The misadventures of a first time father

Category Archives: Time

Mr Rogers 1980sDid you watch PBS when you were a kid?

I did. I certainly can’t remember all of my viewing habits, but I can tell you unequivocally how comfortable, safe, and accepting it felt even as a toddler to be joined by furry friends on Sesame Street every afternoon. Or how I would run to grab my sneakers to tie and sweater to zip up when Mister Rogers would come walking through his door to open up windows to the world around us and remind us what it mean to be a kind, caring person throughout this thing called life.

I remember when Big Bird and I both needed clarity about Mr Hooper not being on Sesame Street anymore and how it’s okay to feel sad about someone leaving our lives, that grieving is a natural part of our emotions when someone dies. To this day I can’t see that scene where the grown-ups tell Big Bird that Mr Hooper isn’t coming back without feeling the same thing I did all those years ago. The handling of the topic, from producers to writers, to cast and crew, remains incredible.

sesame - mr hooper

Goodbye, Mr Hooper.

Beyond those shows, I can’t recall too much else that I watched. Maybe Romper Room, and when I was older a show called Square One, mostly because of a series within the series called Mathnet, a Dragnet spoof where math problems were used to solve mysteries.

And now 30+ years later, I can say with certainty that there’s never been a better time to be a PBS parent.

We still get new editions of classics like Sesame Street, going strong at almost 50 years old and still teaching not only basic skills like shapes, numbers, and letters that prepare a child for school, but lessons to hold onto our entire lives, such as kindness, acceptance, and staying true to yourself. And my wife can attest to the childlike glee I get when we see familiar faces like Bob or Gordon pop into even some of the newer episodes.

daniel tiger shoesLikewise, the values, compassion, and wisdom of Fred Rogers live on in Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood as the residents of the Neighborhood of Make Believe, previously known in puppet form on Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood, spring to life in full-color animation. From sharing, to helping, to dealing with feelings like sadness, jealousy or anger, the lessons of Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood are essential not just to a child, but to all of us. Our daughter is only starting to speak, but one thing she’s almost guaranteed to utter is the musical tones that accompany the songs in Daniel Tiger when it’s on.

Of course, there’s so much new and exciting on PBS too. While my son enjoys the derring-do and superheroics, I laugh at all the hilarious situations and jokes as WordGirl tries to put villains, bad grammar and misused words to rest.

ready jet goReady, Jet, Go has not only kindled a fascination with space exploration in our son, but it has captured the attention and awe of our not quite two year old daughter as well. And, I for one, feel I’ve learned so much as an adult about our universe and the vast possibilities that await us beyond the stars thanks to Jet, his parents and friends, and Astronomer and Host Amy Mainzer.

Nature Cat revels in its silliness while showcasing how much fun can be had and how much can be learned simply by heading out to one’s own backyard, along with a little help from our imagination. It also features, I’m convinced, at least half of the cast of SNL.

Wild KrattsChris and Martin Kratt leap from live action exploration of the animal kingdom into an animated world that stresses the valuable balance of our ecosystem and the role that each animal plays within it. Along with that, of course, comes with the threats to that delicate ecosystem by human kind and those who wish to prey upon the animal and natural world for their own greedy gain. The Kratt Brothers have not only transformed our son into a walking animal encyclopedia of habits and interaction, but have made him aware at such a young age to think about his actions or the actions of others, affect the world around us.

odd-squad-full-castAnd of course, there’s my favorite, Odd Squad, which I’ve gushed over many a time before, about an agency run by kids that uses math skills to solve problems of oddness in the world. If it’s a man with a fireplace in his stomach, a person with a laugh track following them around, or dog-obsessed villain looking to take over the world, Odd Squad is on the case. With it’s clever writing, excellent acting, and delicious sense of humor, any adult should be watching this show, regardless if there’s a kid in the room with them.

Then, there’s PBS Kids Family Night, which, in our household at least, has become the modern day equivalent of The Wonderful World of Disney that my wife and I enjoyed watching each week as kids. Family-friendly specials, movies, or marathons every Friday night (and rerun Saturday and Sunday night if you miss it) on the 24/7 PBS Kids Channel that have become ritual viewing for us. I pull out the air popper I bought almost 15 years ago, make a bowl of popcorn and we all gather in the living room for anything from Tiger Family Trip to Odd Squad the Movie, or Wild Kratts: Hero’s Journey. Our kids are already chomping at the bit to see the upcoming Ready Jet Go: Return to Bortron 7 coming up on a Family Night edition soon.

We have basic cable, and when we downsized (long before we had kids), we never looked back, finding all we needed in our television viewing right there on that handful of stations. And when we did have kids, PBS (and now PBS Kids, their 24/7 accompanying channel) became the default for children’s programming.

And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

PBS matters. It offers a gateway to the world for anyone with a television set. No premium channels and the associated pay along with it. Whether it’s arts and culture, or math, science, and reading – knowledge never goes out of style. It’s what allows us to understand one another, to find new ways to think, to move our world forward. And I can’t think of a greater way to use the power of broadcasting than to by empowering our children and future generations with the tools to keep our world, our society, ever moving.


Party - Birthday Boy 2We recently had a birthday party for our little guy. It was the first time we ever actually had it at our house. Usually we relied on the kindness of grandparents on both sides to get us through over the years, as our house had long been too small to have anyone over beyond a group of 2 or 4.

With our new digs, though, we figured it was finally time to give it a try, and try we did, not only with family, but this time inviting some of his friends from pre-k to come as well. And was it ever worth it to see the look on his face when he was surprised by the arrival of each of these friends.

Rain the day before and morning of forced us to change up plans a bit, moving from the backyard to the garage. Well, after it was emptied and cleaned out, of course. Then with two pop-up tents from parents placed outside the garage door, and tables and chairs inside, we were good to go as family and friends arrived for this gathering of little heroes.

The theme was his choice (Superheroes), brilliantly executed by Meg with foods that added a heroic flavor such as Captain America Shields (circle pretzels with white chocolate and a red, white or blue M&M in the middle), kryptonite bars (rice krispies treats with drizzled white chocolate and glowy green sprinkles), and some foods that gained their super powers through some signs I made using the PicMonkey app on my phone and a variety of superhero images.

Party signs total

We transformed regular sheet pizza into Plastic Man’s Power Pizza, a vegetable tray into Poison Ivy’s Veggie Platter, and drinks stations became Joker Juice or for the adults, Chief O’Hara’s Adult Beverages (Begorrah!).

Meg also took giant cardboard boxes leftover from a swing set we assembled the week prior and created a backdrop of buildings for little superheroes to have their picture taken by.

Party - Kids and worm

Apparently all we needed for a party were crayons and a worm.

The kids crowded around a table to color super hero print outs, ran around wearing paper super hero masks from Party City and even enjoyed the arrival of a little sunshine just long enough to dry out parts (emphasis on parts…watch your step unless you like mud) to get some time in running through the backyard.

Oh, and never underestimate, much like the crayons and coloring pages, how something as simple as a worm coming out of the ground can create a fascination in a group of children that can be hard to pull them away from.

It felt just plain wonderful.

And when it came time to open gifts and he had oohed and awed over various toys, Legos, and books, I gave him a gift I had spent the past several months putting together for him.

You see, back at Halloween, he designed his own costume, which Meg made come to life – a superhero version of himself.

Hallowen heroes

Us at Halloween as a self-styled superhero version of himself.

But post-Halloween, something wonderful happened. He kept the character going, imagining new adventure after new adventure, as well as a rogues gallery of villains that he was going up against with each backyard or bedroom crime fighting spree. I did my best to covertly take notes of the superpowers, the villain, and turned it into a script for a short comic book story.

I then dusted off my drawing pencils and illustrated the story, handing it over to my good friend and collaborator on two indie comic book series, who graced it with his inks, colors and lettering skills. From there, I sent it out to a comic printer, and upon return, had a limited edition comic book of my son in his super hero persona, solving a mystery, overcoming the very villains he’s created as he plays, and making it to his birthday party to find family and friends waiting.

The shock on his face “Wait…what…how did…how did you get a comic book of…me?” when he opened it was everything. The fact that he asked me to read it for him four separate times that afternoon and again before bed was everything else.

With each passing day, he grows a little more, shows me more of the world and myself than I thought possible, and though not every day is perfect for us, every day he becomes more and more my real-life superhero.

Party - Montage of comic


saturday morning nbc ad

NBC Advertisement for Saturday Morning Programming circa 1987

We’ve watched Ducktales, Batman ‘66, we’ve read Mr. Men and Little Miss books before bed. We own The Great Mouse Detective and Mickey’s Christmas Carol. We laugh to Inspector Gadget. A pair of Ninja Turtle figures showed up at Christmas.

Wait a second. Is this my son’s childhood or my own?

Sometimes I feel guilty that it might be hard to tell, as like many parents, it becomes all-too easy to want to show your kids “the good stuff,” the stuff we grew up with, the stuff we loved, and hope that we can find or create a mutual interest to bond over, while at the same time, feeling the excitement and joy of when we first experienced it as kids. That reliving of our own youth alongside them is essentially nostalgia. Second-hand nostalgia that we pass down to our kids.

I didn’t just make that up. Honest. The concept of second-hand nostalgia is a real thing. Nostalgia scholar and author Dr. Ryan Lizardi writes about it in Nostalgic Generations and Media: Perception of Time and Available Meaning, noting “As older generations of people are encouraged to revisit media and products they loved as children by hyper-nostalgic media companies, through remakes, reimaginings, and re-releases, it leads to a reduction in available meanings for current and subsequent generations who are then all encouraged to attach to the same nostalgia-soaked objects.”

I’ve talked about it a lot, even if at the time I didn’t realize exactly what I was doing. But I’m guilty of it. Totally.

There’s an emotional connection to our past. Sometimes good. Sometimes not so good. And for many of us, those emotions, connected to different parts of our lives, are represented by the media we consumed at the time. friends HIMYMWhen I was a teenager, Friends was the new, big thing on television. When I was in my mid-to-late twenties, How I Met Your Mother was just beginning to tell its tale of friends finding their place in the world through the lookback of a nostalgic narrator talking to us from the future. And as a kid? I had a pretty happy and carefree childhood, and so when I look back on the cartoons of the Disney Afternoon, or the sitcoms of TGIF, I look back with a smile, as it brings about the same happy and carefree feelings that went along with the times I was first watching.

Referring to KI Batcho’s 1998 research on Personal Nostalgia, Sergio Davalos, Altaf Merchant, Gregory M. Rose, Brenton Lessley, and Ankur M. Teredesai note upon the emotional connection to our media in their article The Good Old Days’: An examination of nostalgia in Facebook posts, saying “Batcho (1998) posits that nostalgia prone people have a high capacity for emotion, which increases the likelihood of experiencing both ‘sweet’ and ‘bitter’ emotions. Individuals in the high nostalgia group, moreover, were found to perceive the past as more favorable than those in the low nostalgia group (Batcho 1998).”

80s toonsBut it’s had me thinking a lot about what that means as my kids, or other kids whose parents may be handing-down their own nostalgia, grow up. If my childhood pop culture was dominated by Scrooge McDuck, Batman, Ghostbusters, what will theirs be made up of?

Whereas I look back nostalgically on these things, will they be growing up looking back nostalgically on pop culture that was handed down to them to begin with rather than their own, new experiences and media to attach to?

There is, at least so far, been a cycle to nostalgia, typically 40 years with a 20 year microcycle within it. By that, I mean that the producers of the media we consume are often around that age and the products they make find many of their roots in the time from which they were born or growing up.

In a 2012 The New Yorker article called The Forty-Year Itch, Adam Gopnik notes “Though pop culture is most often performed by the young, the directors and programmers and gatekeepers – the suits who control and create its conditions, who make the calls and choose the players – are, and always have been, largely forty-somethings, and the four-decade interval brings us to a period just before the forty-something was born. Forty years past is the potently fascinating time just as we arrived, when our parents were youthful and in love, the Edenic period preceding the fallen state recorded in our actual memories.”

laverne shirley happy days

Happy Days and Laverne & Shirley, hits in the 1970s, were both set in the 1950s

Sometimes, we get a 20 year microcycle when those same producers of media are creating products that remind them of their teen years/young adulthood. But it keeps the cycle going. It’s why we saw things like Happy Days, Laverne and Shirley, American Graffiti, and so much of the 1950s in the 70s (20 year cycle), The Roaring 20’s and Winchester Cathedral in the 60s (40 year cycle), even nostalgia for the turn of the century in films like The Magnificent Ambersons and Take Me Out to the Ballgame by producers of the 1940s.

So, if we’re to look at the 20th century in terms of decade-chunks, each certainly had its moments of originality. It’s why we think of bell bottom jeans, disco, hippies, grunge when we associate with the 70s, 60s, and 90s respectively. But at the same time, living in that decade and producing within that decade were people nostalgic for something that had come before.

Still in the dawn of the 21st century, though, it almost feels like we’re constantly in a state of looking backward. And with the technology that we have at our fingertips it’s never been easier to constantly be re-living the past for whatever we become nostalgic for at any given time. If I want to watch You Can’t Take it With You or Cary Grant in Holiday, I’ll just pop in a DVD. If I want to try and recapture the feeling of laying on the floor of my childhood home, perhaps I get online and find an episode of Count Duckula or Danger Mouse.

Not that remakes are anything new. Heck, The Awful Truth, a 1937 film starring Cary Grant and Irene Dunn was a remake of a 1922 silent film of the same name that was in itself a remake of a theatrical production. But there’s no doubt that we’re living in an era that’s often stuck on the past.

TV_static

Where do we go from here?

So if many of us (including the producers of media remakes and reboots) are so often looking backward, where does that leave the future? I have to wonder if it’s inevitable that we’re going to hit a point where the decades we look back on were a regurgitation of lookbacks/nostalgia for decades prior to that, versus being their own particular thing.

More importantly, technology has taken away (or at least made it start to fade) the cultural nostalgia we’ve had for the most part up to this point. It’s rare and will get rarer, I think, to have the moments of people clamoring around the series finale of M*A*S*H or spending all summer talking about Who Shot J.R Ewing.

Because when these cultural events happened, choices were much more limited. You went to the movies to see a film. You watched what was on the small number of channels on television. There was no home video market. That didn’t come along until the 1980s (I remember what a thrill it was when my parents, for a birthday party, rented a VCR and Mary Poppins for all us kids in attendance to watch). So many more people shared those media moments together, as a culture.

Today, though, we can hop on Amazon and order a DVD to be here in a matter of days. We can click on Netflix or Hulu, or Amazon Video and with a subscription watch films or TV shows from a back catalog that spans generations. Still not finding your cup of tea? Hop over to YouTube and check out a web series like the new ThirtyNothing and find a new personal favorite.

Our options are almost limitless. We’re no longer bound by just what the major media companies produce as in the past. So what we will become nostalgic for will vary so greatly from the larger, en masse nostalgia of yesteryear.

“Nostalgia used to depend on the denial of access to the subject, on its unreachable presence. Now there is an effective formula to encourage nostalgia,” writes Gil Bartholeyns in The Instant Past: Nostalgia and Digital Retro Photography.

I can’t help but think that technology has made the experiences so individualized now that nostalgia is going to start becoming increasingly less cultural and more individual going forward.

Brian Raferty asked a similar question recently in Wired talking about ‘00s Nostalgia Wave – It Might Be the last Revival, saying “Years from now, when we finally gaze back at the pop highlights of this modern age, will any of us even be looking in the same direction?…My guess is that future waves of nostalgia will focus less on specific pop-cultural explosions and more on the technologies that allowed them to spread. That’s partly because it’s never been easier to tune out the mass culture, making shared moments all the more rare.”

children-TV

You’re too close to the TV, kid.

So where does that leave our kids and their childhood of second-generation nostalgia? I don’t know. Even if I were to curb their exposure through my own preferred cartoons, toys, etc, it’s still out there – in remade or rebooted, or sometimes just plain rerun form. What will they look back on when they wax nostalgic about the cartoons and films of their day?

It might be about the technology they watched it on, like how I remember the VHS/Mary Poppins rental above. They could be looking back at what might be considered quaint technology of streaming services where we watched Disney movies from before I was even born.

Or perhaps, for them, they’ll look back on the items they were fond of or associate with their childhood and not care where or when they came from, simply that they existed, and were there for them to enjoy.

I can pontificate forever. But I think, truly, only time will tell.


larry teaches balki to driveIf you know me, or heck, if you’ve read past entries on this blog, you know how nostalgic I can get – longing for previous times, or pieces of culture from various parts of my life, or even before my time. I admittedly get that way about a lot of things – cartoons, films, video games, comic books, and TV shows.

One of the TV shows that has constantly beckoned with a nostalgic siren’s call to me has been the misadventures of an immigrant and his tightly-wound distant relative trying to integrate into each other’s lives in 1980s Chicago.

For those of you who may be unfamiliar, Perfect Strangers was an ABC sitcom that ran from 1986-1983 and was about a kind, wide-eyed man from a tiny Mediterranean island (the fictional Mypos) named Balki Bartokomous who came to America with his childlike innocence and wonder and found a far-distant cousin in Chicago – the uptight, jaded Larry Appleton. The Odd Couple-esque set up allowed for many comedic, fish out of water situations as Balki tries to acclimate to America (while embracing its culture to the hilt), while helping his Cousin Larry make it through life without his many neuroses doing him in.

It also had one of the most uplifting, 80s-esque theme songs of all time, which also in 90 seconds set up the show’s premise before an episode would even begin.

I hadn’t seen the show since it was originally on the air but in the past year or so began watching again thanks to the interwebs and the myriad of resources to find just about anything we remember from our past. I can’t even recall what brought me to rediscover it. Likely, it was a passing reference on social media that made me suddenly start remembering catching the show as part of the ABC TGIF lineup of family-friendly sitcoms “back in the day.” Upon some re-viewing, I still enjoy it.

For a show that itself is often remembered as a piece of pop culture, it had many references to already-existing pop culture at the time, through Balki’s overjoyed discoveries of Western pop culture. Balki was often singing songs from the radio’s top 40 of the day, or relishing in something as simple as cartoon character merchandising.

The show is filled with pop culture references of the day, the situations are often based in many of the classic comedic tropes throughout sitcom history or even as far back as vaudeville routines, but there is something about the  madcap hijinks or the charming camaraderie of these two oddball characters and the performers bringing them to life.

Beyond that, though, I feel there’s a bit more to my nostalgic attachment on a more subconscious level.

For me, it’s somewhat of a touchstone/an association with the decade that I grew up in – the 1980s. Now hang with me as I’m going to get a little autoethnographic on you. What’s ethnographic? Good question. I only recently learned myself, but according to Carolyn Ellis, Tony E. Adams, and Arthur P. Bochner, “when researchers do autoethnography, they retrospectively and selectively write about epiphanies that stem from, or are made possible by, being part of a culture and/or by possessing a particular cultural identity.”

I’m speaking as part of that culture, as someone who was born in 1980 and whose most influential and cherished years are from that decade and the 90s.

The 1980s. Pre-internet. Cassette tapes. No cell phones, no constant connections. From where I stand now with the day-to-day stress of having to constantly be available, rapidly respond, always connected to something, it all can seem pretty quieter. A nicer time, perhaps greater or simpler, even when awash in the neon glow of yuppies and mass-consumerism and excess that is often associated with the decade today.

But it wasn’t simpler. Or nicer. Or greater. At least not in a larger view with a wider perspective.

We were still in the midst of The Cold War. When I was in first and second grade at Seymour School, I remember us still undergoing the drills you see made fun of these days – crouching under a desk or going to the fallout shelter in the school’s basement in preparation for a catastrophic event.

80s toons

A conversation with my mom about that time has led to remarks about the state of the economy, the cost of milk, and other anxieties that as a young parent were not as enjoyable as the carefree time that I so often subconsciously associated with the 1980s, and thus the media I consumed in that time, like Perfect Strangers.

Why is that?

Much of it comes because my recollections are shaded in rose-colored glasses because I was a child then. No need to go to work every day. No need to pay bills, to be responsible for others. My biggest responsibilities were to get up and go to school every morning, do my homework, and clean up after myself. Aside from that, what did I have to worry about, really? If i was going to play with Ninja Turtles, Legos, or super hero figures? If I’d catch Batman with Adam West and Burt Ward on WPIX or play a while longer and just watch Ducktales on Fox?

Perfect-Strangers then now

Then and now.

My point is that we are so prone to looking back at things and associating them with “the good times,” that our minds become clouded to the circumstances that made us think that way in the first place. Thus, the things we consumed or remember from those times become associated in our minds with the corresponding times we were exposed to them.

But those good times – they’re always going to look good when we take out the context of life in those moments. It’s why so many people look back on the 1950s as the perfect time, not because of the fear of atomic obliteration that came following Hiroshima. Not because of the domestic violence that bubbled quietly underneath the surface of smiling, surface-level-perfect families, or the loneliness and isolation that haunted those groups who didn’t work out of the house because of cultural norms. No, they were good times to those who were children at the time, living life with a more innocent view of the world around them, sans responsibility that would come later in life.

Perfect Strangers, through no action of its own, does just that. It opens a door inside my mind and memories to a period of life that seemed much more innocent, because at the time I first enjoyed it, I was.

And while it hasn’t yet found itself amid the string of rebooted/continuing sitcoms in the age of Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Video like shows such as Full House/Fuller House has, the entire concept does make me think forward to what shows/media my own kids will look back on wistfully decades from now when they reflect upon “the simpler times.” Will it be new shows originating during their childhood like Odd Squad, Wild Kratts or Ready, Jet Go? Or will it be shows that pre-dated their existence that were introduced to them from my generation and handed down (whether in original form or rebooted) in their childhood – like Inspector Gadget or DuckTales?

As Dr. Ryan Lizardi, author of Nostalgic Generations and Media: Perception of Time and Available Meaning puts it, “As older generations of people are encouraged to revisit media and products they loved as children by hyper-nostalgic media companies, through remakes, reimaginings, and re-releases, it leads to a reduction in available meanings for current and subsequent generations who are then all encouraged to attach to the same nostalgia-soaked objects…the cultural rise in nostalgic media has the dual generational impact of making the subjective experience of time speed up for those who are nostalgic, as well as create a surrogate nostalgic identity for younger generations by continually feeding them the content of their elders.”

Perhaps only time (and they, and the media culture existing as they grow) will tell.


Prek Grad 01Like a breeze it arrived, swift and sweeping (in emotion).

It seemed like only a few weeks ago I was dropping out little guy off for his first-ever day of pre-k and yet, inexplicably, ten months passed in the blink of an eye and there we were, sitting in the seats as he and his classmates, received a certificate that said they were kindergarten-bound.

I was a barrel of mixed emotions. Proud of the little guy who sat before the crowd, coming into a classroom where he knew not a single adult or child last fall, with no anxiety, no fear, only enthusiasm to make friends, explore, and learn. In fact, the only anxiety I can recall from him was not about going to school, but about when having to leave when it was time to come home. Our first few months were a bit painful at pick-up time, as he was enjoying everything far too much and didn’t want to leave it behind for the day. I only hope he maintains that enthusiasm for learning as the years go on.

But back to the present.

Against a backdrop of superhero-themed backgrounds, the little guy and his classmates, dressed in custom-decorated capes and masks, performed some songs, some dance, and eventually were told they were walking off the stage, out of preschool and onward to kindergarten and elementary school.

It was bittersweet, not just for us adults, realizing how swiftly the sands of time pass for us all, but for him too. A week later it’s finally dawned on him that he’s not going back to school on a regular basis and with tear in his eyes he tells us how much he misses it, and his friends.

IMG_4664Added to that, his young world and expectations were thrown for a loop when we told him the weekend following his moving-up ceremony that he would be attending a different school than the one we were planning, the one he had attended multiple orientation nights for, where several of his friends from Pre-k were headed.

You see, the plan all along had been for him to head to work with mommy in the fall at the elementary school she’s been working at this past year. However, about a week or so before his Pre-k ended, my wife’s superintendent informed her they were moving her to an area high school. It meant no school with mommy as planned, and we could either continue to send him there, or send him to the school just minutes from our house.

Sometimes kids take such changes in stride with an admirable adaptability, and other times it’s a slow simmer of sadness as we work our way through the changes to our lives and days. In this case, it seem it’s currently the slow simmer of emotion and change that we’ll have to work through.

And I’m confident we will, but I don’t kid myself that it will take time. Heck, we moved to our new house seven months ago and we still have to have periodic conversations about change not always being bad and to look for the good when a teary eyed, head hanging low little boy starts to bring up why he misses his old house.

hallway at schoolSo change is not always the adaptable, easygoing “get over it” that so many folks think is a default for all kids. It will take time. Time, time, time. You are a tricky thing. Filled with good, filled with bad, but most of all, filled with change that keeps our worlds from ever getting boring, and teaching us to learn as we go and figure out how to change with you (even if it takes some of us a little longer to accept) at the risk of being left behind.

Change is the only constant, and I’m constantly astounded by just how quickly it all comes. From the hospital nursery to running through the yard, to Pre-k and now across the stage, cape billowing as a young super hero sets out, up, up and away toward the the next chapter of childhood.

He’s growing up.


DuckTales_NES_Cover.pngI’m not really a video game guy.

Sure, I played some Nintendo when I was in elementary school, but it was always at a friend’s house. I didn’t own one myself until I was a pre-teen and had earned enough delivering the weekly Pennysaver once a week for the tidy sum of $8 a week to buy one myself. And at that point most people had moved on to Super Nintendo.

But I’ll say that one of the games that was a childhood favorite for me at many a friend’s and was the first that I went out to buy when I had my own NES system was Disney’s DuckTales.

And I am all about the nostalgia of my youth, especially when it comes to DuckTales. Any quotes and notations you find hereon in come from the book Mediated Nostalgia by Ryan Lizardi. Check it out if you want to take a look at what drives you or folks like me to cherish things from our past like Disney ducks so much.

The graphics in retrospect were not the best. You knew who the characters were, but compared to their animated counterparts, seen daily on the Disney afternoon cartoon block, it was the limits of 8 bit gaming graphics in 1989. The storyline didn’t explain much other than that Scrooge had to travel the world, collect treasure, and win. That was it, really. Why these places, why these enemies? The purpose? It was a bit thin, but it was okay. Because the gameplay, its music, and its sheer relationship to a favorite hit cartoon series was fantastic enough to get one hooked that it became one of the most fun games on the system and a part of many collective memories of both cartoons and gaming in the late 80s/early 90s.

For years I remember the mere mention of classic Nintendo with folks often led to one of the conversations – Mario and DuckTales.

My original DuckTales game went, along with any other NES games I had, when I sold my NES system shortly after I got married and we moved into our house. There just wasn’t room for a lot of things, and many of the things that had been sitting in boxes for a lengthy period of time hit the bricks via ebay. NES was one of them. That lack of access certainly added to my desire to play again.

So it’s no wonder that when I got a smartphone with enough memory to do so last year, the only game I ever spent money on was a revisit of that now classic game under the title DuckTales Remastered.

“The economic concern derives from a desire on the part of a film remake producer to construct a maximum audience base consisting of those who are already familiar with the original text and those that are not.” (Lizardi 2015, 118)

ducktales-remastered-comparison

Released in 2013, just a bit shy of 25 years since the original game’s release, this is a nostalgic fan’s dream. Because it’s evident from the get-go that, while anyone could play it, this is truly aimed at fans who grew up with the original and now as adults have the chance to revisit not just the game, but a fully improved-upon visual game that taps into your longing for the characters, situations, shows associated with it by adding even more characters, layers, and story to it.

“Considering the specific time period from which many remakes derive their source material, constructing those whose childhoods occurred in the 1970s and 1980s as perpetual nostalgics means economically targeting consumers who are currently somewhere between twenty and forty years old.” (Lizardi 2015, 124)

The gameplay, levels, music, and worlds are virtually the same as it was in 1989 with the exception of enhanced, better looking 3 dimensional backgrounds and two-dimensional characters that are almost identical to their onscreen counterparts in the original animated series.

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Character comparison from 1989 to 2013 courtesy of theirategamer.com

If that weren’t enough to make me feel nine years old again, the game developers gathered together all of the surviving cast members of the animated series to provide the voices of their characters in the game, which is quite the feat in itself. Alan Young, who voiced Scrooge McDuck was around 93 at the time he provided vocals for the game and he still wasn’t the senior cast member on deck. That goes to June Foray, voicing villainous sorceress Magica DeSpell just as she did in the cartoon series, and doing so at the age of 95. For characters whose voice actor had since passed on, the developers of the game were keen enough to hire very good vocal impersonators who were able to emulate the original voices from the cartoon series.

The voice cast was utilized not just to provide vocals as characters moved through gameplay, grunting if they got hurt or exclaiming as they located treasure. One of the greatest additions to the Remastered version of the game were full animated sequences featuring the characters to provide backstory, segue, and make sense of what otherwise made none for the show’s continuity back in the day of the original game. (How can Scrooge breathe in space? What the heck is GizmoDuck doing on the moon in the first place?)

“These re-imaginings prove time and time again that they are not only aimed at establishing a new audience base for rebooted properties, but are speaking primarily to the already established nostalgic base.” (Lizardi 2015, 130)

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With a new DuckTales cartoon series headed to Disney this summer with an updated look, story, and voice cast, I’m sure there’s bound to be another, brand new game of some sort coming. And if it has as much care as has been put into this, it’ll be great.

But, for me, I just want that feeling of being nine years old again at a sleepover at a friend’s house hopping Scrooge through the Amazon, across the Moon, and finding treasure wherever it lay, reliving the adventure not just of a game, but of childhood. Isn’t that what nostalgia’s all about?

It is, and the game developers counted on it.

Mission accomplished.


This past week, my wife and I sat in the doctor’s office, staring at a black and white image on the screen. The grainy images of an arm, a foot, and eventually a profile of a head filled us with smiles inside and out as we finally put a somewhat-face to the growing little person that will be joining the ranks of our growing family. It was an odd moment. One might think it might feel routine at this point. This’ll be our third child, after all. We’ve been through this all before.

But, this time, staring at that screen, we felt…connected. To the baby, to each other, to the moment right then and there.

It’s something that, perhaps, we didn’t allow ourselves with our first two children. It’s not meant with any disrespect or disregard for either our son or daughter. It’s just that we now realize how much of their pre-arrivals were spent worrying so much about the future, planning what was to come, what had to be done, how would we handle things, that we failed to be in the moment, living in the present as we should have been and would have liked to be.

Sitting in the waiting room between sonogram and the appointment with the doctor, we were both on our phones, taking pictures of the sonogram and sending it to family members.

smart-phoneIn the course of any given day, I check my smart phone device constantly, scrolling through Twitter and thinking if I have anything funny to say, checking email to see if anyone’s gotten back to me about the house we’re selling or one of the myriad of book queries I’ve put out there, checking in with the virtual beings whose lives I lord over in Sims Freeplay, or checking my Google Keep app for the numerous to-do lists it allows me to make, organize, add to, and check off as I complete things in the never-ending, always growing list of tasks for work, home, creative pursuits, etc. It’s constantly ongoing, and I keep it that way. I constantly think of things that need to get done and add it to the list. Or I check to see what i can cross off. Some are more pressing than others. Others aren’t necessary at all. But I check obsessively regardless. It’s as fruitless as trying to keep up with email.

“Looked at in terms of flowing and static information, the email inbox is one, big, unfinishable loop,” says Douglas Rushkoff, author of Present Shock: When Everything Happens Now. “It is not a book or document that can be successfully completed. It is a flow. Sure, we can mark or move emails that are important, create priorities and sorting routines. But the initial choice to have email at all is to open a loop.”

I put off taking risks, following pursuits or making changes in life because I’m constantly waiting until something else is done. (I.e. In a year I should have my master’s done, so I’ll wait to search out other jobs until that’s done; I have 24 more payments left on both my student loans, which is two years, so if I can just hold off until that’s paid off in that time, THEN I’ll give dream/risk/pursuit xyz a try.) Always looking ahead, planning, sometimes to the point of excuses, rather than living in the present.

I think of not too long ago, the guilt I felt when my son asked me to play and I was too busy looking at something unimportant on my phone that I told him I couldn’t at the moment, only to find a few minutes later that he had moved on, leaving the lyrics of “Cats in the Cradle” running through my head and a desire to try and not allow myself to follow down that path due to such easy distractions.

As we talked later that morning, holding pictures of our soon to be third child, my wife and I both acknowledged how rare it is to feel like that, to truly feel present like we did in that room.

We’re not alone.

Even as I wrote this blog post, I found my hand casually moving over to the mouse and bringing up tabs of Facebook, Twitter, and before I knew it, sucked down the rabbit hole of online interaction. Though I wasn’t interacting. I was just scrolling. Scrolling through like a mindless motor function without any true purpose. Was there anything pressing I needed? Was there information I had to have that very moment that I took myself away from the focus of writing – something that I struggle to re-focus on and get back to once I’ve been pulled away. No. I wasn’t looking for anything in particular, I had nothing to say. I’ve just in many ways become conditioned to get distracted. It’s something I admit I desperately want to stop doing.

“Catching up with Twitter is like staying up all night to catch up on live streaming stock quotes from yesterday,” Rushkoff says. “The value was in the now – which at this point is really just a then.”

I have come to feel that I often spend so much time worrying about and trying to plan for the future and various ways in which it may occur, that I’m rarely ever actually living in the present anymore. The moments pass with no appreciation as I’m constantly looking for how to take care of what comes next, or what will or could come next.

It’s not surprising that it’s a constant source of exhaustion and anxiety, and causes me to spend way too much time on my devices that I could be spending living in the moment with my friends and family. It’s why the founders of social platforms like Facebook and Twitter, or various apps that eat up all our time, are as successful as they are. It may not be a sinister intention, but it takes aim at our internal longing to escape but feel a part of something bigger, a community, or simply to be more relevant, and exploits it for gain.

Meanwhile, so many of us are ever living outside of our lives and constantly chasing digital nostalgia (remember, nostalgia doesn’t always refer to the past. It’s a combination of Latin words meaning “longing for home.” And home can mean comfort.)

“Another definition of unhealthy escapism—escapism gone too far—is the effects it has on the essential fabric of living,” psychologist Andrew Evans writes in This Virtual Life, as noted by the February 2015 article in The Atlantic titled The Good and The Bad of Escaping to Virtual Reality. “The individual in the context of family, friends, and social commitments.”

Evans connects his definition, the article states, to Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, ranking love and a sense of belonging just after basic physiological and safety needs.

bird feederThen I think of the calm, the peace, the feeling of being in the now, in the present that I felt looking at the baby’s form on that monitor. It may sound silly, but it was almost akin to the feeling of being present I experience when I’m sitting alone looking at nature, whether it’s a walk through a nature trail and admiring the plants and trees, or sitting quietly in our backyard, sans digital devices, getting lost in the greenery, trees, squirrels, rabbits, birds, and wildlife going about their day.

In Richard Louv’s The Nature Principle, the author suggests using natural systems to enhance the physical, psychological and spiritual life of humans.

“Whereas technology immersion results in walls that become screens, and machines that enter our bodies, more nature in our lives offers us homes and workplaces and natural communities that produce human energy…[and] products and environments that make life more comfortable for people.”

Clinical Psychologist, Consultant, and Author Catherine Steiner-Adair, in her book The Big Disconnect, notes that our reliance on technology can often be an attempt to fill voids that we’re not getting from the physical world around us.

“Simply put, we are more sociable when we are connected to nature, and without nature we manifest antisocial behavior more regularly and rely on technological substitutes more.”

In a March 2011 TEDx Talk, Sherry Turkle, the Abby Rockefeller Mauzé Professor of the Social Studies of Science and Technology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, discusses the ways in which technology connects us, yet disconnects from the people and physically around us.

“Children talk about that moment of coming out of school, looking for eye contact and instead of that moment with a parent, that parent is looking at the smart phone,” Turkle says.

A generation has grown up with technology as the competition for their parents time and attention and now that generation is older and has their own turn to live in the culture of distraction.

Turkle had been present when computers were first being implemented into home use and recalls when designers/programmers were having trouble finding ideas to keep the computer busy (calendars, contact list, etc, were some early ideas for home use). As she says, it didn’t matter in the end, because now they are what keeps us busy.

“What I didn’t see coming…and what we have now is that mobile connectivity, that world of devices, always on and always on us, would mean that we would be able to basically bail out of the physically real at any time,” she says. “To go to the other spaces we have available to us and that we would want to.”

She refers to this departure from multi-tasking as multi-lifing, and that escapism, that distraction, that other life that technology offers us is seductive, hitting us in some of the most vulnerable parts of our humanity. It is, she surmises, what has led so much of our culture to become one that would rather text or send an email than pick up the phone and talk. The technology has allowed us to dial down our own human contact.

As these bits of our humanity are chipped away, it will become even more crucial to find a way, amid a world where this technology is not going away, to revisit, revive, and instill our own humanity into future generations, for fear that they could lose it completely.

“If we don’t teach our children how to be alone, they will always be lonely.”

Like many addictions, it becomes a vicious cycle. We escape to online, we become distracted from the physical world around us, and as we cut out the real world, we more and more seek out the illusion of friendship and community without the companionship in the digital world of technology. It feeds our loneliness which just keeps us perpetually alone. But we continue to seek it out, and the media texts that it provides, out of this sense of longing for comfort, and media companies will continue to exploit with the latest social platforms, digital shows, films, apps, or games as long as we keep needing a digital place to seek out and fulfill that need of nostalgia, of longing.

 



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