The misadventures of a first time father

Category Archives: Storytime

happy-birthday-dr-seuss“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.

a-persons-a-person-no-matter-how-smallWhether 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.

best-kind-of-sneetchesOne 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-more-things-you-read-the-more-you-will-know“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?

 

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IMagination LIbrary SealAs adults, it’s rare that the mail brings us much of anything other than a handful of bills to be paid yet again this month. Maybe the occasional solicitation from the car dealership. But let’s face it, it’s usually bills.

Remember when we were kids, though, and something in the mail felt like Christmas time?

It was exciting! It was joyous! And once a month, our son gets that feeling, as a new book arrives in the mail, bringing a smile to his face and an “I can’t wait!” impatience to open it up, leaf through the pages and sit down with mommy and daddy and hear whatever this new tale is.

And you know who we have to thank for it? Dolly Parton. Yes. Dolly Parton. That Dolly Parton.

Because with her Imagination Library initiative, Dolly is making brand new books – some classics, some new hits – available to children everywhere whose parents sign them up.

I have no other way to describe it other than simply wonderful.

The first book we received (and I believe everyone who signs up receives) is the classic The Little Engine that Could. After that, once a month a book has shown up in our mailbox. Books that range from Ferdinand the Bull to Peanut Butter and Cupcake to the Gingerbread Man Loose on the Fire Truck.

Started in 1995, Dolly Parton launched the Imagination Library in her home county in East Tennessee as a way to encourage a love of reading in preschool children and families by providing them with a free, specially selected book each month. The hope was that mailing these books in the mail would get children excited about books and the magic within. What’s more, it was available to families and children regardless of the family income.

The initiative proved so popular that five years later, in 2000, it was announced that the program would be available with any community willing to partner with it and support it locally. Since then, according to the initiative’s website, the Imagination Library program has gone from delivering a few dozen books to more than 60 million books mailed to kids in the U.S., Canada, and United Kingdom.

What a truly wonderful thing.

Whether you want to take part in the program for your kid, or start one in your own community, the first thing to do is to head to the Dolly Parton Imagination Library website. From there, you can find if your community participates and whether you can sign up online or, as we had to, contact an organization in the community that acts as a mediary, receiving the books and then passing them along to you via the mail.

I can’t encourage the introduction of books to children enough or as early as possible. I’ve said time and time again how glad I am that we made it a point to start reading within the first few weeks of our son’s arrival, and some nights, even prior, reading to my wife’s pregnant belly. The same for our now five month old daughter.

Creating excitement about books, reading as a family, equating books with family, love, and fun fosters a curiosity, appreciation for and quest for knowledge that can carry through an entire lifetime.

Sign on up. You won’t regret it.

And thanks, Ms. Parton.


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.

Curious George 1987

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.

Pic - This is George

“He was very happy.”

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.

Pic and Text - George was Caught

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.

Man Overboard

You feeling okay, George? You’re uh…throwing up whole fish.

Once in the city, George makes himself at home with the man. Perhaps a little too at home.

After a Good Pipe

Your poor little monkey lungs, George…

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.

Firemen and in Jail

Do not. Repeat. Do not fool the Fire Department.

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.

Pic - Jailbreak

Silly escaping monkey.

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.

Pic - Snarling Traffic

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?

Pic and Text - George in Zoo

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.


toddler bed 01Just like the warm breeze of summer is destined to make way to chilly winds of fall, so too go the years of our lives, moving, what seems, ever-faster the older we get. And when it comes to watching our children grow, that train of time seems to forever be speeding faster and faster away down the tracks of life.

We don’t tend to notice the day-to-day changes as they occur. Small increments of change are hard to pick out when you’re there along with it day in and day out. It’s the milestones, the transitions – those are the moments that really make us stop and take notice of how swiftly the sands fall through the hourglass.

For me, one of those moments came today, as we finally transitioned our little man out of his crib and into a toddler bed. It was overdue, yes, but despite that, it didn’t make it any easier – at least not the emotions of mommy and daddy.

A friend was getting rid of a toddler bed that their own children had outgrown and graciously passed it along to us. Meg sanded it down, painted it (with the little guy helping pick the color) and boom! We were ready to go.

The excitement on his face was palpable, jumping up and down, grinning as Meg and I turned the Allen wrench, both assembling his new “big boy bed” and dismantling the crib that’s been his overnight home since the earliest weeks of his life and moving it out of the room and across the hall to our office – one more step of preparation for the arrival of baby number two in the months ahead.

When the end of the night came, you would have thought it was Christmas morning. Instead of fighting the need to go upstairs and get into bed, he led the way, excitedly heading into his room and pulling out a book to read per our storytime routine.

Only now, he didn’t want to go into “mommy and daddy’s bed” to read as has been the case every night these past three years. No, instead he insisted we read in his room, climbing into his bed and pulling over the covers as daddy reluctantly took a seat next to his bed, opened the book and began reading, while simultaneously hiding the feeling of melancholy at his claiming his own, independent life.

A few precautions were taken. Our house has two floors, so we pulled out ye olde baby gate and placed it at the top to prevent any mid-night walking, falling and potential injury now that there’s easy access out of the room. Funny thing is, he never tried to climb out of his crib, something we consider ourselves incredibly grateful for. While the cats were initially puzzled at the presence of the gate on their nightly rushes up and down the stairs, it turned out to not be needed right away (though we’ll still keep it up at night regardless). We talked about staying in bed until mommy and daddy give him the clearance to do so and wouldn’t you know it, he listened.

He listened well.

So well, in fact, that when his stuffed ladybug (from Eric Carle’s The Grouchy Ladybug) fell out of bed, he called out to have mommy come pick it up for him because he’s not supposed to get out of the bed.

I’m proud of him. I’m happy for him. I love seeing him beam about the idea of going to bed or taking a nap because it means a “big boy bed.” But I can’t help but feel, as the cliché goes, that it’s all moving a bit too fast. I may never be okay with it. I’m sure these feelings will continue – the first bicycle ride, or a first day of school, first high school dance, or, perish the thought, move-in day at college.

It’s overwhelming to think about. So, the best that I can do is just try my best to not brush off the requests to play, to read, and to be around. There will be plenty of time as he gets older he’s going to have his own life. Moving to a big boy bed may just be a small sign of independence in the bigger scheme of things, but it’s enough for me to take notice, and to remind myself that we don’t get second chances at these things.

Work will come and go. Books to read will sit on the shelves. Projects to create can always be created. But this…this opportunity to be with my little boy while he’s a little boy will only last so long.

As painful as it can be during the transitions, it’s a reminder once again to cherish every single moment and not let the time slip by.


The beat of the drums. The shaking of maracas. And our son running around a room wanting to play with a hula hoop on the wall.

It’s Kindermusik time.

What’s Kindermusik? I will explain to you, as I was completely unaware myself until Meg sent me the links one day that led to our signing the little guy up for our once a week outings.

Kindermusik is a musical class for kids and parents that uses music, singing, stories (and some occasional hopping and animal re-enactments) to help children as they develop fundamental skills. Those skills, for the toddler level that we’re currently enrolled in, is very much of the listening kind. It’s something we are, at times, struggling with, which makes the class all the more appropriate at this stage.

At the age level of our class (ages 2-3), parents are invited to take part with their children, which for us first-timers is good because we’re not quite at the ‘leave him on his own for a class’ stage yet ourselves. We’ll get there. Promise.

The first session, I went solo with the little guy. There were some kids and parents who were regulars and some other first-timers like us. When we walked into the carpeted room, walls adorned with animals and musical paraphernalia, instruments were in the middle of the room for the kids to try. Our guy immediately gravitated toward the triangle. Although, in all honesty, several minutes into it, the banging of the triangle had lost all novelty and he was using the wand (is it called a wand? I’m not a musician) to both be a conductor (shouting ‘Look, Dada! I’m a conductor! to the entire class) or to point it at me and tell me it was a magic wand (“I gonna shrink you now, dada!”) proceeded by a humming sound he makes to indicate magic.

I love his imagination.

The class itself had numerous, short activities that look to engage each of the kids (with parents joining in) from singing hello to each child with a different motion (clapping, rolling, stamping feet, etc) for each one, using the aforementioned maracas (which are more like little red eggs with rice in them, but they’re just as fun) and storytime with music to accompany it.

That first session’s storytime, it became obvious our guy was new to the group. Aside from being the tallest. He’s about to be three this summer, so in a class of 2-3 year olds, he falls on the older side of the spectrum in comparison to the others. When it was time for stories, some of the children, by routine, helped the instructor pull a blanket from the corner to set down and sit upon in order to hear the story. Well, our little guy hasn’t quite done that type of group storytime (at least not with a blanket involved. He HAS been to a few Barnes and Noble storytimes I’ve been involved with) and instead, he immediately put himself under the blanket, as though he was laying down in bed for one of our nightly stories.

You can’t blame him too much. That is HIS routine each night, after all and what he associates with hearing stories. Boy playing piano

Luckily, by week two, he had it down and was now only sitting ON the blanket, but was helping to move it for the teacher, which was great to see.

Both weeks had its moments (though for week two, both daddy AND mommy were there for class – and believe me, it was great having reinforcements) as he would have a mini meltdown if he wasn’t getting to use the instruments he wanted versus what the teacher wanted kids to use at the moment, or that he wanted the hula hoops hanging high up on the wall for use by another class.

It’s a 45 minute class and I suppose for a child, 45 minutes can seem like a longtime, especially one with as much energy as our has. The nice thing is that he’s not the only kid in the class who gets up and wanders around and the teacher is excellent in incorporating their individual attention spans and penchant for getting up into the class activities and discussion as they go.

I must have looked like a nervous wreck that first class, chasing him around whenever he’d go off for a wander, as a few of the moms there would smile and reassure me he was doing fine. After class, the teacher said the same thing, which was in stark contrast to the exaggerated nightmare version I was creating in my head.

And as I say, having both Meg and myself there the following week made a huge difference as well. Family doing the conga at family Christmas party

We had hoped by Week Three, we’d start finding a routine. I skipped out on the Week Three class and it was just Meg and he. I was having a rough morning mentally (more on that another time), and needed some time to reflect and re prioritize things. I chose to do that with a cup of coffee and sitting on a park bench.

When I returned to pick Meg and the little guy up, I immediately sensed things hadn’t gone well. Apparently it was the worst he had been yet. Not just the running around, but the constant not listening, hitting Meg, hitting the teacher, and riding another kid like a dinosaur, it was one big terrible, musical mess.

People tell us that at this stage of almost three years old, it’s a phase. And I’m sure it is. But while it may be a phase, these are issues. Issues we need to deal with now so that when the phase ends, the seeds aren’t planted for continued bad behavior and dismissiveness to everyone around him.

It’s worrisome. And likely a much more involved blog post for another day when I have time to both reflect on what’s happening, our approach, be it right or wrong, and do a little more research.

When it comes to Kindermusik, the end results those first two weeks were that he had fun.We had hoped him taking part in his very first class, interacting with a teacher and other kids would be good for him. At first, he got over the meltdowns and while wanting to do his own thing at times, was still taking part in the bulk of class activities. But last week seems like a major step backward.

Through a mere glitch in our schedule this week, we were unable to attend our usual class and shifted to another day of the week and time of day. It turned out that there were only two other children in that class, and making for a much better experience for us and the little guy. While he wasn’t necessarily angelic, he was much better behaved than he had been in the large group. Whether or not that’s the key to some progress as we move along, well, we’ll have to see.


As I’ve mentioned (a lot) in the past, storytime is a very important part of our daily routines. Whether it’s post-bathtime or not, our pre-bedtime ritual always involved getting a few books off our little guy’s bookshelf (although for quite some time he’s been old enough to pick them out on his own), all plop down on mama and dada’s bed and read together before calling it a night. It’s a ritual, and one that means quite a lot to all of us.

Sure, sometimes we read many of the same ones over and over again, because the little guy has his favorites that he wants to hear again and again, but every now and then, he lets us slip in a new one to try. That’s why when I was given the opportunity from Independent Publishers Group to take a look at a new book, I jumped at the chance.

So we recently read a new book before bed called “The Little Mouse Santi.”

The book, written by David Eugene Ray and illustrated by Santiago Germano, tells the story of a mouse named Santi who, more than anything else in the world, wants to be a cat. He practices all day at everything he thinks cats are good at – strutting themselves across a room, swishing his tail, cat baths, meowing, and of course, looking bored with life.

While the other mice laugh at Santi, he longs to join the cats he sees outside on the farm, eventually overcoming his courage to give it a try when he spots a cute orange tiger cat lounging in the grass.

The illustrations in this book by Germano are beautiful, with a slick, clean style across every line, making even those mice who are laughing at poor Santi downright adorable.

I really did enjoy it. If I had a critique it’s that I liked it enough that I wanted more from it. I would have liked a little more reassurance and confidence-building from Santi as he finally establishes the courage to step out of his comfort zone in the pursuit of his dream. I wanted Santi to feel bad about what the others say but get over it, realizing what they think doesn’t matter. What Santi does in the course of the story comes with a great gamut of emotions that I think everyone goes through at some point in their childhood, and I think a child could learn a lot about self-confidence and the joy of being unique if there were just a few touches upon overcoming those emotions along Santi’s journey.

It’s a swift read, and as I say, accompanied by absolutely beautiful color illustrations. Having never published a children’s book, I certainly can’t speak to the process. But as a reader, I felt Santi’s adventure and dreams could resonate a lot with a small child, but I’d love a little bit more to it.


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?”

“Boo!!!:

(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. 🙂



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