how I really wasn’t up for playing and was really very tired. He walked away, a little bummed, and sat down to see what was on PBS Kids as I continued moving my finger across the phone, taking in all of the outside world in its digitally relayed form, and completely ignoring the physical one right in front of me.
Meg leaned nearby, and quietly said “He’s not going to be asking for much longer.”
I stopped for a moment, looking up from my phone and over at that little boy watching television. How big he’s gotten already. How fast he’s growing. How quickly he’s changing. From the little baby I held in my arms in the hospital to the little toddler who learned to walk to talk, to count, the alphabet, using the potty, spelling his name. It all happened in the span of four years now, but it seems like it went by in the blink of an eye. A cliche? Sure. But the reason they have cliches is because they’re true for so many.
In the blink of an eye all that time was gone. He’ll never be discovering those same things again. New things, sure. But never those firsts we’ve already crossed over. He’s already in Pre-k, making friends, telling us about his days in the car and over dinner. Heck, we have kindergarten registration next week. Before I know it, he’ll be there, every day, all day in school.
In that same blink of an eye, we’ll be through grade school, dealing with the junior high years, high school, whatever comes beyond. It will happen so quickly and I will wish, beg, pray for the chance to play with my little boy again. And I won’t have it. That time will have passed.
I couldn’t escape the sounds of Cat’s in the Cradle playing through my head as I looked at him in that moment.
All of this swirled through my mind in a matter of seconds after Meg spoke the words. How right she was.
I closed the phone, walked over to him and sat down next to him, asking about what he was watching, then asking if he still wanted to play. He wanted to play something different, but it was still something.
So here we are. Halfway through the winter season here in the northeast, the holidays over, the decorations all put away (minus the red and white lights out in front of our house that seem to nag at me whenever I see them yet never call to me with the urgency needed to get my butt outside and take them down), and a new year has begun.
I know I can’t be the only one who deals with feelings of a letdown post-holidays. In fairness, though, I fully admit I reach a point over the holidays when I’ve had my fill of everything – festivities, openings, family gatherings, the clutter, all of it, and want back to the normalcy and routine of the rest of the year. So let me make that part perfectly clear from the get-go.
I think you know what I mean, right? When it’s all over, you’re stuck cleaning up, putting everything away, in some cases finding room for additional things in the house (especially if you have kids).
I mean, sure, you might catch a great post-holiday sale (net lights for under 3 bucks?! Ornaments for under a buck? A nice wreath for under 4 bucks?!) and be ahead of the game for next year at a fraction of the cost.
But taking out those things, there always seems to be something else…something intangible about the way the season changes once the holiday ends. Call it wishful thinking, call it hopelessly optimistic, but no matter the year, no matter what’s going on in the world, it always seems, when the days countdown to the holiday, all those elements of the season just somehow seem to come together and create that perfect stew known as the Christmas spirit.
It’s a feeling, seen in every smile, every snowflake, every Christmas light you pass on the street.
And then, in a flash, it’s all gone.
Then it’s back to the grind and with it, there’s something just a little…different about the attitudes in the air.
I certainly don’t want Christmas every day. For that, I refer you, as I do my son when he starts wishing it was every day, to the first tale in the Mickey’s Once Upon a Christmas special. In it, Huey, Dewey and Louie’s wish for Christmas every day is granted and when they wake each day, it’s Christmas morning. And boy do they get sick of it really fast.
What makes it so special is gone.
But what about that invisible something? Is it only special as well because we don’t get the best of each other all the rest of the year, even if we want to?
Is it possible to bottle it for the rest of the year?
It makes me think of a song from 1978’s Christmas Eve on Sesame Street – a special we break out every year that still remains one of my favorites. It’s lyrics, perhaps, sum up the best way to to maintain the spirit the other 364 days. How to, Keep Christmas with You, so to speak.
When Christmas time is over and presents put away, don’t be sad
There’ll be so much to treasure about this Christmas day and the fun we’ve had
So may happy feelings to celebrate with you
And, oh, the good times hurry by so fast,
But even when it’s over there’s something you can do to make Christmas last
Keep Christmas with you
All through the year,
When Christmas is over,
You can keep it near.
Think of this Christmas day
When Christmas is far away.
Keep Christmas with you
All through the year,
When Christmas is over,
Save some Christmas cheer.
These precious moments,
Hold them very dear
And keep Christmas with you
All through the year.
Christmas means the spirit of giving
Peace and joy to you,
The goodness of loving,
The gladness of living;
These are Christmas too.
So, keep Christmas with you
All through the year,
When Christmas is over,
Save some Christmas cheer.
These precious moments,
Hold them very dear
And keep Christmas with you
All through the year.