The misadventures of a first time father

Category Archives: Holidays

children-learning-1359728_960_720This 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).

ten dolalrsBut 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.

donations-1041971_960_720According 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.


christmas-tree-1856343_960_720So 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.

snow-on-branchesBut 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?

I dunno.

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.


christmas-giftIt’s that time of year for many.

Decorations go up, lights strewn around the house, frantic attempts to finish shopping in time, and that age-old question “what do you want for Christmas?”

It’s an answer that in youth came with ease. I see it in our son with how easily he rattles off a few ideas whenever anyone asks him what’s on his Christmas list (and, we, the killjoy parents reminding him there’s such a thing as too much). But I get it. I was there once right where he is, where the possibilities were endless and exhilarating.

As time goes on though, I find myself puzzled when asked that question by a relative getting ready to do some holiday shopping. I rarely have an answer. Even as an adult, in the past, there’s been books, or a nice sweater or shirt. But, the more time that passes, the more I really and truly find myself wanting nothing.

Scratch that. Wanting nothing but the chance to just get together, have some good food, some good company, and spend time with people.

I know. It’s a cliche. A total Christmas commercial cliche.

Maybe it’s a sign of age. Or maybe it’s a sign that I’m becoming quite boring (if I was ever really interesting to begin with), but whatever it may be, it has become what I look forward to the most at the holidays.

It may sound naive, it may sound cliche, but I’ll gladly take it. No wrapping required.


georgebailey1“You really have built yourself a wonderful life.”

For a lot of folks, the end of a year is a bit of a refresher, closing out the bad of the previous 365 days while welcoming the good and the potential of the year ahead. But it can also be quite a time of reflection, looking back at the year that’s coming to an end and seeing how far our lives have come from the year before, the year before that, the decade before that, and so on.

Relatively recently, as a friend and I were catching up on life, and what was going on, including the birth of my daughter this past Fall, the incredible growth of my son, now 3, and what both my wife and I had been up this past year (from family outings and projects, to fixing up our little home, her increased freelance writing gigs, my baby steps into some publishing), my friend looked at me and said, very casually “you really have built a wonderful life for yourself.”

And he’s right.

It’s the kind of thing that I don’t take stock of as often as I really should. I’ve admitted in the past to what a list-maker I am – constantly setting multiple goals each day and mentally flogging myself for not accomplishing all of them. Always looking to what the next project or accomplishment can be. Whether it’s another attempt at trying to sell a script, a job pursuit, a house hunt. It’s always something. Some, next attainable goal, leaving little to no time to reflect on how much I really do already have.

When I met this friend roughly ten years ago, I was in my mid-20s. I was fresh off a delayed graduation from college, living at home, trying to cut it art-wise as a low-budget indie filmmaker, and working a quality control job at a factory with my eyes set on journalism.

Needless to say, my life’s changed quite a bit in those past ten years. I left the Quality Control Job at the factory, landing an entry-level reporter job at a weekly paper. That led to a full-fledged reporter job at the daily paper soon after, leading into a foot-in-the-door job doing digital media/web content for a local television news station. That in itself then led to various positions over the years, from assignment editor, assistant news director, a reporter, and a new anchor. It was a long journey over almost a decade, but the experiences along the way were, despite the struggles within, what was dreamed off as I sat doing quality control forms back in the day. And during my tenure in news, I re-sparked my love of the theatre by getting involved in community theatre productions, meeting the woman who’d become my wife, bought a house, got married, and had our first child.

I’d leave news for a job on the professional side of academia, keeping my feet in the creative pool through pieces for this blog, various websites, and the occasional TV appearance on Mass Appeal, one of my favorite stops in New England, to pal around with hosts Ashley and Seth and some mid-morning Dorky Daddy life tips.

I’d see the publication of my first comic book series, which, as a fan of comics most of my life, is still an incredible feeling, to hold one’s own work, tangibly, in their hands.

This year we welcomed our second child, our daughter, to the world, and nothing beats coming home to see her crack a smile and the open arms of my son, who can make you feel like you’ve been gone an eternity with the welcoming hug upon arrival.

In those 10+ years, I went from drowning in credit card debt to not owning a single credit card. Sure, the student loan debt is still there, but it’s paid on, steadily, and more than the minimum amount, every month, chipping away as best I can.

The day job isn’t always perfect. But then, very few jobs are, am I right? Neither was my career in news, no matter how much I miss the work at times.

Yes, there are bills. There will always be bills. Yes, the small house that was perfect for the two of us seems a bit cramped with us, two kids and three cats. But that too will eventually change over time.

You catch my drift, I think.

George Bailey drinksSo much time can be spent focusing on what we feel has to be accomplished next, that we don’t step back and see just how far we’ve come.

And man, I feel I’ve come a damn long way.

Thanks for the reminder, Clarence. My friend’s name isn’t Clarence, but it seems appropriate in name-changing to protect the innocent.

Maybe with a new year beginning, I need to make it a point to still maintain goals, but not to allow them to make me lose sight of what wonderful things I already have in this life. Because it will (and already has) go by pretty quick. If you don’t realize, respect, and appreciate what you have while you have it, it’s going to go by even quicker.


Halloween Comics 2015For the past several years (at least since becoming homeowners), I’ve tried to do something a little different than the standard candy giveaway on Halloween night.

I’m by no means the person handing out toothbrushes or bags of pennies that I sometimes encountered when I was a kid, but I do like to break things up a little bit from the sugary sweets that kids find at so many houses on that night of ghouls.

So, in what has become a bit of a tradition, I hand out comic books to kids coming to our door. Age appropriate, of course.

It began with piles of coverless comics that I would buy in bulk from my local comic book store. Often times they were from the 70s or 80s and had lost much value due to their lack of cover. So, the store was just looking to get them off their hands, selling them in piles for around $2-3.

I couldn’t resist. They ranged from talking animals (Disney Ducks, my favorite!) to long-underwear wearing Superman or Batman (the classic derring do-gooders of yesteryear. Not the dark avengers so commonplace today).

And with piles in hand, I would hand out books to kids as they made their way up our front steps.

Another year I was not so lucky to find such coverless treasures, so I would raid 50 cent bins, but that could get pricey. Sometimes I’d just go through piles of comics I didn’t want anymore that I knew would take more time and effort to sell than they were worth.

Then, last year, something quite fantastic happened. Comic book companies and distributors got together and following in the steps of the annual Free Comic Book Day (traditionally in May), began offering stacks of full-color mini-comics specifically to be handed out on Halloween in what they call Halloween ComicFest.

Fortunately for me, my local comic shop was participating and for $5 I was able to purchase a pack of 20 comic books to hand out to the ghosts and ghouls at our door. With different titles to choose from, I spent $20 and walked away with four packs. That’s four different comic titles totaling 80 books. We were well-stocked and fortunately for me, well-received when kids would come by.

Those kids who didn’t care for the comics had a choice of a small, plastic Halloween toy, like a spider-ring or vampire teeth, that my wife had the foresight to pick up.

So, I followed suit this year, with three packs of comics safe for all ages – Archie, Grimmiss Island, and the Boom Studios Halloween Haunt, featuring various short comic stories that are safe for kids but can entertain adults as well. And this year there’s 25 comics in a pack, so I got more bang for my buck!

I really recommend it.

And I won’t lie. When there’s a lull, I tend to sneak a few reads while I’m waiting for the kids.


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

You know, just chillin’ with Sir Topham Hatt.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And then came the meltdown.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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