The little guy and I went for a short walk when out of his mouth he says to me:
“Memories lose their meaning…”
When I asked him what he meant he said he had no idea, but my head began swirling nonetheless. I couldn’t shake it as we walked along, internally laying out the case with myself like Sherlock Holmes trying to unravel a mystery.
Anything we possess, the places where we live, it all comes and goes.
In the larger scheme of life, we’re here for such a short period of time.
In the end, our memories are all we have. But there are memories that fade. Things we can’t quite recall in the vivid ways we once did. Which ones start to fade and what dictates that they do? Is it because we are filled with new memories, or were they not vivid enough to burn permanent places in our brains?
I thought of the memory videos I make for the kids around each birthday time, filled with photos and videos of the previous year. I’m always amazed to see how he recalls things that happen when he was a baby, or a year, etc…something I’ve often wondered if could be attributed to the videos (which he enjoys watching and asks to see rather frequently) reinforce those memories, making them less likely to fade as quickly.
Where was this all coming from? What did it mean? What memories were once of the utmost importance to me but have since faded and lost their meaning?
And how was he so astute to blurt out this mind-blowing revelation to me on our walk?!
It rattled my brain.
Later, while riding in the car, after all that contemplation at this profound statement, Meg reminded me that it’s actually a line from the Beatles song In My Life.
He’s been a fan of the Beatles for some time, the Sgt Pepper album especially. Much like cartoons, comics and pop culture, a lot seems to come, not from us pushing anything on him, but his mere exposure to it through us – what we’re reading, watching, listening to. Some things he honestly admits he doesn’t like, and others (like superheroes, or The Beatles, or The Monkees, or certain Christmas songs) he latches onto and weaves it into the fabric of his own mind and personality.
Recently he found himself overjoyed upon our discovering a Netflix Original Series called Beat Bugs, a CGI animated series about a group of friends who are various bugs and learn valuable childhood and life lessons often told in musical number renditions of Beatles songs.
Oh, and did I mention that he recently told us his favorite Christmas song was Wonderful Christmas Time by Paul McCartney? It’s one of quite a catalog of Christmas songs he spontaneously has burst into this time of year.
It makes me happy to see a whole new generation discovering the music, the meaning, and the spirit of timeless bands, whether it The Beatles, or other favorites of his such as Mamas and the Papas or The Monkees.
And even if dear old daddy can’t tell the difference between a song lyric or a moment of profound life guidance from a preschooler.
Of course later that same day, from the backseat I hear…
“You have to let things wash over your victims.”
“What, buddy?” I ask.
He laughs, followed by a chuckling “I have no idea what that means.”
Me neither. Except that, sometimes it may be profound, sometimes it’s just repeating (or partially repeating) what they pick up elsewhere, or just kids being goofy kids.
And whatever it is, it’s a-okay by me. I’m just enjoying the ride.
Our family was recently driving back from a little weekend getaway. The kids were in the back seat, asleep at the same time for possibly the only portion of the multi-hour ride home, when Meg looked over from her magazine to the radio and read the song title currently playing on40s Junction, the 1940s Station – “In a Shanty in Old Shanty Town.”
She went back to reading her magazine when, a moment later the words that came out of my mouth were “I forgot Edward Hermann passed away.”
Accustomed to her husband being a weirdo, she took what seemed like a random response in stride, and even humored me when I explained the flow of logic that got me there in a split second that, in my mind, seemed like much longer.
“In a Shanty in old Shanty Town.”
She had read the word shanty town. Which made me think of Hoovervilles (the shanty towns built by homeless people) in the Great Depression, which made me think of Little Orphan Annie, which made me think of FDR. Who has played FDR more than anyone else, including in Little Orphan Annie – Edward Hermann. Edward Hermann was on Gilmore Girls. I liked him on Gilmore Girls. Netflix is making new Gilmore Girls movies. I wonder what they would’ve been like if Edward Hermann were still around. That’s right, Edward Hermann isn’t around anymore. I really liked his work. That makes me said.
“I forgot Edward Hermann passed away.”
Our brains can work in pretty weird ways, don’t they?
Well, it’s been awhile since I’ve actually sat down to talk a little bit about life, and that’s just because life’s been so crazy it’s been hard to find the time! As I’ve said before, I commend those of you who can post every day or even close to every day. Where do you find the time? Kudos.
So, with so much that has gone on, I couldn’t think of where to even begin as I try to get back to some semblance of regular updates on life.
And as if in answer to my internal dilemma, this morning awoke our son, now four. Four!!! His little hands holding the sheets up to his chin, grinning ear to ear, excited to tell me about the dream he just woke up from.
I’ll leave it in his own, delightful words:
“Me…and Supergirl…and Superboy…and all the other superheroes…and the Mickey Mouse characters…and gramma…and even the characters from Sesame Street…we all teamed up!!!
“And there was this special type of kryptonite…and it only affected businessmen. But not business ladies.
“And it turned them all into bizarros.”
Man, I want to have this kid’s dreams.
And how about gramma getting in on the super hero action?
When something’s odd in your neighborhood, who ya gonna call?
Nope, not those guys.
Not the ladies currently carrying the torch either.
Nope. You’re going to call a group of kids who work for an organization run by kids to investigate the odd.
You call Odd Squad.
I make no bones about my love of the show, which the whole family watches on PBS Kids. Like many great programs, it’s produced out of Canada (which might also explain the appearances by several members of the Kids in the Hall).
Created by Tim McKeon and Adam Peltzman, it’s also co-produced by the Fred Rogers Company (you know, of Mr Rogers) and features a cast of incredibly charming young actors who work for the titular Odd Squad, solving odd incidents with the use of math.
What kind of odd incidents? Well, the kind that certainly appeal to the imagination of a child…and most parents with a good sense of humor – people whose heads turn into lemons upon drinking lemonade, giant cat-spider hybrids, voice-overs following you around. If it’s odd enough, you call these kids.
Though the series premise allows for various Odd Squad agents to get their day in the sun, the core team is made up of four primary team members, partners Olive and Otto, their boss, the usually yelling Miss O, and Oscar, providing the team with gadgets like a Door-inator, the Shrink-inator, the TV-get-out-inator, and, well, you get the idea.
You notice the O pattern in the characters yet? It keeps going. Octavia, Olaf, Oren, etc.
The kid characters themselves hover just around the pre-teen age or younger, leaving the goofy and often clueless supporting characters of the episode (someone in trouble, a villain, etc) to just as well-cast adult actors.
Together, Olive, Otto, and other members of the team find themselves stopping the plans of villains like Odd Todd (who wants the world as odd as he is), Fladam (who stepped on a cube building block as a child and now sets out to flatten all cubes into flat squares), The Shapeshifter (who can change her shape into anything from a tree to another person), among many many other great adult guest stars.
There’s even one episode, the Agatha Christie/Clue-inspired “The Crime at Shapely Manor” that features 3 out of the 5 members of The Kids in the Hall – Kevin McDonald as Lord Rectangle, Mark McKinney as General Pentagon, and Scott Thompson as Professor Square.
But to stop the dastardly villains, the keys to cracking their schemes usually lie in solving any number of math problems, be it what color will Oscar’s infected hand turn next when one sees blue, blue, yellow, blue, blue…you guessed it, yellow, using measurement to stop an on the loose blue blob, or learning how to use a calendar to send a time duplicate of one of their own back into the past. And these math problems are often woven into the storyline so seamlessly that even I don’t seem to notice I’m getting a lesson in the subject I needed the most help in back in school.
Yes, this show provides some valuable math lessons for little ones in a way so entertaining that they’re bound to remember. My son brings up patterns all the time and I’m convinced that he picked it up from the numerous problems agents have had to solve through the use of patterns in the course of the series. But he doesn’t realize that. From his perspective, he’s watching an action-packed adventure with kids stopping threats to the world. The lessons just happen to come along the way amid the derring-do.
Here, in the world of Odd Squad, kids rule. They’re the ones in charge. They’re the ones you call for help when something is incredibly strange. That sense of empowerment is irresistible to both a child and the child still alive in each of us.
In January 2015, Forbes reported that the show’s special Odd Squad Saves the World reported 3.7 million viewers watching the broadcast on PBS with 44 million others watching the episode online. It is no wonder that Odd Squad is such a hit for PBS across age ranges, making it no surprise that a second season is now set to get well underway on June 20, 2016.
However, that new season won’t come without changes.
On Memorial Day, the episode that PBS promos touted as the one where “everything changes” lived up to its hype – with cast members Dalila Bela and Filip Geljo (Olive and Otto, respectively) receiving promotions to become a new “Ms and Mr O” (though, no Otto, you don’t have to get married) to co-run a branch of Odd Squad elsewhere.
I had a feeling this would happen sooner or later, as a show whose entire premise revolved around an organization run by kids can only keep kids in those roles for so long before they age out of them. Though the premise also lends itself to its own self-sustainability. As some cast members grow up and out, the show revolves around the organization, meaning new casts, new agents, new kids can come and go as the series grows. That’s not to say that the fun and charming acting of Bela and Geljo won’t be missed. They are a core reason for the show’s appeal. Though I’m sure both would likely want to be moving toward other material elsewhere in the way of film and television eventually anyway, it would be nice to see them from time to time in a guest appearance if the stars align.
I should note as well, that this episode that changed it all also could lead one to believe it’s the end (at least for now) for recurring villain Odd Todd, played wonderfully and humorously wicked by young actor Joshua Kliminik. As Olive’s former partner turned bad guy out for revenge, and Olive no longer a regular, it seems unlikely Odd Todd has much reason to hang around so much anymore.
It remains to be seen who will take Olive and Otto’s place as the show’s new primary agents, but while the casting of the show thus far has never failed, those are some big blue suits and red ties to fill. It’s comforting to know that the entire cast is not getting an overhaul, with Sean Michael Kyer (Oscar) and Millie Davis (Ms. O) remaining in their roles, hopefully alongside other characters like the hilariously droll lunch lady Oksana or the incredibly serious Dr. O.
I felt like I was watching a finale to any long-running prime time series where viewers inevitably get attached to the characters. When Otto and Olive hugged Ms. O and resident techie Oscar got ready to send the duo on their way, the often humorous actor Sean Michael Kyer had a twinge of sadness in his voice that echoed the same feeling inside many of us watching at home.
Was I really getting this invested in a live action PBS Kids show?
I was. I completely was. And that is due, in no small part to these wonderful young performers, and the writers, directors, and crew that help them bring this goofy, fun world to life each day.
This is not a kids show slapped together and called a day. It’s a goofy, fun, educational, but always entertaining romp that spans age groups and demographics with evident care put into each and every episode.
This show is so entertaining, so amusing, so well written and well acted (and seriously…the odds of finding an entire cast of great kid actors…it doesn’t happen often), makes Odd Squad so darn charming that you don’t even need to be a parent to enjoy it.
Now how in the world can I play one of those goofy grown ups…
I played hopscotch today. And it was marvelous.
The little guy wanted to play outside and after a roller coaster winter and early spring, it was gorgeous out. Did he want to bring anything with him? Toys, a ball? Nope. Armed simply with a box of chalk he wanted nothing more than to be out amid the sunshine and the grass of our backyard. And he wanted to be with me.
How could I say no?
He had been asking a lot about hopscotch lately. I’m not sure if he saw it in a cartoon or tv show, but thought this would be the perfect opportunity to show it to him and let him experience it himself. A few scratches of chalk on the sidewalk and our game board was set to go. I fished a small rock from a bucket of green waste headed to the curb and off we went on a crash course in hopscotch.
He didn’t care for it.
Well I shouldn’t say that. He was interested…until he had to jump on one foot. He had little care or desire and quickly walked off to the grass to look for sticks.
“You can play it, though,” he told me as he carried on with his own private adventure.
It could have ended there. I could have moved on. For some reason, though, I didn’t. Instead, I tossed the stone and off I went. One foot, the other, the first, two feet, etc, etc.
Maybe it’s because for several years I’ve lacked real exercise, but I loved it. I could have done it all day.
It wasn’t long, however, before I was wanted elsewhere and soon I had to leave hopscotch behind for a game of ‘chase the leprechaun,’ something Meg made up for him while outside enjoying some of the unseasonably warm weather around St. Patrick’s Day. He chased me around the yard as I shouted in a little Irish accent and got myself so exhausted, I admit needing to take a few rests upon the grass before we picked things up again. Hey, at least I got some sort of exercise in.
That whole afternoon out there got me thinking a bit. I feel like there are so many times in today’s world where we always feel the need to have something, to be entertained by something. But here we were armed with nothing more than some chalk and the sticks and flowers we found out in the yard along with our imaginations. And we had a blast.
There was a time, not too long ago, before tablets, smartphones, etc, when that’s how we did entertain ourselves. We went outside and what was there was what we came across and used to the best way we could.
There’s something almost…primal, reminiscent, rejuvenating about just running around, sitting in grass, looking at stocks and stones, and just skipping across a hopscotch board of chalk.
It felt good to get back to that. I should do it more often.
What’s that they say about a child’s laughter?
There truly is nothing quite like it, I’m convinced.
With both our little guy and the new little lady, we’ve been amazed at how early children start to shine through with their happiness, with smiles that light up an entire house with the mere stretch of a muscle.
I’ll never forget how infectious the little guy’s laugh would get once he’d start. One of the most vivid memories being the laugh riot that would ensue from him when I’d read The Pigeon Needs a Bath by Mo Willems. Specifically two pages broken down into a series of small panels where Pigeon will find anything and everything wrong with the the bath – “too hot! too cold! too much water! too little water!” It was the kind of laugh fit that a stand-up comedian dreams of for their material.
And silly as it may sound, it just made me so incredibly happy through sheer proximity to that kind of joy. And now I get to do it all over again.
Our little lady’s laughs have gone from what sound like a little cough to an actual, audible laugh, wide smile across her face, at things that just seem pedestrian to you and I, but to her, are hilarity.
The other day I sang her name. That’s it. Just sang her name to her. It was slightly to the tune of Lovely from the musical A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, but I’m no Sondheim, so that’s all it really was – her name. And she smiled, cooed, and then giggled the whole time.
And my heart soared.
There are times when I question what life is supposed to be. Am I at the right job? Am I doing what I should be? Are my talents being put to use? Am I being all that I can be?
But when I see the smile on the face of that baby girl, or that little boy, when I hear the uproarious sound of laughter come from those grinning faces, it’s hard to not catch some of that joy in its purest essence. And when I do, I realize I’m exactly where I should be – there, in that moment, to bear witness to this unadulterated, happiness.
I love Curious George. I really do. I very fondly remember reading the books as a kid and those cartoons that looked like the books come to life back in the 80s.
I even still have an old drawing of George I did when I was seven years old, discovered last year among some items at my parents’ house and now on display in our son’s room.
And while nostalgia made me glad to see George hit the big screen in 2006, I don’t think it really appealed to me the way that the animated series running on PBS currently does. Maybe I just had to be a parent before I could truly appreciate the idea of a man trying to keep his life together while caring for a monkey stand-in for the role of precocious, eager to learn, exuberant toddler.
These days, I feel, George is more engaging and relatable than ever thanks to the hit cartoon series – even more so than the cartoon version of my own youth. The writers, producers, artists, and an amazing voice portrayal by legendary voice-over artist Frank Welker, have designed a George that reflects a preschooler’s behavior, emotion and wonderment, giving the children in the audience a character they can relate to, through whose eyes they similarly see the world.
And for us parents, we can surely relate George’s curiosity, humor, and hijinks, through the lens of the protective, but ever-exhausted Man in the Yellow Hat, played to such likability that I don’t even have words for it, by another voiceover legend, Jeff Bennett.
But George wasn’t always a stand-in for a small child. Early on, and by that I mean, really early on, when he first debuted back in 1941, he was…well, just a cute little monkey with a penchant for getting into trouble.
I didn’t really know this until recently, to be honest, when my son came into possession of a copy of the first Curious George story (aptly just titled Curious George) and wanted to read it before bed.
And it was with that, that we discovered a slightly different type of world for Curious George than we know today. Or, as I like to call it…The Secret Origin of Curious George!!
We first meet George in the jungles of Africa, having fun and swinging from trees.
It’s here that George is spotted for the first time by The Man in the Yellow Hat who decides he’d like to take the little monkey home. They haven’t met yet, but that doesn’t seem to stop the man.
From there, the now kidnapped (monkeynapped, perhaps?) George is brought onboard an ocean liner bound for another country. He’s told by the Man in the Yellow Hat that he’s being brought to…no, not the man’s home..but a zoo. The man then tells George to run along and play until they get there, while the Man smokes his pipe. George, playing on the deck, or perhaps at the thought of being pulled from his home to cross the ocean and end up in a zoo, goes overboard.
Don’t worry, though. It’s not the end of our monkey-pal. George is rescued by a pair of sailors on the ship.
Once in the city, George makes himself at home with the man. Perhaps a little too at home.
We do get what will become a familiar glimpse of George and the Man together at home, but it’s only brief enough for the Man to make a call to the zoo to prepare for George’s arrival moreso than any fatherly bonding. When the Man leaves, George, as would become the modus operandi of the little primate, gets curious and decides he wants to use the phone as well. Only, the number he calls is the fire department, which sends a slew of panicked firefighters over to the man’s home. There’s no fire to be found, only a little monkey, and the firefighters are not happy.
George has survived in the jungle, though, and no jail can hold him. It’s not long before he knocks out a guard and escapes, quickly finding a balloon vendor and taking his entire stash of balloons on a trip high above the city.
Sometime later, George and the balloons begin to descend and come to rest atop a traffic light. Naturally, this causes a bit of a traffic snarl. But among the angry motorists is The Man in the Yellow Hat whose thrilled to find George again.
So this is it, right? This is where they realize how much they need each other to survive in this big ol’ city and begin the path to that father-son relationship that melts my heart?
No. This is where the Man gets him back and promptly puts George into a zoo as he planned from the beginning.
Thankfully, at some point H.A. Rey had the foresight to get George out of that zoo and into domestic living with the Man, and in time we got the father-son type relationship that resonates so well today.