Friday, December 19, 2014

Reviving the Kid Inside

In this season of giving thanks, it seems fitting to digress for a moment to acknowledge that life is nothing if not cruel. 

For example: so much of what we loved as kids becomes much easier to obtain as we grow up. But, just as our ability to acquire these things is realized, our love for them wanes and is eventually winnowed to nothing.  

I say all of this because, just a couple of days ago I found myself in a place that, as a child, I'd have killed to be.
Add caption

It wasn't like the doors to the chocolate factory swung open to me but, if I was 9 years old, it'd have been damn close. 

No chocolate, instead I found myself wandering the aisles at a Mattel factory store with a coupon in my hand entitling me to 50% my off my purchases of literally, anything and everything the store had to offer.

There were more Hot Wheels than one could hope to have ever raced in a lifetime; there were also the loop-dee-loop, crash-and-bang tracks to send the miniature cars racing toward certain collisions. 

“There were WWE wrestler dolls — and wrestling rings. There were Batman dolls for doing Batman things.

Ditto for Superman, complete with his cape. Harry Potter was there too and so was Professor Snape.

There were motorized cars to zip to and fro, there were dolls upon dolls, row after row."

(Alright, hearty apologies to Dr. Seuss for that. I tried)

As Mrs. Blackwell and I wandered the aisles, I couldn’t help but think of how my 9-year-old self would have been disappointed in the current version of me.

There I was, this old, bearded man totally unenthused with my surroundings, wandering the aisles with all the enthusiasm of a geriatric at the drug store, hunting for a deal on foot powder or lotion for cracked hands. 
I was shocked to find a "Miami Vice" car. I was
more shocked to find a "Simon and Simon" car.
Hands up if you remember that show?

In “It’s a Wonderful Life” an old man yells from his porch at for George Bailey to just kiss Mary, instead of "talking her to death."

He then bellows: “Ahhh, youth is wasted on the wrong people.”

With that in mind, I’ll suppose that I’m not quite ready to trade in the toy store for the drug store.

So, I shelved my disappointment and reset my focus. We were there for the boy, so why not gin up some enthusiasm on his behalf?

The goal of the trip was to answer the question "what would he like" not "what would I like if I wasn’t a humorless old man?"

Once my focus was recalibrated, this venture became a bit more fun. I wasn’t Tom Hanks in “Big” but we shelved the self loathing for a while.

Mrs. Blackwell asked about toys, “Would this be fun?” “How about this one?” and we got into it.

We ended up getting a few toys for the boy and some for friends and relatives. I’m excited to see how much the boy likes and plays with what we got him. 

This is his third Christmas, so there’s still no guarantee he’ll be more interested in what’s under the wrapping paper than the paper itself.

No matter, I can’t think of anything better than sitting there Christmas morning as he rips through the wrapping paper with Mrs. Blackwell and I prodding him on.

That’s fun that my nine-year old self could never have envisioned.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Rudolph, Frosty and (Count 'em) Eight Reindeer

Hanging out with the boy and Mrs. Blackwell last weekend we partook in several of the time-honored traditions of the holiday season, notably we watched a lot of Christmas movies and TV specials.

While the boy slept, we watched “The Family Stone” which Mrs. Blackwell enjoys because the home in that movie looks like pure Christmas and we watched “Love Actually” which she enjoys because, if she had it to do over again, she’d marry Colin Firth.

Firth’s suave good looks and debonair demeanor notwithstanding, it’s the kids programming I want to single out for particular attention.

Add caption
As we sat with the boy, we watched two shows — “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” and “Frosty the Snowman” — I was struck by the gross disconnect between my perception of these shows and the reality.

The years — and two catchy, classic, holiday songs — have given these two shows a holiday glow. Well after re-watching them, the glow is gone.

Let’s start with Rudolph.

In the song, “all the other reindeer” reject Rudolph because of his different nose. In the TV special, it’s not just the “other reindeer” but Rudolph’s own parents and Santa Claus who scorn him too.

His mom fashions a leather nose to conceal his real nose and his dad subjects him to relentless ridicule.

When the fake nose falls off, Santa even chastises Rudolph’s dad (Donner) telling him he “should be ashamed.”

Santa also lets Rudolph know right away that no matter how skilled he might be as a reindeer, his nose means Rudolph will never measure up.

What’s this teaching kids?

Here, I’ll defer to Frasier Crane of “Cheers” fame. On this matter, Dr. Crane said the following:

“Apparently…you're unaware that the story of ‘Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer’ is one of the most unrealistic and therefore potentially damaging in all of children's music. It gives them a horribly distorted view of reality.”

22 years after the last episode, I'll still defer to Dr. Crane.
“First the other reindeer tease and then ostracize him. And then, only when his abnormality proves of service, they use him.”

Then, Crane asserts that the song’s conclusion differs from the more likely scenario.

“Then, do they let him join in any reindeer games? Oh, no, I know how the song goes. In fact, not only do Donner, Blitzen, et al, not love him and laugh out loud with glee, but they doubly despise the bulbous-nosed little wimp.”

Not for nothing, but Rudolph’s special also possesses a gross lack of attention to detail.

At the end of the show, the sleigh Rudolph leads includes just six reindeer plus Rudolph. Santa, as everyone knows, has eight Reindeer dammit. These are just the indiscretions that kids notice and lead them to not believe — in anything.

Let’s pick a number of reindeer and stick with it all right?

Then we’ve got Frosty. Some indiscretions in the story of Rudolph can be disregarded as byproducts of a time of less sensitivity toward those with differences.

Frosty on the other hand seems bereft of even the slightest redemption.

The story begins with a man losing his hat. But, because his hat has certain magical properties, he’s expected to surrender it.

In a society that so richly values the rights of individual property owners, it’s amazing that Frosty has resonated.

I'm not alone in this view. Here’s a couple reviews from movie mega site, Rotten Tomatoes:

“A childhood Christmas favorite about a stoned-looking Snowman who steals a hat from a Wizard.”

Frosty, Santa and four — yes four — reindeer. 
I couldn't completely enjoy this as, to me, it was rightfully the magician's hat in the first place.” 

Then there’s the fact that the main human character is a little girl who decides not to come home from school (strangely it happens to be Christmas Eve) and instead goes searching for her frozen hero.

Can you imagine what her parents were going through?

Better yet, can you imagine anyone taking any of this that seriously?

It's funny to watch your perspective change once you've had a kid. When I was little, I loved these specials and I sure didn't give much consideration to the girl's parents when she didn't come home from school. 

And that's the point. 

Maybe kids derive as little from cartoons as grown men do from watching football. For that matter, maybe kids derive as much from cartoons as moms get from watching Colin Firth write a novel on the picturesque grounds of a Spanish villa.

All these justifications notwithstanding, I have to point out that even the Frosty special got the number of Santa’s reindeer wrong too.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Rise and Shine Buddy Boy

Each and every day we rise from our slumber. And each and every night we return home and, at varying hours, we return to our slumber.

In between, we make lives for ourselves. Our lives are different but we all share the cycle of sleep. We sleep. We wake. We sleep and we wake.

When you think about it like that, as little more than a routine inevitability, one could conclude this process would be easy.

After all, we have to do it every day right?
"Up and at 'em buddy!! Life awaits!"

But it’s not. Some people have difficulty falling asleep. Other people, like my son for example, have trouble waking up.

Granted, he only seems to have trouble waking up at certain times.

3 a.m.? No problem. He occasionally demonstrates that he’s perfectly capable of jumping up and announcing his presence to the world at that god awful hour.

Waking between 6-7 a.m.? That proposition is far from reliable.

In his 2.5 years on this planet the boy is revealing himself to be something of an occasional morning person.

Some days, he’s ready to hit the ground running. Others, there’s no rise and there’s little shine, unless you count the light reflecting off his angry, red cheeks.

It’s not that he’s immediately angry when he wakes. Mostly, he’s just a zombie. He says little, moves even less.

That last point is an issue when you’ve got two working parents who need to get out the door as soon as possible.

A kid who sits in front of breakfast and, instead of eating, stares blankly into the abyss for minutes at a time doesn’t facilitate getting to work on time. It’s a solemn, statuesque pose the boy cuts, though if done by a 40-year-old man, it’d be creepy.

Monday through Friday, we don’t indulge this behavior — we just don’t have time. But, on the weekend, we’ll let him have his time before snapping out of it.

Sometimes we can jar the boy out of his waking coma by prodding him to eat, which he sometimes does.

Other times, he slips into an inconsolable fit. It’s at this point, we frequently try to distract him. A stream of questions about his impending breakfast usually does the trick.

“You want apple juice, buddy?” I’ll ask. And he’ll reply by crying and rolling on the ground.

“I’ll take that as a ‘no.’”

“How about milk?” To which he’ll respond with yet more crying and even more rolling.  

“How about some peanut butter?” If it’s the right day, he’ll stop crying for a moment and say, “OK!”

It’s not always peanut butter and we don’t always get an “OK!” sometimes the string of questions just goes until we run out of food and drink to offer.

At that point, it’s over. The offers are gone. Mom and dad have made multiple attempts to satisfy him.

What happens next is almost purely a function of time. If we can, we’ll let him cry it out until he realizes he’s hungry. If we can’t, we’ll take a more aggressive tack, put him in his seat, set the food in front of him and tell him to eat.

Sensing the urgency and desperation of his parents, the boy almost always obliges us and eats and drinks. Though, it’s rarely the amount one would like to see go down that gullet.

It's yet another compromise and one of those moments when you simply have to concede that, you're raising a little person. And, when was the last time any of us "persons" wanted to do exactly what we're told?