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.

Bup in Shades

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

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

My Son, the Birthday Train

It’s a unique and wonderful experience raising a train: The constant coupling up and getting dragged around the house by your shirt (because you have to be the caboose); the “Woo wooing” that goes on till way past midnight from the bedroom, to say nothing of the ‘saying goodnight to every train in the bed/shed routine’ of which there are easily over forty (FORTY!); the ‘train farts’ that sound like a loud “chush,” need to be announced proudly, and always come with a giggle. It’s unique, wonderful, noisy, and exhausting. These days my cow-catcher is always sagging a bit if you know what I mean. Don’t know? Don’t worry. He’ll tell you. It’s a train thing.

On Sunday, September 11, my son John Adams, the train, turned three years old. There were vestiges of speeches, red, white, and blue bunting, fireworks, and “Never forget” signs everywhere. He’s quite sure these were reminders about his birthday. After all, Thomas is blue and James is red, and it all must connect back to him somehow. His day started bright and early at the church where Nancy and I work. My choir was singing, and his grandparents decided to attend so we could be together. In the midpoint of the service is a congregational offering called Joys and Concerns, where parishioners can get up and share their…well, you get the idea. Nanny decided to bring John Adams up to announce his birthday into the microphone. Instead, he squawked loudly into it, got an enthusiastic reaction from the crowd, beamed like an idiot, and smacked the mike on its boom stand till it spun in a circle. He was then led away in amusement and mock horror by Nanny. He had his center stage spotlight, his public birthday moment of glory, and he relished it like a fiend.

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A boy and his train carpet. Photo Credit: Mary Anne Furey

His afternoon visit to the indoor play area at the Spotsylvania Towne Center Mall was surprisingly festive and uneventful, and wiped him out for the late afternoon/early evening, but by 6 PM the ‘little engine that could and will’ was raring for presents and playtime at home with his extended family. A full-size train table from sitter Miss Susan, a train carpet from his “Uncle” Mary Anne, a 40-piece Thomas puzzle, more train minis (some of which glowed), plus other puzzles, matching games, Play-doh play sets, and train spirals were a huge hit with the candied-up toddler-train. And then the cake and cupcakes piled in courtesy of Nanny, and decorated by both Nanny and John Adams himself, to look just like (mostly) Thomas. In his words, “It smells delicious.”    We blew out our candles several times, sang Happy ‘Bursday’ more than once, ate messily, and ran around uncontrollably as only a sugared up three-year old can.

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Thomas Cake and Cupcakes, as decorated by Nanny and “The Bup.” Photo Credit: Mary Anne Furey

When the party was over and bed was upon him, John Adams placed more than a dozen trains into his Clifford backpack, carried it into his room, and dumped his new and old friends onto his bed to settle into an hour’s worth of regaling them with adventures from his big day. Nancy and I, in bed and amused, listened quietly as he spoke to each of his trains – Old Ninety, 475, 89, “Sugar Day”, and many others. There was “woo wooing” and coupling up, dumping trains out of the Charlie Brown lunchbox and replacing others back in the same. About forty-five minutes after crawling into bed the sugar train started to crash, the shed-bed started to get quiet for the night, and each little steamie settled itself down to dream of new adventures, candy, bacon, Play-doh, puzzles, and what it’s like to be a big diesel versus a little steamie.

Such is the life of my three-year old who fancies himself a train.

Happy Birthday, my boy, my train, my John Adams.

Here’s to many, many more days hitting the tracks and riding the rails.

Love,

Daddy

P.S. In case you missed it, my first ever Guest Blog Post, “The Healing Power of Haiku,” was published on September 12 on www.businessinrhyme.com. I’m deeply grateful to Maja Todorovic for this wonderful new opportunity. Please check it out, and check out all the other wonderful content and guest posts on her site.

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Third Birthday Selfie. Photo Credit: Nancy Michael

My Son, the Train

My son is a train. I know how it happened. I know when it happened. I know who did it to him. But none of that changes the fact that my son is a train. More than a year ago, his grandparents – Nancy’s parents – took our sweet, blond-haired, blue-eyed baby human boy to the Strasberg Railroad in Lancaster County, PA. They left him ride in a car coupled up to an old black steam engine called Old Ninety. They took him in the Thomas the Train Gift Shop and got him a present. Then they took him home to their place, and thought it had been a nice day. A cute, once in a lifetime (or every few years) experience for a small boy. They thought nothing more of it. They couldn’t have been more wrong.

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John Adams and Pop Pop posing with beloved Old 90 at Strasberg Railroad

It’s been going on two years now, and my son is a train. He “woo woos” and “chugga chuggas” around the house. He couples up with his parents and grandparents with a resounding “da-doom!” He watches (for hours) videos of trains – steamies and diesels – on the Nabi, or kids iPad, that his grandparents got for him whenever we go in the car. We have at least six motorized Thomas and Friends engines and their respective coal cars that zip under our sofa in fear and despair. He has at least thirty Steam Team “minis” that he plays with religiously and knows all, ALL, their names! Not a day goes by that Thomas isn’t on our TV, learning how to be “really useful” and getting smacked around by railroad owner-manager and iron-fisted mob boss Sir Topham Hat. Occasionally, it’s Chuggington or Dino-Trains, but most days, hours, minutes. It’s THOMAS!!! Making tracks to new destinations.

Mr. Perkins, the live-action engine driver that serves as a comic relief pitcher between Thomas episodes, feels like an old family friend that comes over for a visit, but never leaves. He’s constantly on the phone with Sir Topham Hatt, (and always shocked by this) sweeps up the Engine Driver’s Common Room, washes dishes, can’t get a vacation, works on his days off (Thanks, Boss Hatt) and makes cakes that look like Thomas the Train. John Adams’s Nanny has already bought the cake pan and, rest assured, next week when our son-turned-train turns three on Sept. 11, he will do so with a Thomas shaped cake as well as Thomas cupcakes. John Adams decided this mind you, and Nanny willingly complied.

We sleep in Thomas jammies, we wear Thomas shirts, we pee in Thomas pull-ups, we eat from Thomas plates. I am reminded of my own stint with Under-roos, but I was more culturally diverse, you see. I ranged from Spider-Man to Yoda  proudly and without irony. I could wear a Superman sleep shirt with Batman underwear and not feel conflicted. Not so my son. And as for Strasberg, well, he’s there again today for his umpteenth time. We have all lost count. He has been to “Day Out with Thomas” there three times! He visits Old Ninety like an old friend. He watches eagerly as the trains couple up. He names the parts – boiler, cow catcher, funnel – with ease. His grandparents lament that they didn’t purchase a season pass. The people that work at Strasberg recognize him and call him by name, like Norm from Cheers. That’s how frequently he is there. He fancies himself to be Sir Topham Hat, and at two years old no one can tell him different. He is the boss of the place.

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Astride Thomas at Strasberg Railroad

All kidding aside, my son, not quite three, has a tremendous imagination. He talks in first person both to and as his trains. He has voices for each one of them, and holds real if simple conversations. We hear him in his bed rallying the team before slumber, and sometimes stifle the heartiest of laughs while eavesdropping. Nancy and I have voices that we must do when we are his trains – Old 90 is a wise Southern-drawled streamie from Strasburg, Charlie of Thomas fame must laugh before each sentence, Gordon sounds a bit like pompous Stan Smith from American Dad – and the list goes on. As the child of actor parents he has picked up our gift of voices and when he does his trains they often have distinct dialects of their own from out of his head. The whole thing is as wonderful as it is exhausting. Sit on a hard wood floor for hours at a time, trying to second guess the hyper-imaginative needs of a two-year old and you’ll see what I mean.

Next Sunday my little steamie will turn three. I couldn’t be prouder of him. He is handsome and headstrong; intelligent and healthy. He has gifted me with his love for almost three years, and with that gift have come the additional presents of play and imagination.  I didn’t play much in the years prior to his arrival. And I pretty much saved my imagination for onstage, where I liked to be paid for its usage. My little man has changed all that, at least for the time being. And I’ve laughed and loved a lot more as a result.

Yes, my son is a train. Nancy gave birth to a 7 pound steamie that day, complete with coal car, and pink tiny, shiny caboose.  Maybe someday, like Pinocchio, he’ll have aspirations of turning into a Real Boy. But I don’t see that day coming anytime soon. So if you happen to see my son next week for his birthday, make sure to give him a hearty Happy Birthday Woo Woo from you. And as for me, I’ll probably be hovering somewhere near the edge of the tracks trying to make myself “Really Useful.”

Oh, the indignity!!!

Jason

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John Adams with his idol, Sir Topham Hat, at Day Out with Thomas at Strasberg Railroad.

Happy 100th Birthday National Park Service!

Tomorrow, August 25, 2016, is the one hundredth birthday of the U.S. National Park Service. Founded on August 25, 1916, the United States has had national parks since 1872. But the NPS as we know it, as an agency within the Department of the Interior, only came fully into being and modern legitimacy in 1916. The history of the NPS is beautifully, if slowly, recounted in Ken Burns’s six-part 2009 sweeping documentary The National Parks: America’s Best Idea. It is a fascinating look at the history of the idea and evolution of national parks, starting with Yellowstone, Yosemite, John Muir, Gifford Pinchot, Theodore Roosevelt, and other less familiar names, and ending with present-day concerns and speculations as to the future of the NPS. It is one of my favorite long-form documentaries and I highly recommend it.

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A view of Bar Harbor from within Acadia NP, 2009

National Parks have held an important place in my life and well-being for as long as I can remember. The NPS is vast and spans military battlefields, seashores, parkways, homes, and, of course, areas of natural beauty that are earmarked (more or less) to be left in their original state. Over the course of my life and travels I’ve visited the battlefields of Gettysburg and Valley Forge, the homes of Edgar Allan Poe and FDR, the National Mall, Lake Mead, and the Statue of Liberty, to name a few. I’ve spent more than a little time in the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge and Assateague Island National Seashore, birding, swimming, watching wild ponies, and testing salinity, temperature, and cyclic changes to the salt marsh ecosystem. Living in King George, VA, my wife and I have had the privilege of being within easy striking distance of four major battlefields of the Civil War, to say nothing of the countless historic homes of Presidents of the US, their families, and Signers of the Declaration of Independence, many of which are managed by the NPS.

As I said, national parks have played a very important role in my life, both for education and entertainment. But it wasn’t until this anniversary came around that I realized that, while I’ve visited many sites managed by the National Park Service, I’ve really only visited two of the fifty-nine “crown jewel” National Parks, set exclusively aside for their beauty: Acadia and Shenandoah. Acadia, in and about Bar Harbor, Maine, I’ve visited twice: once alone and once with Nancy several years ago. Oh, that blueberry ice cream! Shenandoah I’ve visited more frequently; dined, slept, and most importantly, introduced my son John Adams to the wonders of nature there. Together we’ve seen bears, hiked down to Dark Hollows Falls, been on a piece of the Appalachian Trail, and witnessed all manner of natural wonders. Oh, that black raspberry ice cream! I look forward to many more visits to Shenandoah in the coming years, and I can’t wait to see how he takes to the Great Outdoors as he grows and matures, or what outside activities strike his fancy. Nancy and I envision family camping trips!

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Nancy and John Adams posing on the bridge by Dark Hollow Falls, Shenandoah NP, 2016

But that said about Shenandoah, I now realize how many other national parks there are to explore, and I can’t wait to see some new ones. Great Smoky Mountains NP, for instance, spans both North Carolina and Tennessee and is the most visited national park of them all. We’ve had friends visit there, but maybe someday soon we can see the park for ourselves. Mammoth Cave NP in Kentucky is reportedly the largest cavern system in the world. That might scare the little guy right now, but someday…someday. There’s Pinnacles NP, the most recent park added to the system by President Obama in 2013 in California. Of course the biggies – Mount Rainier, the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, and Crater Lake – are bucket list favorites. Or how about Congaree NP, fairly close to us in South Carolina, and a park I’d never even heard of?

There are so many wonderful places to visit throughout the United States, and now I have a new list of misadventures to plan with my family. And of course, there are always those politicians who see no value in preserving such places of beauty; that would rather make a buck, grease a palm, or line a pocket, than preserve for posterity. Ken Burns’s epic is replete with such types, and they’re still with us today. I can only hope that those men and women never achieve high office, or get put in a position to make policy, so that my son can travel off road and see America’s pristine beauty without it being cannibalized for resources and needless profit. I’m watching you D.C. But for now, the National Park Service is alive and thriving, if underfunded, and I have big dreams of sharing as many of them with my family as anyone can pack into a lifetime.

For all the memories past and all the new one’s yet to come I say “Thank You National Park Service” and, on behalf of my family,

“Happy 100th Birthday!!!”

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My little boy says it all!!!

Here’s to many, many more.

Peace,

Jason

What’s your favorite National Park or National Park memory? Let me know in the comments below.

 

 

Okay, I’ll Hold Your Dinosaur

Last Saturday afternoon, after my third book signing through the Central Rappahannock Library System, I decided to treat myself and go to see Independence Day: Resurgence. You might say that’s not much of a treat, but in truth the movie wasn’t as bad as critics have made it out to be, and it was nice to revisit some fond acquaintances after a twenty-year gap. Ah, the power of franchise. Anyway, when the movie got out around 8 PM, I stepped into the men’s room for a moment of relief, and on my way out heard the following reply uttered by a slightly frazzled father tailing his young son as they were entering the Gents:

“Okay, I’ll hold your dinosaur.”

I caught the hand-off (without stopping) between the 7 to 9-year-old and his dad and headed out of the movie theater. I made the 1,000 or so foot walk to my car, opened the car door, sat down, turned on the AC, and started weeping.

For the last several weeks, I’ve seen relatively little of my son, John Adams. It was agreed that after Nancy accepted her NEH Fellowship to go to Kalamazoo, MI for a month to study Beowulf and Viking Sagas, that her parents and I would split the time into four one week stays, alternating who was caring for the little guy, so that the pressures of managing a feisty two-year old wouldn’t become overwhelming. I was to have weeks 2 and 4, my in-laws 1 and 3. This would also allow me to get some writing and composition work done in their absence. It was the ideal plan, and now nearing the end of it I know was the right thing to do for us all.

In practice, however, the split didn’t work out as evenly as expected, and each time he went north to Philly he didn’t actually come home over the weekend, but rather – due to best available travel arrangements – on the Tuesday afterward. This meant that instead of me spending a week with him, we only spent four days together before he headed north again. And during Week 2, with our shortened period together, I pushed so hard to get in as many good times for he and I as possible that I made myself sick, and spent the following week alone, at home, and in bed with a cold.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m not complaining about the way things worked out. His grandparents love him dearly and are hungry for as much time with him as possible, and I, in turn, appreciated the extra time to write, compose, and recover from illness, but I guess, sitting in my car at that moment, after hearing those words from that exhausted dad, I realized that in a month I was only spending eight days around my little man, only getting eight days of playtime, and dirty diapers, and pounces, and chicken legs, and naps, and “no, don’t do that’s,” and it just made me sad. We all have to make sacrifices sometimes for our careers, and by far, Nancy’s is the greatest sacrifice of all – not seeing her family for a month – but the moment also made me hyper-aware that special moments with our families are fleeting and, once gone, can never be recovered. It’s easy to forget that when you’re on a schedule and your son blows out his diaper with the car running and the clock ticking.

I’m writing this on the morning of Weds. July 12, and John Adams is still sound asleep in bed. I picked him up last evening at Maryland House on I-95 from his loving grandparents. By the time we got home last night, he was tired and wired. He needed to play drums, watch Thomas the Train, eat fruit snacks, sit on “Mama’s bed,” pounce on Daddy, FaceTime Nancy, and then it was off to sleep at midnight no less. Nancy comes home Saturday evening, and today is Day Six of the total of eight days that John Adams and I will spend together this month before our entire family is reunited at last. I want it to be special, to be memorable, to be full of love between father and son. At the very least, I know that if he asks (and I hope he will) there’s at least one answer that I can give with all the love in my heart:

“Okay, I’ll hold your dinosaur.”

Submitted with Love,

Jason

Bup and Daddy at Lake Anna

John Adams and I at Lake Anna during Week Two

Don’t Poop in a Group – A Comic Poem

Here’s some silliness to get you past the holiday weekend. I may have been inspired to write this by the antics of my own son, John Adams, but I’m not telling (the pictures speak for themselves). There may be another children’s book in this one.

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Nancy and John Adams

By the way, I had some great news last week. A guest blog I wrote called, “The Healing Power of Haiku,” will run on the site Business in Rhyme on September 12. I’m very excited about the opportunity. You can find that site with lots of great posts, poetry, and other guest spots at https://businessinrhyme.com/.

Until that posts runs I give you:

Don’t Poop in a Group!
(A Frazzled Dad’s Guide to Life)

By Jason J. Michael

My Dearest Child,

“Don’t poop in a group,”
My mommy said.
It’s simply not done,
Not if you’re well bred.
Go out of the room,
Crawl under your bed,
But not in a group.
Poop solo instead.

Don’t pee on your friends.
It’s simply not nice.
They might let you once,
They won’t let you twice.
In potties, in diapers, on trees should suffice,
But not on your friends,
Whatever their price.

That stuff in your nose
You’re inclined to pick,
Please don’t use your finger,
It makes Mommy sick.
Let’s get you a tissue
And blow it out quick.
Just never your finger
Or, worse yet, that stick!!!

Now if you feel gassy,
And tooting’s a must,
Lord knows you can’t hold it
For fear you might bust.
But know it’s not classy
To trumpet your gust
In closed, confined spaces with friends.
It’s unjust!

About all that belching –
Oh, please make it stop.
Whenever you’ve eaten,
Or drank too much pop,
You sound like a backfiring car in the shop,
Or a gleeful, pink piggy
Whose swimming in slop.

And finally those words
That you speak in a gush,
Whose meanings are fuzzy,
But make grandma blush.
You learned them from grandpa,
But grandpa’s a lush.
There’s one more word for you.
It’s meaning?
No rush.

So that’s my great, big list
Of rules, little chump,
To get you past diapers
And over life’s hump:
Don’t poop, pee, pick
Toot, burp, or swear;
That’s the clump.

Now grab me that beer.
Let’s go yell at the ump!

Love,

Daddy

Don't mind me. I'll just be hiding here in the kitchen...well, you know.

Don’t mind me. I’ll just be hiding here in the kitchen doing…well, you know.

Adventures in Fatherhood

Being the father of an active 2-year old at the age of 45 has its challenges. For one thing, there are simply times when I can’t keep up with him as well as I want to or should, and the results are usually unexpected and hilarious. This past weekend, John Adams and I, at the request of his grandparents – my in-laws – went north to Upper Darby, PA to cat sit their elderly boy, Patch, while they were living the high life in Walt Disney World. I decided to connect with some family and friends for lunch and dinner, because we don’t see our “Philly Family” as much as we’d like, and it would also pass the time more smoothly with an active toddler, keeping me sane.

We met up with John Adams’s uncle, Father John, for lunch on Thursday, and with our friends Chuck, Diane, Louise, and Joe for dinner at Applebees later that night. Both visits were wonderful. I can’t even begin to say how much I miss all those faces. John Adams was passably behaved for a rammy 2-year old in restaurants all day, but by Friday all he wanted to do was run and play. Go figure, right?

On Friday we met up with my mother – 86 with early onset dementia – basically sitting at Wendy’s and having the same conversation every five minutes. John Adams was good with grandma. I think he sensed the illness and was suitably reverent. But then for supper I took him to visit his Uncle Todd’s and Aunt Deana’s, and there was this pool, and a lot of land, and it was Toddler Time!

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John Adams at play

From the moment we arrived (and for the subsequent three hours) he never stopped moving. First, it was the pool: anything we could throw in it – toys, noodles, balls – was fair game. Off came the shoes, off came the socks, the shirt, and finally the pants. Soon my little boy was racing ecstatically in his partially pool-soaked wet diaper around and around their in-ground pool. I hadn’t brought his suit assuming it was pre-Memorial Day and it would be too cold for him. I couldn’t have been more wrong. He splashed, he kicked, he giggled, he ran, he stubbed his toes, he fell, he got up, he cursed the ground for daring to trip him; he did it all over again. He was the proverbial pig in poop.

About an hour and a half into our playfest he spied a squirrel on the lawn – Todd and Deana have a large, rural, secluded property with lots of room for running – and took off after it. He is part dog I’m fairly certain. Clad in only a partially clinging wet diaper he treed the beast while I somewhat helplessly tried to keep up. When the squirrel proved a non-event he whirled around to notice a basketball court with about ten basketballs lying in the bushes around the court. He got to work acquiring each one and throwing it on the court for his bouncing pleasure. About this time, I decided it was time to bring Nancy into the hi-jinks, so I started to FaceTime her on my phone so she could witness her crazy son rummaging in the bushes in a desperately clinging diaper. As the gods would have it, she connected and her face appeared on screen just as John Adams’s diaper gave up the ghost and dropped off him to reveal a gleaming white set of heiny cheeks bent over in the scrub. Nancy exclaimed somewhat shocked and amused, “John Adams! What are you doing?” He whirled around, buck naked, basketball in hand, delighted to hear and see his mother on screen.

“Mommy! I’m just playing with my ball-ees!”

This moment has been brought to you by Fatherhood: Doing the best we can for millions of years.

Namaste,

Jason

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It’s been a long day, Daddy!

Give Me 30 Seconds, I’ll Give You the World

It’s Halloween Night and my son, John Adams, is off trick-or-treating for the first time in a little train engineer’s outfit, and I can’t be with him and his mommy because I have a Halloween performance of Sister Act. In all honesty, my heart is with them, not the show, and I’m feeling sorry for myself. On the way to the theatre I decided to listen to an old audio recording on my iPod (yes, my iPod!) of the motivational speaker, Earl Nightingale, called The Essence of Success. I’ve been listening to it off and on for the last few days on the way to work in Richmond, so it’s no big decision to put it on; I’m really just trying to finish it and cut through the sullen silence.

Half way to the theatre, I’m half listening to the recording and half imagining what my son is doing in my absence, and Earl says more or less the following: If today was the last day of your life, and you only had 30 seconds to share your life’s wisdom with your child, what would you say? It stopped me cold. I paused the recording, kept driving, and got immediately lost deep in thought. What would I tell Bup (we call him Buppy) if I knew it was my last chance to share anything with him? I suppose Halloween is the time for morbidly fun thoughts, but it really did get me thinking. What do I really want him to know? By the time I got to the theatre I had a pretty good idea of what I wanted to say, so during the show – I have a tremendous amount of time backstage as “the Monsignor” – I typed out the following list. I know John Adams is too young to read this list just yet, but hopefully someday he will discover it and choose to live by its wisdom. So here it is, in all its haste, written to my little love; ten things I would want my son to know if this was my last day. And God willing, it isn’t my last day, and I’ll be able to model many of them by example.

  1. Give everyone the gift of your love; give those that earn it the gift of your trust; and give yourself the gift of your talents, industry, intellect, and compassion.
  1. Contrary to what many people will tell you, you do have a responsibility both to yourself and to the world to live your best life. You may come back many times, but you are only this you once. Make it count for something.
  1. On that subject, everyone you meet will have an opinion on what you should be doing with your life. Listen to the people you trust, but ultimately it’s your life. Do with it what you want, and if they don’t like it, screw ‘em.
  1. Again on that subject, find someone you admire and model your life on them.
  1. Sadly, most endeavors you attempt will not work out; that’s life. But if you are passionate, persistent, and use strategic planning, many of your endeavors will bear some fruit.
  1. Know that your parents love you unconditionally no matter what you do, and have tried to do their best by you. When they have made mistakes, they’ve been honest ones. When they’ve made decisions you didn’t like, it’s most likely they were trying to protect you.
  1. As of your second birthday, you have been babysat by people who were white, black, Asian, straight, gay, Unitarian, Catholic, Protestant, Mormon, Muslim, and atheist, and all of them have offered you unconditional love. The world will attempt to prejudice you. Whether the influence comes from your parents, grandparents, friends, extended family, or the unfortunate scenarios the world throws at us, please try to fight against this and remember that all people deserve to be judged on their own strengths and weaknesses. Bigotry is for lazy people who are too afraid to see each situation and person as unique. It’s beneath you.
  1. Everyone you meet will have an opinion on where you go after you die. Generally speaking, the open-minded people that tell you they have a good idea where we go but aren’t sure are the one’s closer to the truth. Those you meet who know for sure are ones to be wary of. Love is God, and God is Love. Everything else is set dressing.
  1. People will let you down sometimes. You will let you down sometimes. Learn forgiveness, especially of yourself. Your daddy is not good at this part, so set him a better example. Harboring grudges and resentments just forces you to live in an unhappy past. The past is in the past; leave it there. Have one eye “in the now” and the other on the future.
  1. Lastly, Gandhi said, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” Live by this and you’ll be fine.

Respectfully submitted with all the love in my heart.

Happy Halloween my Brave Little Man,

Daddy, All Hallows Eve, 2015

P.S. Love whoever you want. I almost forgot that. But make sure they have a good heart and a healthy appetite. And like bacon.

John Adams and Daddy before trick-or-treating

John Adams and Daddy before trick-or-treating