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

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 

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.

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

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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.

Slugging It Out At Susquehanna

“A person’s a person, no matter how small. ” – Dr. Seuss

            At some point of the fall of 1990, in the moonlight at Susquehanna University, outside the front steps of Degenstein Dining Hall, I was bent down over the sidewalk watching a newfound friend make his way across the concrete. I had been watching him for more than fifteen minutes as he slowly, laboriously, bravely made his way from one patch of manicured lawn to the other divided by the exposed, cold, gray expanse of man-made construction, and was utterly fascinated by his journey. As he proceeded on his little odyssey of exploration he left a well-defined, glisteningly beautiful breadcrumb trail…of slime. Yes, I am talking about a slug that measured all of four inches in length, who happened to cross a three-foot stretch of sidewalk on a cool fall night. And, yes, it was magical.

The moonlight caught the little trail of slime and lit it up not unlike the lunar runic alphabet hidden in Thorin’s map that can only be viewed on Durin’s Day by the same light…you get the idea. Point is, the slime trail glowed and glistened on the sidewalk behind this little fellow. It was his artistic legacy, and it was magical, personal, and ephemeral. My “newish” girlfriend, L, stood hunched over me as I sat transfixed watching this little miracle of creation break new ground for all slug kind. She was skeptical and a wee bit squeamish, but also gracious as she could see how captivated I was.  Truth be told, I think she thought  I was a little bit crazy laying down on the ground to watch a slug crawl across a sidewalk when there were other things we could be doing. But we hadn’t been dating that long, she was inclined to give me the benefit of the doubt, and I was in Theatre. And “theatre people” just do crazy things, right?

After watching this little miracle for about ten minutes, my freshman year roommate of a few weeks staggered up to us to see what all the fuss was. I don’t even remember his name. He had been assigned to be my roommate when we arrived at Susquehanna, but had moved out after only a few days, deciding instead to seek lodging with one of the fraternities on campus that he was later planning to pledge. Now in our mutual sophomore year, he was a recent brother of his fraternity of choice, more than a little cocky from his new association, and buzzed more often than sober. Such was social frat life at SU on the weekends (and some weekdays) in the 1990s. Ah, well.

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After a few moments of asking us what we were doing, scoffing at the answers, and squinting at the sidewalk through his booze haze, my former roommate did the unthinkable: he stepped forward and with one harsh motion of one foot deliberately and maliciously smashed the little trailblazer into the sidewalk, spreading his exposed guts everywhere and branding the sidewalk with the luminous blotch of a murder scene that I’ve never been fully able to get out of my head. My girlfriend L yelped abruptly, I lay on the grass next to the sidewalk in stunned silence and, after muttering something about the shit guts on his shoe, my ex-roommate started…to laugh. Whether he laughed due to the power he felt from taking a life that did him no harm, or whether it was because I looked about to cry I’ll never know. I suspect it was both. He looked to her and me for some measure of appreciation or admiration for his kill and finding none gutturally resorted to the classic American teenage rebuke: “You’re weird,” and unfulfilled and unrepentant stumbled off into the darkness. In the remainder of my time at Susquehanna University he and I never spoke again.

Lying on the grass next to the remains of my little friend I was a stir of emotions: shock, sadness, and rage. I wanted my ex-roommate to pay for what he had done. I wanted someone to smash him for no reason the way he had smashed my friend. I wanted to mourn my friend and give him a proper burial, but there was nothing left of him but luminous sludge. I wanted him alive again creating glow-in-the dark art on the sidewalks by moonlight on a fine fall night, but that was not meant to be. Instead, I did the only thing that I could do at the moment: I walked L home to her dorm sullenly and silently, and then went home myself, quietly mourning my friend and lamenting the random cruelty of the world.

It’s been 26 years since my little friend’s death. I feel certain that the event made no lasting impression on my former roommate; he may not even have remembered doing it the next day. But I remember the event vividly and it did change me for the better. Not to say that my parents didn’t instill a love of animals in me, for they most certainly did, but that random, cruel death for sport triggered an instinct in me that has never abated. I made a vow that night to never stand by again and watch as one of Creation’s “Lesser” Creatures is tortured or snuffed out for pleasure and, to the best of my ability I have kept that vow for twenty-six years. And I am a better person for it.

Today, I value all life and only kill bugs, vermin, or what have you when absolutely necessary, and only when I can’t safely remove them from my house or they threaten the safety of my wife or son. Nancy can attest to this of course as I have names for most of the Daddy Long Legs that inhabit our home and have on more than a few occasions rescued mice, lizards and spiders from the clutches of our disappointed and puzzled cats. I am not a zealot, I do eat meat, and I do freely acknowledge that there are times when the killing of bugs, pests, and vermin is a necessity in the maintenance of a healthy and clean home or society. But killing for pleasure, killing for sport rather than for food, is out for me, and in many ways it all stems back to a harmless, little, slimy, artist that made the wrong choice to paint a sidewalk by moonlight and paid the price of his art with his life at the hands of a sadistic sophomore that had been taught that killing is cool or “makes you a man.” I learned the lesson he gave his life for and plan on instilling in my son John Adams the same “All life is precious” point of view. He is in a phase right now where stepping on ants is fun, so there’s no time like the present to begin the lesson. And maybe, just maybe, by writing this blog, and sharing my values with you and my boy, I can bring some meaning to my little friend’s senseless death twenty-six years ago. He, like all of us, was created with purpose. Perhaps his purpose was to die that night so that others would learn a better way to live, a way of kindness, and tolerance, and respect for all life.

Well, it’s a start.

Namaste,

Jason

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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!

The Whole Man Theory

From time to time, especially around the Fourth of July, the subject of my son, John Adams’s, name comes up. People typically admiringly ask one of the following questions: “Why did you name him John Adams?” “Do you like the President?” “Are we related to the Adams Family in some way?” “Do we know the musical 1776?” The questions are pretty much the same all the time. Only rarely do I get someone who openly challenges our decision. “Why would you name him after John Adams?” “He was the second president, not the first (so first loser, I suppose).” “He was insecure and arrogant.” “He was a Federalist.” “He was the first one-term president because he was so unpopular.” Or most damning of all, “He signed the Alien and Sedition Acts allowing the Federalists to lock up score of political opponents!” “Guilty as charged,” is my usual reply. You cannot alter history (though many in this country try). But where most people tend to judge the lives of others like John Adams solely upon one or two events – he was President of the United States, his letters with wife Abigail and Thomas Jefferson, the dreaded Alien and Sedition Acts – the John Adams I’ve come to know and admire is more the product of knowing a little more about many of the aspects of his life, and trying to tease out his overall net worth as a person post-mortem. This approach to assessing the entire life of a person is appropriately called The Whole Man Theory.

I had never heard of The Whole Man Theory until I started listening to The Thomas Jefferson Hour several years ago. As a matter of fact as I was researching for this article I found a related article written by Clay S. Jenkinson of The Thomas Jefferson Hour fame for The Bismarck Tribune. Here is the link to that article if you’d like his specific take on the subject:

http://bismarcktribune.com/news/columnists/clay-jenkinson/life-shouldn-t-be-judged-by-one-foible/article_36103974-ce2d-519f-b949-f09343ec3f92.html

As I understand it, The Whole Man Theory asks us to consider all of a person’s positive attributes and contributions to civilization, and then do the same for their negatives, weigh the two against each other, and finally assess their life based on the balance, or imbalance of the two. That’s it. No secret formula. No drawn out plan. Just look at the big, entire picture before you judge. It should be easy. But our own biases of right and wrong frequently skew our tallies and cloud our judgement. And then there’s the fact that often overall good people have seriously bad baggage. Consider the following:

Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence, but he owned slaves. George Washington defeated the British to secure us our country, but he owned slaves. FDR all but won World War II and got America through the Great Depression, but he imprisoned all the Asian-Americans in concentration camps. Though I’m citing extreme cases here, I firmly believe that no one who has lived a life of some significance has no dirty laundry in their past. Please believe me when I say I’m not making light of their faults, I just don’t think there is any such thing as a perfect human.

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President John Adams as painted by Asher B. Durand

We have a troublesome tendency towards vilifying our public figures over singular incidents, Nixon and Watergate for example. And sometimes, rarely thankfully, there is an Adolf Hitler who tips the scale so far toward the “dark” side that there is no hope of looking for balance. But most lives are made up of good and bad, successes and failures, periods of light and darkness, and we would do well to remember that until the day we die the sum total of our experiences has yet to be tallied.

As for naming my son John Adams, well, Nancy and I do admire the second president with all of his faults. He was irascible and vain, insecure and at times an elitist, and he did sign the Alien and Sedition Acts. However, putting the Alien and Sedition Acts aside, he was a loving husband and father, a brilliant rhetorician and statesman, arguably the most well-read man in the colonies, first vice-president, second president, first United States Ambassador to Great Britain and, most importantly, without his dogged tenacity in Congress we would very likely not have our own country. It’s true that the Alien and Sedition Acts must be researched and wrestled with if you really want to know the man and not just lionize him. But based on my own research, within the context of history there are very real and unfortunately valid reasons why he gave in to temptation on this one issue. It’s a decision that stained his character, marred his presidency and subsequent legacy in the eyes of generations after him, and he regretted it the rest of his life. But I have the benefit of time and historical context on my side and so see the mistake for what it was (or at least what I think it was), and in my final analysis I can still greatly admire the rest of him. I have forgiven John his tragic error in judgment, and slowly much of the rest of the country has come around to the same conclusion.

The larger challenge is applying the principles of The Whole Man Theory to people who do us personally wrong. Is their decision to harm us unique from their overall character or is it a hallmark of their overall personality? How can the world at large admire those who hurt us? Can we move past a personal injury to see the big picture that is another person’s life still in progress without the benefits of time and distance? It’s not easy. And even as I write I can think of several individuals I still struggle to see clearly through the pain. But President John Adams is not one of them for me. His life balanced well in my book and, despite his flaws, I’m proud my son is named in his honor.

Now, for my son’s middle name, Tiberius…

Well, we’ll save that discussion for another day.

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My John Adams Tiberius Michael

A Visit with the Hermione

On June 5 my family and I drove to Yorktown, VA to catch the arrival of the Hermione, or L’Hermione, as it is known in its country of origin. This wholly new reconstruction of the 1779 frigate, seventeen years in the making, had just sailed from France and will be conducting a multi-city tour of the United States over the next several weeks before heading to Nova Scotia and then finally home. Made famous for ferrying the Marquis de Lafayette across the Atlantic on his second trip to America to herald the arrival of the French fleet during the American Revolution, the original Hermione holds a special if albeit largely forgotten place in U. S. history that this new Hermione seeks to restore more front and center to American consciousness.

Though we were delayed by an open drawbridge and therefore unable to attend the initial arrival in port and the firing of cannons in its honor, we did nonetheless arrive at the Yorktown waterfront in time to hear the governor of Virginia, Terry McAuliffe, make his welcome and opening remarks to the captain, crew, and dignitaries that oversaw the voyage. The waterfront park was beset with demonstrations of shipbuilding, makeshift museum displays on Lafayette, the original Hermione, and the American Revolution, park service kiosks, and food vendors; and overrun with re-enactors, some from Colonial Williamsburg, some not. By the time we were able to tour the ship (3 PM), John Adams was a little over the experience, but bore up well as we hoisted him up the rickety ladder to see this piece of history come alive.

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The new ship adorned with faux cannon, fleur-de-lis, a lion figurehead, and a striking yellow and blue paint job is nothing short of marvelous. Though visitors were only allowed on deck (the tour is free after all), newsreel and internet footage shows the crew living in relatively proximate conditions to the 18th century. There are some modern conveniences such as state of the art navigational equipment and two 400-horsepower engines in the event of no wind, but for the most part all things modern are carefully concealed so as to leave the impression that this is an antique sailing vessel newly restored, rather than a lovingly crafted copy of the original.

I can’t stress enough the importance I place on shared cultural or historical experiences like these. Like Colonial Williamburg, or Mt. Vernon, or many others, seeing the Hermione was an opportunity to touch a piece of the past (albeit an impressively reconstructed one), to immerse oneself in a piece of history, to learn, to grow, and to get excited about something other than what modern culture or social media have to offer next. In this case it was probably a once in a lifetime experience for us as a family. And that’s the other part of the day that gets me so excited about it. The Hermione is here in the United States for only a brief time and then she’ll be gone. She may be back again someday, but for the time being the window is narrow and therefore the seeing of her is extra special. For my part, I know that Nancy and I created a unique memory with our son that was fun, educational, free, and definitely worth our time. And we bought the T-shirts! I would encourage anyone else who is able and so inclined to do the same.

If you’re interested in seeing her while she’s in the U.S. here’s their website with scheduling and lots more information:

http://www.hermione2015.com/

Namaste.

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