Living in the Happy/Sad

I have not blogged in more than two months. There was no concerted plan behind this choice. Life gets busy, inspiration doesn’t strike, the reader stats leave me disappointed, my hands hurt, I choose not to share my thoughts, any and all the above. So much has happened since August when I wrote my last post. The world has gone up and down, awash in political and socio-cultural turmoil. Where will it lead? Who knows.  My life has felt like it’s been on a similar roller coaster, emotional and otherwise. Every perceived good has a down side; every happy moment is laced with the dewy-eyed veneer of sadness. Here are three examples from recent memory:

One:Our house had two trees crash into it in April. Many readers, friends, and family know this. The trees tore the front parts of the roof and siding off, ruined the storm door, iron railings, and shrubbery. For the six months that followed I went into our property management office (we rent) and politely requested that something be done, and for the better part of six months I was told that there was nothing that could be done until the owner chose to do something. He had the trees removed two weeks after the storm, but everything else waited for five months: waited for him to settle with his insurance, collect a fat check, and then repair our rental as cheaply as possible. When the repairs were finally completed two weeks ago, his handymen left trash and building materials all over our lawn. Again I requested, politely, that this long nightmare be finished. Come get your trash and let’s be done with it. Last week they did, and the repairs were completed and the ordeal was over. Happy, right? And then this week he had the rental office send a strongly worded letter to us complete with “spy” photos, wherein someone came on the property to document all the things he didn’t like about the way we were maintaining his property. Maintenance of our grounds had fallen by the wayside while we waited for repairs to be completed, it’s true, and he seized on every detail. Including some furniture we had moved out of the house after being gifted new pieces by a relative. To be fair, the maintenance requests are not unreasonable, and they are our responsibility. But the timing could only be interpreted one way: we had forced his hand  – albeit politely – to complete necessary repairs before winter, and so, purely out of spite, he was going to throw his weight around to show us whose property it is. Oh, and he raised our rent, before beginning repairs! We are happy the long process of repairs is complete. However, despite our best efforts to be gracious and patient, we still evoked the wrath of our elderly cheap ass miser of an owner, and we now need to contend with that.

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James the Tank Engine goes Halloweening

Two: Once again, I was unable to be with my son on Halloween. This is three years running that he has gone trick-or-treating without me. It’s not that I didn’t have a choice in the matter; Nancy and I were home on Halloween. But our home, along route 301, has no neighborhood to take him into. So every year, we farm him up to his grandparents outside Philly to maximize his candy quotient. Photos and video come back to us of our little boy being Halloween Boss, running up and down the street, knocking on doors, exclaiming, “Trick or treat, smell my feet, give me something good to eat!” in one deliciously semi-incoherent sentence chain of candied ecstasy. He has the time of his life while we sit at a distance watching him make a ‘best’ memory. I begrudge neither him nor his grandparents anything, and we wouldn’t send him unless we knew he would have a better time up north, which he does. It makes me happy to see he and his grandparents create such a joyous memory. And sad that Nancy and I are not a part of the experience..

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Halloween 2017. Goodbye, til tomorrow

Three: Mary Anne, Nancy’s sister, got in her little red car on November 1 and drove to Florida to begin a new life there. For six years she lived in and around Fredericksburg, the only family we had in the area. But a few weeks, ago the last of the ties holding her to this area were severed, and it became apparent that it was time for her to move her life forward in new ways in a new location. We helped her pack her goods. We housed her off and on for two weeks. Fed her. Oh, we fed her. And then the last night came, and she and Nancy cried. And then that morning, with Nancy off to work, it was my goodbye, and a hug, and a stoic I Love You, and I silent stance at the door, and then she drove off to new horizons as our house fell silent. The time was right, and we couldn’t be prouder of her that she’s finally going off on her own in pursuit of her dreams. Only time will tell if Florida is the right fit, but the intent is on target, and we back her 100%. Still, watching her drive off, knowing how much my son loves her, knowing she’ll be alone, knowing we won’t be in contact near as much, is bittersweet, you know. Happy/Sad.

Yeah, that’s the way the last few months have gone. Here’s hoping in the weeks ahead there’s more of the former and less of the latter.

And I wish that for you too as well.

Namaste,

Jason

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My Son, the Brit

It’s been more than a month since I posted anything. What a slacker I am! Life has offered my family many changes, and at the same time stayed remarkably similar. Since the Comparative Drama Conference in April, I’ve worked steadily as Music Director on Christian Youth Theatre (CYT) of Fredericksburg’s production of Shrek; I’ve co-moderated a World Religions class at church; I’ve done several performances with Murder Mysteries Will Travel; I’ve rehearsed my Unitarian Universalist choirs and handbell ensemble closer and closer to our culminating performances on June 11 and 17; oh, and two trees fell on our house that, after a month, the landlord or owner have yet to do anything about! There are many things in the world to talk about and on my mind – Star Trek: Discovery, Season 10 of Doctor Who, the Trump presidency, the 2017 Hay House World Summit, my wife’s upcoming trip to London, my own future career plans, new music to compose, the third book in the Love Anyway Series, finishing that 5,000th haiku, my health etc. I think (for today, for this post anyway) I’ll concentrate on my son, the Bup or John Adams, who at the moment talks like he walked off the set of Downton Abbey. Which isn’t really a bad thing when you think about it.

For more than two months now, Bup has been obsessed with the British children’s show, Peppa Pig. For those keeping score, that means we’ve gone through (though still like) our Thomas the Train phase, into a British-dubbed show from Grenada called Pocoyo (narrated by Stephen Fry), into Peppa Pig. All three shows feature incredible diction, relatively good manners, limited sass, and of course lots and lots of British colloquialisms and variations of speech from American to British. The little sponge that Bup is, he is absorbing them all. And it’s often hilarious.

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Rockin’ his shades and Thomas jammies

At present we don’t take a nap. We take ‘a lie in.’ We don’t get gas. We check to see if ‘we’re out of petrol.’ And when the GPS is talking we ask ‘if the SAT-NAV knows where we are?’It’s also true that, compared to many three-year- olds, his diction is impeccable by comparison. When he is ‘cross’ with either me or Mummy, he hits his final consonants with a venom that could only make the Queen Mum proud. None of this was deliberately planned on my part. However, from little on up I’ve made it a point to police what he watches to make certain that his viewing is not too adversely affecting his behavior, and the harsh reality is that American children’s programming is often (with the exception of things like Sesame Street and Mr. Rogers reruns) wise-cracky, mildly profane, mildly sexualized, full of burp and fart jokes, and often features imbecilic oblivious parents with slick, fast-talking children that outsmart them and disrespect them at every turn. And that’s pretty much any channel up to and including Disney Jr.

The best programs that we’ve been able to find for him (after Baby First TV when he was very little) or that he’s discovered on his own, have been either on PBS Kids, like Super WHYY, Nature Cat, and Peg + Cat, or have been British imports like Thomas, Pocoyo, or Peppa Pig. It is also true that we do watch live action shows with Bup like Star Trek, Once Upon a Time, and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., but we do try to contextualize the violence and fighting between the good and bad guys , and try to explain to him what’s good and bad behavior when given the opportunity. I don’t think we totally live in a bubble, but at least where his cartoons are concerned, the bubble has a distinctly European sensibility, and that brings with it better than average manners. And that is something I can live with.

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Sporting his “Peppa Pig” George and his dinosaur T-shirt

And so, for the moment, I will continue to watch and rewatch the 208 episodes of Peppa Pig, enduring her family fascination with muddy puddles and living on hillsides, until Bup tires of her and decides to move on. At present, he pulls up Calliou on his Ipad (a show Nancy hates) and Ryan Toy’s Review (a show with little to no value whatsoever), but those are minor occurrences in our otherwise well-mannered and well-ordered world of more appropriate viewing. And when his tastes change, I will be the one to have to roll with it. For now, I just love my little Brit, and his ‘please, thank you, and it would be my pleasure’ ways. Case in point: the other day, driving home from Nanny and Pop Pop’s house in Philly I spied a large cross on the side of a church that I knew Bup could see from his car seat.

“Look at the big cross, Bup. There’s no Jesus on it. Where did Jesus go?” I asked.
He thought for a moment and then replied in his best aristocratic tone, “I don’t know, Daddy. Maybe he went on holiday.”

Kids do say the darnedest things.

Peace,
Jason

Saying Goodbye

To those of you who didn’t know her and don’t know (and that’s most of you) The Nix – our ten-year old female Manx cat – died a few weeks ago. She was suffering from a resurgence of bladder stones, a condition that had developed a year ago and been resolved with surgery. But the stones grew back, in large part due to our inability to correct her diet due to its cost. And before I could get her back in for surgery again, a relapse of some sort occurred. She died in the car racing to the mobile veterinary unit where the surgery scheduled for a few hours later would have once again saved her life.

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Posing atop her beloved water tank

It’s a terrible burden to bear feeling partially responsible for the death of a loved one. I’ve borne it before over the death of my own father, believing that I should have done more to combat his addiction to smoking. It took years for me to reconcile emotionally with the simple phrase, “Never overestimate your ability to change others. Never underestimate your ability to change yourself.” I ultimately made peace with his death, and after a time I’m sure I’ll make peace with hers, too. But right now the wounds are fresh, the mistakes were honest, and the guilt is real.

For what it’s worth, the choices made that led to her passing were all made based on cost. We had spent over $1500 to have the initial stones removed. After that surgery, we were told she would have to live on a special diet for the rest of her life that was also expensive and way above our budget. I dragged my feet for a year, hoping the stones wouldn’t resurface, but they did. The veterinarian identified the stones in December, but didn’t feel they were life-threatening. We were given the option of electing for surgery or trying to shrink them with a one month new diet of special food. If the stones hadn’t shrunk by late January, we were prepared for the surgery. The Nix hated the new food and regularly raided the other cat’s dishes in the cover of darkness, which only aggravated her condition. When, two nights before her death, it became evident that something was definitely wrong beyond the norm, I called and arranged for the surgery, but didn’t race her there after hours, trying to avoid emergency fees. It was this final financial decision that was too much to endure for The Nix. She lay moaning under our Christmas tree with me by her side until 3 AM assuring her that she would have surgery in the morning. I went to bed and got up again at 7 AM, and she was nearing her death. I laid her in a towel and placed her on our bed, begged her to hang on, and grabbed a shower, since the vet didn’t open until 9 AM. By the time I returned to her, she was either going or gone, and the car chase to the vet seemed a study in futility. I presented a corpse to an astonished vet that just kept muttering, “I don’t understand.”

I hate the fact that I believe The Nix lost her life prematurely because I couldn’t afford to do what was necessary for her health in a timely way to take care of her. I hate the fact that her life was subject to our financial bottom line. I hate that in this country we put profit over the public health and general welfare of ALL our citizens. Some would say she was just an animal; to us, she was family, and I should’ve been able to care for her properly. But when you consider that we can’t even agree in this country that all humans deserve to have health coverage without putting a sticker price on their life and worth, it gives me a small measure of teeth-grinding comfort. People lose their human family members everyday because of greed. I suppose I can bear the death of our cat, but I don’t have to like either. But back to my little girl’s life.

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Nancy and The Nix

The Nix was a member of our family from the time she was six months old. Originally christened Abby, her first family found that their older male cat was regularly abusing her and sought my Mom out as a short term refuge for their little girl until she got bigger and better able to handle herself. As is often the case, short term solutions become long term life changes, and The Nix never left our family once she joined it. When Nancy and I moved to Virginia, she was one of four cats to make the journey: Ivan, ‘Saki, Scoutie, and The Nix. Now all four are gone. The Nix was the youngest of the last six cats my mother owned, and with her passing, an era in my life has also been left behind. In a weird way, her passing also marks the passing of my adolescence, my time spent home with my mother, my less responsible days.

There are many wonderful family stories about The Nix and not enough time to share. She was a skittish bat-eared baby who used to eat on my Mom’s bathroom floor keeping one eye out for food raiders. She used to go outside regularly, climb the wooden lattice of my Mom’s back patio, and sun herself for the afternoon on the roof. She would then cling to and cry at a second story window till I let her in as the sun went down. She was sung goodnight to every evening here in Virginia, a tradition she both grudgingly tolerated and actively looked forward to. That dichotomy of expression is all cat, and she was that: all cat, complete with cattitude.

The Nix was only ten when she passed and she will never be forgotten. She was, in every sense of the word, our baby, and I cannot express how much we miss her, her empty perch, her endless front paw climbing, her gorgeous face, her dancing hind legs, her chirpy meow, her occasionally imperious demeanor. Nancy still has something of an aversion to going into the back room where The Nix spent most of her days perched upon either a cat Christmas afghan or upon the water tank, because it’s too empty. And every time she does, she still instinctively checks the perch to say hello, but no one’s there. Many dear friends contributed funds to her first round of operations that ultimately gave The Nix one extra year of life, and I can’t thank them enough for their generosity. I only wish it had been longer lived. As of this writing, The Nix has been cremated and her ashes have been returned to us. My baby girl has returned home, albeit in a different, sadder form, and has taken her place of honor on our mantle with her other siblings that have crossed over the Rainbow Bridge.

A few days ago, John Adams awoke in his bed and the subject of his cats was foremost on his mind. “I gotta see ‘Seyde and Duke” he said. “Yes,” I replied. “But not The Nix. She died,” he added quietly.  “Yes,” I said again cautiously. “She went to heaven, Daddy.” Then after a thoughtful moment he added, “Maybe someday heaven will send her back to us.” Through tears I smiled, “I think it just did.”

Rest in Peace The Nix (2006-2017)

Namaste,

Jason

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The Nix at 6 months old.

A Toddler’s Guide to Manifesting

Some time ago John Adams was given a green balloon. He loved his balloon and kept it on his bed every night for safe keeping. He and I would bat it back and forth as a preliminary way to learn how to play catch. A helium-filled balloon is not going to move fast through the air, a slowly deflating one even less so. But its slow speed was just right for a three-year old learning how to catch a ball, or throw. We spent literally hours batting the deflating green balloon back and forth while sitting on his bed while he giggled ecstatically at his ability to catch his green, airborne, slo-mo ball.

When the green balloon finally deflated beyond repair he insisted on keeping it on his bed for several weeks thereafter. He openly wept several times over its inability to fly, or our inability to play with it anymore (although he refused to allow either of us to reinflate it). A long piece of ribbon with a deflated bulbous husk, he would pull it off the bed, twirl the ribbon, but the balloon didn’t refill. It would plop unsatisfying-ly onto the bed, and a frustrated toddler would well up, and a daddy would have to console the survivor that a new balloon could be found and order would be restored again to the galaxy.

A few weeks went by, and the green death was finally forgotten. Nancy and I seized the opportunity to discard the corpse. Then out of the blue – or wherever toddlers get their notions – John Adams looked at us one Sunday and stated that he wanted another balloon. He was earnest. We were going to church, but promised him we would try to find him one thereafter. We did the church thing, and then decided on a whim to go to IHO P for breakfast. Our young waitress, Jamie, was taken with the little guy, and they exchanged more than a few playful moments. He did his “bag of tricks” for her; she was enchanted, and headed off to do her work. She then returned quite abruptly and looked at us semi-seriously and said, “Don’t forget to get him his balloon on the way out.” In hindsight, I was less stunned than I should have been.

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John Adams and I manifesting silliness.

Behind the front counter where we paid the check was a cache of variously colored balloons from a previous promotion. They were giving them away to children upon request, and John Adams was requesting. It took him only a moment to blurt out that his new friend was to be “Yellow, please!” The well-meaning host tried unsuccessfully to tie it several times to his wrist, but he likes to “hoed it,” so with Mommy’s guidance his new yellow friend made it safely to our car and home to his bed for batting practice where it presently, lovingly resides.

The late Dr. Wayne Dyer repeatedly said a few things about the art of manifesting. 1) You have to let go of the past. 2) You have to leave your ego and insecurities behind and know that you are worthy of abundance. 3) You have to have a “knowing” of what you want, and hold that vision without fear of failure. 4) You have to detach yourself from outcome. Many of these lessons resonated with me over the incident of the balloons. Only when John Adams had made peace with the loss of the green balloon was he ready to receive a new one. Like most toddlers, he doesn’t know what an ego is yet, but he knows he is the Center of the Universe and worthy of his heart’s desire. He knew exactly what he wanted and was prepared for its arrival in his world. And he didn’t know the manner of its arrival, but he knew it would show up. And show up it did.

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Dr. Wayne Dyer’s book, Manifest Your Destiny

Dr. Dyer and his family reportedly used the art of manifesting with great success. I believe – in this instance at least – my son did too. I believe we’re all capable of bringing that which we desire into our lives through letting go of the past, ego-less love, detachment, and persistence of vision. So whatever green husk of hot air has blustered into your life today, know that it will deflate and, once released and forgotten, it can be replaced by something even better. Through the powers of a selfless knowing love, detachment, and persistence, peace can be restored to your galaxy too.

You just gotta believe.

Namaste,

Jason

2016 – A Personal Review

I haven’t done a retrospective on the year that just happened yet, and now more than a week into the New Year that is 2017 I’m not sure how much I care. Life is about living forward and for the moment. My eyes are focused on what this year will bring, not what was left behind. Still, I’m grateful for what 2016 brought to me and my family, and I feel that it’s important to honor the past, so here goes.

For many, 2016 is remembered as not a good year. This assessment is made mostly on two criteria: the number of celebrity deaths, and a very divisive presidential election. I can mourn (and have) for the many celebs that touched my life, but I must still go on. The effects of the election are soon to be felt, so we’ll save those feelings – bad, good, indifferent – for another day. What is left, then, is my life and my family’s, our accomplishments, sorrows, and successes. That is what I must focus on. Viewed thus, 2016 was a good year for the Michaels overall, and I will remember it so for the here and now.

Most importantly, our beautiful boy, John Adams Tiberius enjoyed excellent health throughout the year. We lost no furred family this year, and though I experienced bouts of ill health that linger and Nancy’s autoimmune disorder was upgraded from “okay” to “moderately severe”, we are still kicking. John Adams came into 2016 with three grandparents, and left with the same. That’s a success right there.

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Nancy and i, Christmas 2016

At the beginning of the year we self-published A Haiku a Day. At the end of the year we did the same for Mommy Made a Beastie. That’s not likely to happen again for a while anyway, so that’s something. My choral piece, “We’re Gonna Shovel the Snow” was premiered by the sixth grade chorus at Freedom Middle School under the direction of Ms. Susan Dane. They were wonderful and I was so proud. Another composition, “The Colors of Christmas” was premiered by my own Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Fredericksburg Adult Choir, and was submitted and accepted for radio airplay on 95.9 Hometown Holiday Spotlight. Simultaneously, our other two UU music groups – UUth Choir and Hand Bells – were also accepted for air time, so all three groups received regular listening locally throughout the holiday season. Very cool. Another piece, “God Rest Ye Jazzy Gentlemen,” scheduled for premiere by the community chorus The Spotsylvanians was back benched until next December, but that just gives me something to look forward to at the end of this year, right? And my UU Adult Choir premiered it on Christmas Eve anyway, and did a superb job with it.

I did four book signings through the Central Rappahannock Regional Library, thanks to friend and goat enthusiast Lee C., and sold something at each signing.  I participated in the First Annual Fredericksburg Independent Book Festival and shared a spiritually uplifting table with dear friend and author, Lynda A. Her book, The Rules of Creation, is beautiful. Check it out at:http://therulesofcreation.com/

Together Nancy and I attended the 40th Annual Comparative Drama Conference in Baltimore and both presented papers. I‘m happy to report I have another paper accepted to present this April in Orlando, so I’ll be going again. Nancy is too busy with that pesky dissertation thingy. Locally, we were also both accepted for inclusion in the Fall 2016 Fredericksburg Literary and Art Review. Nancy was profiled for her work in costume design. My poem, “The Greatest Treasure” was accepted for publication. Nancy’s biggest success was receiving a National Endowment for the Humanities Fellowship to one of their Summer Institutes so she could go study Beowulf in Kalamazoo, MI through June/July. For one month she studied with notable scholars in her field while living in the home of one of my oldest and dearest friends, Dusti. They got to know one another and become friends in ways geography never would have otherwise allowed, so this proved a double-blessing.

Capping the year off, I got to sing the Susquehanna University 50th Annual Christmas Candlelight Service under the direction of my former professor turned friend and colleague, Cyril Stretansky. I sang, saw Cy and his wife Lee, and many other friends (Meg, Jen, Stacy, Cory, Robb, Eric) I’ve been in only loose touch with since 1993. I also had time for lunch with dear friend, Margaret, and we have rekindled our correspondence. Nancy, John Adams, and I also found time for lunch with old friends Peter, Kelly, Mark, Jane, and their kids over the holiday break. Good laughs, food, fun, and memories.

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Our active son, The Bup

John Adams aka The Bup had a wonderful year. He spent lengthy weeks at Vacation Cottage having bacon every day, ‘ronies and meatballs, and visiting the trains at Strasberg Railroad with Nanny and Pop Pop more times than one can count. He saw Santa several times, and got two drum sets, an acoustic guitar, an electric guitar, a kids’ violin, Hungry Hungry Hippos, lots of trains and puzzles and more for Christmas. He got to play with his cousins, Dante and baby Bobby, got invited to his friend Teddy’s birthday party, and was lavishly doted upon by a blonde Dane whenever he played with his very dear friends Miss Susan and Leah. He also tore it up regularly at the YMCA KidZone and at Wiggle Worms at the Towne Center Mall, so he was one active kid.

No lavish vacations or major life changes this year, but on the other hand, no immediate family deaths or major tragedies. 2016 was a “building year,” full of ups and downs, little accomplishments and setbacks. It wasn’t the worst year for us. It wasn’t the best. But it happened, what’s done is done, and it’s time to start focusing on 2017. Whatever didn’t work out for you in 2016 – money, health, accomplishment, the election – I sincerely hope 2017 showers you with love, good health, happiness, prosperity, and opportunity, and, if I may ask, I hope you wish my family the same.

Namaste,

Jason

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The family gathered over the holidays. Wishing you a joyous 2017.

But I Repeat Myself aka “I Love Repetition!”

I have errands to run, places to go, things to do. I usher my son John Adams out of the house into “Daddy’s Car.” He has Best Friend Blankie in one hand and his cherished blue juice cup in the other. I open the door for him and hold his stash while he climbs in. I strap him in, hand him juice cup and BFB and go around to my side to get in and drive. I start the car and a voice from the back seat commands, “I want my Nabi!” A cold chill runs down my spine. “How do we ask?” I say simply, wearily. “I want my Nabi please,” comes the response, a touch contrite, but no less an edict from the authorities. I reach next to me on the passenger’s seat and reluctantly hand back the red and white children’s iPad that contains all of John Adams’s videos and learning games. “No innernet in the car,” he says as a reminder mantra to us both. “That’s right. No internet in the car,” I say. With that, conversation ceases, and as I’m backing the car out of our driveway I get my last moment of silence before I’m slammed with the raucous sound of “coustic” guitars, bagpipes, and seemingly angry Celtic vocals. No longer a jaunty adventure mobile shared between Bup and Daddy, the car has been transformed into a Groundhog Day-esque hellscape where only two songs by my son’s currently favorite band, Enter the Haggis, are played over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over again!!! My son is three and we like repetition. Loudly!

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Playing the “violin” is serious business guys!

In fact, we took the train ride to Repetition Station over a year and a half ago when he discovered Thomas the Tank Engine. There were other cartoons before that – Tillie Knock Knock, Color Crew, Sesame Street – but when Thomas pulled into his life it was love at first chuff, and we have yet to let the boiler grow cold. And so, since that time I have been deluged in Thomas lore, repeating episode collections like Curious Cargo and Thomas and the Runaway Kite over ad nauseum until both Nancy and I can do the dialogue in our sleep. And it’s an interesting and curious thing how the mind works. I find that, one, since I have had to watch it to make him happy, over the long haul I’ve started to appreciate and even like it despite having no initial interest in the cartoon. And, two, again because of the repetition, I’ve found myself curiously drawn to the nuances of the show, often speculating on the timeline of episodes, and of certain island practices that occur with either regularity or normalcy. I confess I have looked up “Thomas the Tank Engine” and related articles on Wikipedia to deepen my experience of the show. (blush) I have – in the comfort of my own home – asked questions like:

  1. Why does Sir Topham Hatt always have two cronies flanking him that never speak, but always seem to be on the lookout for trouble?
  2. What really is the geography of the Island of Sodor?
  3. Why do the train engineers have no authority over their engines? Are they even necessary? They never speak either? Are they enslaved?
  4. Why are diesels generally considered “bad” except for a couple of token “good ones?” What’s that about?
  5. Who really owns the train line? Variously Sir Topham Hatt, Sir Percival, and the Earl of Sodor have all claimed vague ownership in episodes? Do they have a monopoly on transportation that prevents competition?

You get the point.

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John Adams posing with his dear friend, Percy.

Well, actually, my larger point is that, like it or not and often in spite of our selves, repetition is a powerful learning tool that can create both interest and an awareness of the depth of the subject that is not perceived by cursory experience. I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, considering the lambasting and de-emphasis that repetition is taking in current educational theory. When I was in school we repeated patterns all the time: word lists, clock faces, multiplication tables, state capitals and the like. True, these were often boring exercises, but I can’t argue with the results. Drilling something actually works. I know it’s not fun, but I’m not sure how the children of tomorrow are supposed to deeply and critically think about a subject for which they have no previous knowledge committed to memory. Unless, of course, we assume that every conversation is connected to the Internet at all times, and we all know how reliable that is for providing only accurate information! Many young people I meet  – not all – can’t spell (“Spell check will do it for me.”), can’t do simple math (“We use calculators in class.”), don’t know the history or geography of their own country (“Well, if I need to know that stuff, I just look it up on my phone!”), and the list goes on.

I’m reminded of the story of naturalist John Muir, how he had the entire New Testament committed to memory, chapter and verse, and large portions of the Old Testament as well. It’s true his father forced him to do so, often with the threat of physical violence, but that aside, the stories of the way he could juxtapose the beauty of nature with his knowledge of the Bible are legendary; that wellspring of memorized verse gave him a unique, unrivaled, educated perspective that served him for his entire life and made him an intellectual force to be reckoned with. I don’t advocate the beatings, but I do see the merit to the memorization, and I worry that without even basic memorized knowledge, a person can’t really think deeply and critically about a subject, even if they think they can.  For myself, I maintain five poems that I have committed to memory and I’m very proud of that fact. And, yes, it was hard work, and was not fun to do. But the pride I feel at being able to rattle off a Frost or a Dickinson offsets the time spent in the rote learning. And that takes me back to my son playing “Turn it Up” and “King’s Daughters” over and over again in the car.

He sits in the car seat and watches the instrumentalists and sings along, and plays his “air guitar” and his “air violin” and he wants a “white ‘lectric guitar” for Christmas because “they do loud, right?” His interest, his repetition of the same, is driving me insane, but it’s stirring and cultivating something deep inside him. His three-year-old mind knows what’s best for its learning process. Now isn’t that a curious notion? I wonder at what age we lose that insight; puberty maybe? But for now he’s learning, he’s deepening his appreciation for the subject, be it Thomas or Haggis or what have you, and who knows where that will lead next. And my job as Daddy is to support and nurture his interest in all things, even if that means repetitively. (sigh) So my car drives on, and I’m slowly losing my mind to a Celtic beat, but at least I’ll go insane with a smile on my face.

The road goes ever on and on…and on…and on…

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Caught in the act of playing his “violin.” The Nabi sits on the sofa streaming Enter the Haggis videos!

Namaste,

Jason

P.S. If you don’t read my posts regularly, our new book, Mommy Made a Beastie (But I Love Her Anyway) is now available on Amazon! Here’s the link information: https://www.amazon.com/Mommy-Made-Beastie-Love-Anyway/dp/153932723X/ref=asap_bc?ie=UTF8 

The Best of Times

On the afternoon of Wednesday, November 23, around 1:30 PM, Nancy, John Adams, and I, the car finally packed, headed north to Upper Darby, PA. We were traveling to see Nancy’s parents at their home, dubbed Vacation Cottage in honor of John Adams’s (aka Bup’s) lavish stays while he’s with his grandparents. Nancy and I had cleaned up the house, as is customary when we’re going away for a few days, and had taken a bit longer than anticipated. Bup, excited to go and getting increasingly frustrated with the delay, had strolled out to the car, climbed in, strapped himself in, and proceeded to sit there and talk to himself about his plans for his week. Toward the end of his wait as we were packing the car he told Nancy to “go feed the cats and let’s go.” The kid has a pushy character and knows what he wants, I’ll say that.

The trip north was bumper to bumper and took twice as long as is customary, but we all remained in relatively good spirits. There was a lot of aggressive driving on the road, and I was reminded of a recent conversation on the podcast I religiously listen to, The Thomas Jefferson Hour, where the hosts discussed the question of “How mean are Americans getting?”My internal response to this is, “What do you mean getting?” but I digress. We made three stops total – drinks, gas, and potty  – and made it to Home North in about six plus hours. My in-laws, Sara and Wron (aka Nanny and Pop Pop), were waiting for us (especially their grandson) and were hungry to boot, so in no short time we were whisked off to Pat’s Pizza. Once there, we dined on pizza and wings, and Bup (now Bump, his PA name) helped himself to the bowl of free lollipops on the store counter through his charisma, and the generosity and general unawareness of the teenage girls manning the store. He’s a smoothie, what can I say. We left there with leftovers and an armful of lollipops; his vacation had officially begun.

The next day, Thanksgiving, we each got up early-ish, had our separate breakfasts, watched some of the several parades on TV, and headed up the PA Turnpike to my niece and nephew, Deana and Todd’s, house for conversation and the Thanksgiving meal itself. Staying about four hours, we ate, drank, socialized, and watched Bump entangle himself in the hijinks of a family of kittens recently adopted by my family. Together they raced through the house, in and out of a pup tent, and over the furniture. He had a grand time. He also got to bond with his cousin Viviana – not quite one-year-old – who viewed him with both fascination and suspicion. A highlight for me was seeing my mom. Now nearly 87, shaky and largely deaf, there wasn’t much to do but be with her, hug her, and repeatedly answer the same questions over and over like, “When are Nancy and I getting married?” and “How old is [my grandson] now?”  But to my great happiness she knew all of us – even my in-laws – and didn’t confuse me with my father as she had on previous occasions. She was having a good, lucid day, and that ‘good’ was good for all of us.

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Bump playing with his cousin, Viviana

A little after 7 PM, we said our goodbyes, bundled back into the car, and headed to the other side of Blue Marsh Lake to see the electric light display that is Koziar’s Christmas Village.  Bump is coming to love Christmas lights and all things Christmas (especially candy and presents) and, though he was initially tired and crabby from his kitten party, he soon perked up and got in the spirit of the season.  Christmas Village is nothing more nor less than what the name suggests: a farm complex strung with thousands of outdoor lights, decorated with cheesy wooden cutouts of cartoon characters and famous Christmas stories like the Grinch and A Christmas Carol. They have a huge indoor train display, an on-site Santa, hot chocolate, popcorn, and lots of rustic and nostalgic goodwill. I grew up on the place and I’m glad it’s fast becoming a part of John Adams’s holiday traditions too. We got Bump’s photo with Santa there, had our overly hot cocoa, and headed back to Upper Darby for the night. It was a near perfect Thanksgiving all around.

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Fascinated by the lights of Christmas Village.

Friday, or Black Friday, we slept in for the early part of the day, and then bundled Bump off to another outdoor display, this one called Creamy Acres Presents ‘Night of Lights Country Christmas Hayride.’ Whew! We arrived too early for the gates to open, so we diverted back to the Swedesboro Diner for delicious sandwiches and conversation with our waitress, another woman smitten with Bump’s charisma. When we arrived back at Creamy Acres, the place had filled up and we wound up standing in two chilly lines for over an hour to get on the hayride. Another outdoor display, this one featured maybe a hundred framed and free-standing light displays of Santas, angels, toy soldiers, cats, dinosaurs – you know, the usual Christmas stuff – set to coordinated music. The promise of a living nativity at the end was a bit of a letdown due to a dearth of live animals, but that aside, the display was terrific and held Bump’s attention both with and without the 3-D glasses that created candy canes around the lights. We disembarked, got more cocoa, hit the gift shop, saw a second Santa (better than the first), and called it another night. More magic and good times with my son.

By Saturday we were all in need of a slow down so we mostly stayed around Vacation Cottage. This was our promised home-cooked second Thanksgiving courtesy of Sara, Nanny, Sare, or Ma depending on your perspective, and it never disappoints. An amazing turkey, sausage stuffing, turkey stuffing, corn casserole, creamed spinach, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, biscuits, and wine! All over-the-top delicious. Nancy made a homemade pumpkin pie, pumpkin stuffing, and pumpkin dessert cups that contributed to the abundance of tastiness that was our meal. We were stuffed again, exhausted, and suffering from food comas en masse. We started decorating their house and tree, but only got so far, as we were just too overwhelmed by good eating. The evening concluded  – like so many lately – with Bump giving a concert on pots and pans to various Enter the Haggis songs, interspersed with bouts of alternating between watching what new silliness the Hallmark Channel’s Holiday Lineup would provide and the Charlie Brown Thanksgiving Special on repeat for Bump. We all, again, went to sleep stuffed and satisfied, but our trip was nearing its end.

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The feast laid out before him, Bump is ready to stuff himself.

On Sunday we got up, had breakfast, did some shopping at Shop Rite, and a bit more decorating around the house—John Adams led the charge to put ornaments on the tree, and if there are more decorations than usual on the lower branches, you know why. We ate leftovers, packed, and discussed what a wonderful few days it had been. Bump was staying with his grandparents another week while Nancy and I made the trip home to resume our regular lives of work and housework. He knew it and was only too happy to oblige, even asking toward the end if he could stay there longer. Lots of hugs and handshakes were exchanged and Nancy and I loved and lingered on our son longer than he would’ve liked until we were ready to head back to Virginia. Nancy had developed a bit of a cold during the visit so conversation was a bit intermittent and stilted as she and I journeyed home, but one thing we could both agree on was that it had been a jam-packed five days full of food, love, and adventure. Our focus stayed throughout the week very much on the moment. Counter to most media pundit’s predictions for this year’s holiday experiences, there was little drama and almost no talk of politics. It was a beautiful five-day bubble from the turmoil of the outside world and in every way it was truly the best of times.

I hope your Thanksgiving was equally magical, love-filled, and stress free.

If not, keep believing. It’ll happen.

Namaste,

Jason

Living in Bump’s America

Whatever my personal feelings or biases on the recent presidential election, barring an electoral upset, unforeseen indictment, or revolutionary uprising, Donald J. Trump is going to be the next President of the United States of America. If not the popular vote, the Electoral College is likely to seal the deal. Across our country there is a great deal of concern, unrest, vitriol, Monday Morning Quarterbacking, celebration, and what have you as to how this may have come about. I have my own theories on this matter which I will touch upon at a later time. What is occupying my thoughts at the present is the impact he will have on my three-year old son, John Adams, or as we call him Bup, or as his grandparents (for perhaps reasons of regional distinctiveness) call him Bump. I’m 45, and while any new president’s policies will impact me directly and immediately, they are certain to affect my son much longer and more viscerally.

As a child, I remember growing up under and idolizing Ronald Reagan. He was an actor turned president, so we had career kinship. He brought the hostages home from Iran. He stood up to Russia. He was the Great (charismatic) Communicator. He sang the “Song of America” very well. Children live their lives in emotional broad strokes, and whatever may be known or suspected now concerning his presidency and policies due to disclosure, time, distance, and perspective, it’s hard to shake the childhood notion that growing up under Reagan as a PA suburbanite was to live in a more hope-filled era.

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My Bump envisioning a better tomorrow.

In sharp contrast, I vividly recall the sense of betrayal I felt when Bill Clinton went on national television denied his illicit Oval Office affair with Monica Lewinsky, and then later infamously uttered those words that began with, “Indeed I did…” I remember being in college and feeling that his actions (again regardless of one’s political bias) dishonored the Office of the President. And I wondered whether, as a result of his actions, future generations of Americans would value the presidency less highly because he had lied to the American people. These were my examples from childhood and adolescence. If you prefer, you may fill in Nixon and Watergate, JFK and Marilyn; it makes no difference to me. Point being: how the president, any president, comports himself (for now) makes a lasting impression on the generation growing up under him. Those two men left lasting impressions on me that to date still filter, compare, and contrast with my adult perceptions and, as anyone alive knows, behavior learned in one’s youth is the hardest to change. So I’m left again wondering, how will Donald Trump’s presidency inform my son’s life and worldview?

Mother Teresa in an interview famously said that she would not march against the war in Vietnam, but if someone threw a march for peace she would be there. Likewise, rather than listing what I may be opposed to in a Trump presidency, I would rather concentrate on what I want for my son; what world I would like him to inherit. Here then is my list of “Fors” that I want for my son, my Bump. I can only hope that Trump can offer Bump something of this. Otherwise, Trump is a chump, and not worthy of my Bump.

  • I am for clean air, and clean water for all.
  • I am for putting an end to starvation and malnutrition.
  • I am for investing in America’s roads and bridges.
  • I am for Universal Healthcare and affordable medicine for all Americans.
  • I am for free undergraduate college tuition for all Americans or equivalent preferred trade school programs.
  • I am for stricter gun control laws, rigid background checks, appropriate waiting periods, and closing all the gun show and other loopholes.
  • Except in special circumstances, I am for the restoration of full voting rights to all citizens who have served their sentences.
  • I am for a minimum wage that also serves as a minimum living wage.
  • I am pro business when that business demonstrates that it is both pro consumer and pro employee, and not just pro profit and pro exploitation.
  • I am for regulation of Wall Street and accountability for all crimes committed there. No one, NO ONE is too big to fail or jail. Period.
  • I am for strengthening our borders, and for appropriate immigration reform that does not target, deport, or inter people based on race, creed, color, or orientation.
  • I am for America’s public lands and national parks.
  • I am for the Endangered Species Act.
  • I am for putting an end to income inequality in all forms.
  • I am for gender equality and for women to have final say on their own bodies.
  • I am for pro choice.
  • I am for overturning Citizens United. Corporations aren’t people. Get real.
  • I am for campaign finance reform.
  • I am for marriage equality. Everyone has the same right to be happy or miserable in love.
  • I am for distributing school taxes equally among state-run districts so that all children have a fighting chance for a quality education.
  • I am for textbooks that are based in science not scripture.
  • I am for a rigorously scrutinized merit-based hiring environment.
  • I am for our space program and sending humanity to Mars and beyond. We have become too complacent and lost our way. It’s time to reach for the stars again.
  • I am for all faiths and all religions that seek no harm to others to flourish and be honored and given equal protection under our secular Constitution.
  • I am for calling out and prosecuting media bias, censorship, and spin that does not fall under First Amendment protections. Give us the facts, not lies and manipulation.
  • I am for the exploration of clean technologies, and for the gradual phasing out of fuels that no longer serve the best interests of our environment.
  • I am for taking the threat of Global Warming seriously.
  • I am for judging people, “not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” Thanks MLK.
  • I am pro child, pro education, pro arts, pro sciences, pro biodiversity, pro peace and pro love.
  • And lastly, and most strenuously, I am pro my son.

     

    I doubt I’ll get to see much of this come to pass, but I can only hope my son will. And that’s my vision for Bump’s America, where all are welcome to live, love, and flourish.

    May it be so someday.

    Namaste,

    Jason

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    My Bup, My Bump, My Little Love

Before the World Went Mad

Bup (John Adams) and I arrived at the King George Elementary School polling station on Tuesday, November 8, at around 11:45 AM. The local media had been advising that ‘after people got to work and before they headed home’ were good times to vote, that the polls would be light. Like many projections of the day, the media could not have been more wrong. We walked toward the line that stretched out the door and into the courtyard and saw a young woman handing out orange pieces of paper. We approached her, inquiring if she was the sign-up line? No, that was inside, she replied cordially, but she was handing out sample ballots. Bup wanted an orange paper, so we took one, thanked her, and moved on. The orange sample ballot was paid for by the local Republican Party and informed its base how to vote by filling in sample choices as best case examples. Now at least we knew what the ballot looked like, so we could make decisions on how to or how not to vote. We sought out the tail of the line and queued up.

For the next almost ninety minutes I stood while Bup stood, sat, ran off, came back, laid on the ground, rolled on Best Friend Blankie, ran circles around the orange cones marking the line, got held, got put down, hurt his knees falling, chased after a pollster with cookies, and made all manner of spectacles of himself. We stood in three lines total – 1 to check in, 1 to vote, 1 to feed our ballot to the machine – and each new line brought Bup new hope that we were finished and crushed his spirit a little more when he realized that we weren’t. When we voted, he sat on my lap in the little makeshift booth and helped me guide the Sharpie to its desired ovals. When we submitted our ballot, I held him while he pushed the paper into the machine, then it spit back out to be turned over, then we pushed in the other side. At the end of the three lines was a beautiful disabled black boy nicknamed William Floyd handing out I Voted stickers with an eagle on it. He presented Bup with one proudly, which he accepted graciously, but Bup was spent and his face was drawn and frustrated with the restrictive and slow-moving process. Outside the site, a King George science class had set up a Krispy Kreme doughnut stand to fund their class trip. I bought Bup a doughnut and supported tasty science education. We snapped a few selfies and a few more shots with the help of passersby, and we headed home. I was tired and spent from managing a capricious toddler through a three-lined serious gathering of such importance, but we were all done, and I was more than proud of Bup that he had voted (more or less) in his very first Presidential Election.

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November 8, 2016 Election Day selfie

It needs to be said that for the two hour ordeal that was our voting experience, people were on their best behavior and then some. I had deliberately worn green and yellow so as to not inadvertently show support visibly for any one candidate. At 45, I remain of the mindset that my vote is my own and nobody has the right to know my intentions, except Nancy. Bup was dressed in a red shirt with a blue dinosaur to be both non-partisan and patriotic. I had expected to be assaulted out front with last minute appeals for my vote, and I was prepared to make my stock evasive answer that I was voting for Gracie Allen on the Surprise Party ticket, but nobody asked, thankfully. In line, few people were wearing red or blue, though many wore a sticker showing their political leanings. There were far more Trump supporters than Hillarys (this is King George after all), but both were present and pleasant. A family of Trump supporters right behind us – white, middle-aged father, mother, and grandmother – took an active interest in Bup’s antics and tried to occupy his time a bit with chatter and attention. They were dressed in Harley shirts and hunting attire, and were apparently well-known and of high standing in the community. More than a few people (black, white, and disabled) broke from their places in lines to pay their respects to our ‘line buddies.’ When all was over, they were also the family who saw me snapping selfies outside with Bup and offered to take our picture. Whatever their, my, or your leanings, upon a brief meeting, they made a pleasant impression.

Inside the polling station the elderly and infirmed were shunted to the front of each line so they didn’t have to wait as long as the rest of us. This made the line wait times longer, but no one complained; it was just the right thing to do. First time voters were announced and cheered, as were the elderly. An 87-year-old Navy veteran was met with enthusiastic applause after submitting his ballot. In so many ways, people were on their best behavior and had brought their best selves to the polling station, and it showed. Bup and I left the school tired but feeling satisfied and accomplished. We had done our part, voted our conscience, and played a minor but important role in the furtherance of American democracy.  The next day there would be chaos, tears, fears, riots, and all manner of recriminations. But that’s not this story. The world is full of vicissitudes, both ups and downs. Overall, our voting experience was a success, and one that my son is still talking about a week later. I hope it makes a lasting impression, and as he grows he chooses to take a more active role in steering the ship that is our fraying and fraught republic. But for now that’s where I choose to stop typing – to focus on the good. I wish for you all this day an opportunity in which you can do the same.

Namaste,

Jason

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I Voted, Daddy, and I’m so over it!

A Boy and His Cat(s)

I have written a lot about my son lately (My Son, The Train and My Son, The Birthday Train), but there are many other good things going on in my life, and in the world all around. I’m going to focus on some of those events next post, but for now I need to spend a few lines chewing on the special and unique relationship that my son, John Adams, has with his second best friend – his best friend after all is his blanket known as Best Friend Blankie or BFB for short – that black and white whirlwind of chaos with which he is growing up: his kid sister, Criseyde, or as we call her mostly, ‘Seyde. (Pronounced: “Say-duh”)

John Adams, who just turned three on September 11, has grown up surrounded by cats. The day he came home from the hospital he was sniffed, looked over, avoided at all costs, and given ‘the stink eye’ by any and all of the three cats that resided with us at his birth. Two of our cats, Duke and The Nix, chose to be wary of the little tyke upon arrival and, though each has mellowed some in their affections toward his rambunctiousness, maintain to this day a respectful distance when Bup (as we call John Adams) chooses to assert himself in their direction. The fact that he now assists in their nightly feeding has softened their attitudes considerably, but the guard is still up. Our third cat – the elderly, perennially irritated by everything tuxedo cat known as Kisaki – was far more inquisitive and hands on.

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Infant John Adams watched over by “Mama” ‘Saki on their changing table

‘Saki, you see, was Nancy’s cat from kitten to grave, and dearly possessive of her mama. In fact, it was ‘Saki that firstly and correctly predicted Nancy’s pregnancy by climbing onto Nancy’s belly (an unheard of move for Her Curmudgeonliness), and staring into Nancy’s heart with the look of ‘What the hell have you done to us now?’ upon her face. When Bup arrived, she would be the last one to concede that he had earned a place in the family. Far from avoiding Bup, she went out of her way to maintain her status as Nancy’s Number One Child, as numerous family photos attest. And as the year they spent together went on (for ‘Saki eventually succumbed to illness and old age), we watched the jealousy morph into a grudging respect, then love, then finally a kind of beautiful maternal bond before the end. It was obvious to us that ‘Saki, perhaps sensing her own mortality, chose to put her last best efforts of love into the custody of her baby brother, and right before the end they seemed inseparable. Somehow this bond of love has never been forgotten, for two years later there remains on John Adams’s bed a prized little black and white stuffed cat with beautiful eyes that, if you ask him who that is, he holds her up and beams, “That’s ‘Saki!” Children sense love when they don’t understand words, and these two earned a love that remains unexplainably in his memory, if transferred to a stuffed likeness. ‘Saki was gone shortly after Bup turned one, but she’s never been forgotten. How is that possible?

Enter Criseyde.

In so many ways, ‘Seyde came into our lives as a therapeutic rebound from the loss of ‘Saki. Nancy was adamant almost immediately upon ‘Saki’s death that we needed to find a new “tuxy” to succeed the beloved ‘Saki, so that she could pour the attentions of her heart into a newfound love, rather than wallow in the long night of remorse. We went up to King George Animal Control the day after ‘Saki’s death, and there was this loudmouthed, pushy, affectionate tuxedo kitten that seemed to call deliberately and adamantly to Nancy from the room next to where we were. She also immediately took to the infant John Adams’s squealish advances, and a second visit a few days later produced similar results. Criseyde entered our lives just a few short days later, as if she had chosen Nancy and John Adams for her own, and I was along for the ride to feed her voracious appetite. Little of that has changed in the ensuing two years.

'Ceyde upon arrival and 1 year later

‘Ceyde upon arrival and 1 year later

But what has grown considerably is the bond that John Adams and ‘Seyde share as siblings growing up together, both babies turned toddlers. She desires to be with him, sleep with him, and race about the house with him with abandon, till his own 3-year old boyish tendencies prove to be too wild. Then she heads for high ground to let him cool down. He won’t let her sleep with him (yet), but he must constantly know her whereabouts, beams when she comes near him, feeds her nightly, insists she come up on the bed and sit with him when he wakes up, and romps about the house chasing after her after announcing, “I’m gonna go play with my cat!” He loves her, if sometimes a bit too roughly, but her tolerance of his energetic affection is quite remarkable.

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‘Ceyde and Bup on the sofa with Best Friend Blankie between them

And, yes, like all siblings they have their share of spats, mostly as I said, because of Bup not understanding yet how to properly channel his affections in her direction. When he gets too rough with her, or scares her in any way, she consistently gives him at least two warning meows before proceeding to more corporal means of admonishment. In one now infamous family incident, Nancy and I from another room heard the meows, then Bup’s yelp of pain. When we arrived in the living room he was standing holding his arm while less than 2 feet away ‘Seyde sat on a small hassock glaring back at him. As we entered he pointed at her and bellowed, “No. You not gonna cut me! Ever again!” And Nancy and I, bemused and dismayed, could hear the sounds of Social Services knocking about our ears. He had gotten too rough, she had educated him, and ten minutes later they were the best of friends again on the sofa. Such is the almost daily dynamic in our household.

As a boy, I grew up surrounded by dogs, big and little. I love that about my upbringing and want to add dogs into our home as soon as we have a fenced in yard and a home that doesn’t restrict pets. I always think of dogs as ‘man’s best friend’ as the saying goes, but in the instance of my son, circumstances and serendipity have proven otherwise. In his case – Best Friend Blankie excepted, of course – his best friends have proven to be two black and white beauties. One that grew to love and nurture him as a baby before she crossed over, and one to grow up with and educate him in the ways of gentleness, play, and affection. What little boy could ask for more?

Namaste,

Jason

Kisaki, the Empress

Kisaki, the Empress. Remember me.