Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood….Again

Fred_Rogers

Photograph of Fred Rogers, late 1960s.

My little children, are sitting in curious awe, wide-eyed and smiling. They nod in understanding and appreciation. They are singing and laughing. They are enthralled.

It is 2014, and we are watching Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood. I am watching it, again.

The kind smiling face telling you about how unique we each are and teaching us about friendship and love, the Neighborhood of Make-Believe, the music. It is all…perfect. This is truly good television.

Yes it’s simple, but it is also smart. At one point, he tells his television audience “It’s not so much what we have in this life that matters, it’s what what we do with what we have.” How can this not make your children feel more alive?

I can’t describe it. For my children, it’s very real and they are hooked. They zip their jackets the same way and change their shoes when they get home from school. They listen to the wonderment of just being alive and marvel at just being a kid.

I sing and hum because I know the words. But I am sentimental, remembering being that kid that they are now. And hearing his gentle messages again, everything still applies. Yes, the world has changed, but his lessons are still relevant and as important today as when I watched.

Deep down, I am so happy they are enjoying Mr. Rogers as I did. And I have a small tear when he changes back into his jacket and out of his sneakers.

It’s such a good feeling to know you’re alive.
It’s such a happy feeling,
You’re growing inside.
And when you wake up ready to say,
I think I’ll make a snappy new day.
It’s such a good feeling,
A very good feeling,
The feeling you know,
That I’ll be back,
When the day is new,
And I’ll have more ideas for you.
And you’ll have things you’ll want to talk about.
I will too.

Take a little time and begin again with Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood.

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The Meaning of Happiness

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What do I desire?

Stop and take three minutes to think about this question:  “What do I desire?”

This has been on my mind and invading all my thoughts. As I look down and see the beaming eyes of toddlers at my feet, staring up with intense curiosity and glorious naiveté, I realize that how I ponder and ultimately answer this questions has an impact far greater than I could ever expect. They, too, will see that spirit in me and will make it their own. I owe it to them to live my answer.

So, ask yourself. What would you do with your life if money was no object? This is an amazing lecture from the late Alan Watts:

What do you desire? What makes you itch? What sort of a situation would you like?

Let’s suppose — I do this often in vocational guidance of students. They come to me and say, “Well, uh, we’re getting out of college, and we haven’t the faintest idea of what we want to do.”

So I always ask the question, “What would you like to do if money were no object? How would you really enjoy spending your life?”

Well, it’s so amazing. As a result of our kind of the educational system, crowds of students say, “Well, we’d like to be painters, we’d like to be poets, we’d like to be writers. But as everybody knows you can’t earn any money that way.”

Or another person says, “I’d like to live an out-of-doors life and ride horses.”

I said, “Do you want to teach at a riding school? Let’s go through with it. What do you want to do?”

When we finally got down to something which the individual says he really wants to do. I will say to him, “you do that, and forget the money. Because if you say that getting the money is the most important thing, you will spend your life completely wasting your time. You will be doing things you don’t like doing in order to go on living that is to go on doing things you don’t like doing. Which is STUPID! Better to have a short life that is full of what you like doing than a long life spent in a miserable way.”

And after all, if you do really like what your’e doing, it doesn’t matter what it is, you can eventually become a master of it. It’s the only way to become a master of something, to be really with it. And then you’ll be able to get a good fee for whatever it is. So don’t worry too much. Somebody’s interested in everything. And anything you can be interested in, you’ll find others who are.

But it’s absolutely stupid to spend your time doing things you don’t like in order to go on doing things you don’t like and to teach your children to follow in the same track. See, what we’re doing is we’re bringing up children, and educating them to live the same sort of lives we’re living in order that they may justify themselves and find satisfaction in life by bringing up their children to bring up their children to do the same thing. It’s all wretch and no vomit. It never gets there!

And so therefore it’s so important to consider this question. “What do I desire?”


To listen to the live recording, click here.
More on Alan Watts, click here.

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Letter to Myself

Hello Little Guy,

You may not be able to read this for a few years, but it is important that I send you this now. This is a good time for you—life is good. You do not yet know about the hardships and trials that life can sometimes throw at you, the dips and valleys. Right now, life is sunshine, warm, and happy—as it should be.

The author as a boy

In about 30 years from now you will go through a life-changing event—the birth of your first child, a daughter. She will make you change the way you look at everything. She will be a tiny life that you can nestle in your hands. A couple of years later, as if that was not an epic event in itself, you will have another child, this time a son. He will alter your life as well, making you rethink everything you thought you knew in the last two years. Again, the universe will open up and smile upon you and life will be miraculous.

What I really want to tell you, is that in about 30 years, when these children enter your life and elevate you into fatherhood, it will ease what you will go through in the 30 years up to that point. Simply said, those 30 years will be difficult. There will be high points, but also dips and valleys, in fact, many dips and valleys. The reason?  Your own father won’t be there.

I know that this is hard to tell you, now, as you are there, happy, sitting beautifully in the sun. But it may save you years of frustrations and let downs. There will be others that will fill-in the best they can, it will not be the same, but it will help.

So why tell you? Why give you this hurtful news? Because there will be a great reward to those years of struggling, years of feeling alone and not having someone to talk to, years of trying to figure out what you are going through: you will become a father yourself. In the moment each of your children are born, you will become their father. You will be Daddy. And the 30 years of frustrations will begin to fade.

You will know what to do, how to act and how to be the best father in the world. You will be there from the moment they are born. You will serve them breakfast each morning and tuck them in every night. You will bandage and tend to their scrapes and bruises, celebrate their every happiness and hold them tight when they are sad. You will love them with a love that you never knew you had.

And the 30 years will not matter. You will become strong from enduring those dips and valleys. You will be saved by two small precious children. Their love will heal you.

Tuck this away and read it during the hard times. It will all pass soon. Hang in there. That moment is racing toward you.

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Photoblog: Four Feet High and Rising

family, feet, steps

One step at a time

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Photoblog: The Circle of Life

aquarium, zoo, window, relaxing

Hanging out at the zoo has never been so cozy

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The Ghost of Christmas Future

This is a story about resolutions and the habits they change.

This time of year, everyone has the tendency, or urgency, to make a change and to start anew. In some cases, it becomes a half-hearted attempt and with others, it leads to a lifelong impact on an everyday habit. It all begins with day one, step one: action.

According to John M. Grohol, PsyD, Founder & Editor-in-Chief of Psych Central, it can take anywhere from 66 days to eight and a half months to form a new habit. Grohol writes: “So 66 days later, a simple habit might be in place and on automatic pilot. But as the research shows, it could take as long as eight and a half months for more complicated habits to take hold.”

That’s quite a time span, but don’t be discouraged. It all starts with one day at a time. How do I know? I have done it for three years in a row. In the last two years, I tackled recycling and blogging.

The first week of any new venture is easy; your habits are fresh and new. A month and a half in, you have to toughen up and push through. However, true to Grohol’s statement, by the third month, I was doing it automatically. My spirits lifted and I glided through the year with a new habit formed and beamed with the pride of accomplishment.

Over those years, I have learned some tips that made my resolve to change a bit easier.

  1. Broadcast your resolution. Tell your family and friends. Be proud. Then get it done. Those friends will ask how you are coming along, and your family will see how you are doing every day. This can add to your accountability and help in those transition days.
  2. Your results increase exponentially when your family becomes involved. Call it the gift that keeps on giving – when you resolve to make a change and your family decides to hop on board too, then it’s pretty wonderful.  They support you and want to make the same change, which helps you, inspires them and increases support for everyone involved. It is far easier to reach your resolution when your family is on board then simply by yourself.
  3. Mini-celebrate at month three. It is true that at about 66 days or roughly two months, that the habit is automatic. It’s an uplifting feeling the first time you catch yourself doing your new habit with necessity and not obligation. This is a time for a mini-celebration or gift to yourself, perhaps a new book or DVD, something that will remind you of your accomplishment every time you see it.
  4. Springboard this year into next. Don’t just stop now that you have come to the end of the year. Your success can be a jumping off point in the coming New Year. You know you can do it and have what it takes. This time make the resolution a bit harder, stretch harder for that dream. There is no telling what you can accomplish.

This year, I have taken two big steps in my self-improvement: I have started a CrossFit regiment at a local gym and taken a Paleo Diet approach to what I eat. I know it will be hard and it will be tough. My countdown to 66 days and eight and a half months has begun.

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Character Assassination Carousel: The Misunderstood Maleficent

Sometimes there needs to be a last word on the topic of children’s books. Sometimes there actually needs to be several. Enter Nicole at Ninja Mom and her very astutely named Character Assassination Carousel.  What she has done is lend space and a voice to those last words and let her dedicated force of character assassins revel in mischief and discontent.

If you are new to the Character Assassination Carousel, visit last month’s trouncing of the Cat in the Hat from Leah from Chapter Four. And next month, Cathy at very VERY busy mom will most politely, dare I say, very, very politely, assassinate another beloved character whose time has sadly come.

For much more of this insanity, head over to the CAC HQ and see what your children have been missing – fateful, and most needed, last words.

For me, I share what I found the other night, after all my kids were squarely tucked into bed. I sat up late watching my daughter’s Sleeping Beauty DVD (which is a whole other story) and came across this interview in the Extras section.

(Camera pans back to see the host sitting in a chair addressing an audience.)

Host: Well, I am really excited to talk to our next guest. She has recently undergone some extensive surgeries but is back on her feet and on tour in an Off-Broadway production entitled “My Life: The Real Beauty.” Ladies and gentlemen, a big hand for the great Maleficent.

(Maleficent enters, shakes the host’s hand, waves to the audience, turns and sits.)

Right idea, wrong place, wrong time. But, right idea.

Maleficent: Thanks for having me.

H: You look good. How have you been doing?

M: Very good, I have to say. The surgeries did a good job of getting me back in form. The scales hardly show anymore.

H: I’ll ask the most important question first. Why, Maleficent, why the nasty spell on Princess Aurora?

M: That is a fair question. Let me start by saying, first, no one invited me. I am royalty too, you know, and I had made several contributions to the king’s campaign over the years. I pay my taxes and royalties and no one even sent an invite. Second, did you see what those monster fairies were doing? Bestowing her with beauty and song? Talk about a life of unrealistic expectations! I mean seriously? I felt it was my prerogative to give the Princess Aurora some reality. She was already in an arranged marriage and she was still a baby, for Christ’s sake. Someone had to help her, and those fairies were leading her down a slippery slope which could only end in darkness.

H: But the spinning wheel?

M: (chuckles) That was amusing. I was so angry at those fairies with the whole “gold of sunshine in her hair and lips that shame the red rose” crap that I made a spell with the first thing I thought of. Earlier that day, I had been knitting a small outfit for my daughter’s doll and had run out of yarn. After having a minion spin a bit more so I could finish, I pricked my finger when I removed the bobbin. Funny thing how those things get stuck in your head.

Sometimes you win and sometimes you lose. Most times, you just lose.

H: I can understand. It seems to make more sense now in that light. But considering what you did after the princess disappeared … what were you feeling?

M: Well, I have to say that I didn’t see that coming. I had intended on visiting the princess the next day to remove the spinning wheel spell and replace it with some math or accounting skills, you know, something she could really have a career with. But the king made a big deal about it. Next thing I know, the princess is gone and all the spinning wheels burned. You know that it took me over 16 years to finish that doll’s outfit.

H: 16 years?

M: I looked for her, but I have to say it became a back-burner project. I was busy with other things and having kids to raise and a business to run … time just gets away from you. I assigned a project manager run it for me, but finally I had to turn to a professional. Can you believe the project manager was still looking for a baby? For 16 years? Hah! Well, I had to fire him, naturally.

H: But then you found her and actually pricked her finger on a hidden spinning wheel.

M: Well those were my darker and sadder years. I had been so besieged by the kingdom and their savvy spin machine, I felt I was cornered into a role to play, so I played it. Let me just say, I am not proud of it. I had a real opportunity to help, but things just got out of hand.

H: You mean the whole thorns, dragon, fighting with Prince Phillip?

M: Exactly, yes. Again, let me stress that I am sorry. What started out as a good-natured idea just turned into one hot and sticky mess. I felt the only way to get though it was to play the bad cop and just follow the script. I have to say the kingdom’s spin machine did a superb job – I really had no way out. Everyone hated me. My story never had a chance to unfold. I was just trying to protect the princess in my own way and give her a talent that would not limit her career. Instead, those meddling fairies made her out to be some blond beauty with no talent except singing.  Talk about a dead-end career. And let me remind you that this was years before American Idol.

H: Well, even with the best intentions, you really made a mess of it all.

M: Yes I did, I admit it, but all’s well that ends well, they say, right? I was able to rise from the ashes to a new start. The princess was happy in the end. I mean, I don’t see how, but she was. I never had to deal with those fairies again. And I was able to start a my own private practice counseling misunderstood witches and sorceresses. I was really able to help people again. The trick is to first get them out of their pre-determined rolls. Let me fill you in on a real secret: There nothing like a fall from rocks or, for instance, getting stabbed by a boat, that really creates a nice escape scenario. I am proud to say everyone I have counseled has turned a corner and never returned to their former life.

H: That sounds great. You have really turned yourself around, from, I mean, what we thought.

M: The key is listening. If everyone had let me finish then this whole mess could have been cleared up. It all turned out in the end. I have my health, my family and even a Broadway show.

H: That’s right, you’re on Broadway, or should I say, Off-Broadway.

M: I sure am. I play myself in a one-act play entitled “My Life: The Real Beauty” where I explore the notion of real beauty in a wicked shell, like the rose surrounded by thorns. Hmm, thorns, it all does take me back, you know? Regardless, I feel everything is back on track.

H: And no spells or smoky appearances I should know of?

M: (chuckles) No, I do a little freelance now-and-then, but all of that is mostly in my past.

H: Ladies and Gentlemen, the great Maleficent. You can see her Off-Broadway or at her offices on Guild Street.

M: (waves to audience) Thanks again for having me.

H: Join us tomorrow, where Rudolph, the red-nosed reindeer, will be our guest. He has just written a new book entitled 10 Tips to get to the Front of the Pack and will be here to tell us about it. Thank you very much.

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The Other Milestones

As parents, we celebrate all the milestones that bring our children acclaim: first crawl, first words, first steps, but we often forget to celebrate some of the lesser-known milestones. Although these milestones seem almost uninteresting at first, when mulled over, they, too, represent a great accomplishment in our child’s lives. These milestones also can even bring excitement to our lives as parents.

As parents, our hopes and dreams bloom with our children, but celebrating these milestones raises a toast to us as parents as well. These accomplishments not only reflect an important step in our child’s development but also an important stage in the fine art of parenting them.

As you reach one of these all-important milestones, as I have, it is cause for much celebration. Whoop it up, oh great fathers and mothers, you are doing a great job.

  1. Your kids can play together long enough for you to take a shower. This milestone is not really appreciated until you exit from the shower and hear peace and quiet. Peeking outside the bathroom door, you see your children quietly working on a puzzle, but within seconds, they are arguing about whose turn it is. Before you step in and referee, you realize you are already showered. Soak, it in parents, your children have just let you take a shower.
  2. Half of your children are potty-trained. You may ask, why celebrate a milestone when only half of your children are potty-trained? I say glass half-full. Consider it a halftime celebration in the World Championships of Potty Training. You have had a successful first half, now you have only one more child. It may not be as easy as repeating the steps that you did with your first child, but at least you have the hang of it and a live-action role model to help child #2.
  3. The ability to repeat everything you say. This milestone sadly can have both positive and negative effects. Repeating the lyrics of song while you sing: positive. Repeating the fact that you do not like your wife’s lasagna: negative. Repeating affectionate greetings to your wife when she gets home: positive. Repeating a curse word after you slam your finger in a door: negative. The repeating milestone is a blessing and a curse, use it wisely.
  4. They can get out every toy they have. This milestone goes hand-in-hand with a realization that you did not know that your child really had this many toys. To their credit, they have the ability to scour every drawer, closet and cabinet in which their toys are kept and pull each one out with great dexterity and acumen. You may be grumbling at the task at hand of now getting these children to put all of their toys away, but reflect in the satisfaction at their memory development at remembering the exact closet you put out-grown baby toys slated for your next garage sale.
  5. Learning the word “Why”. This milestone resembles the blessing and curse nature of #3 listed above. I was in awe the first time my toddler daughter asked why bananas were yellow. But when my answer only elicited another “why” did I realize what a Pandora’s box I had just opened. In my celebration of each of her more curious questions also came more and more calls to the research librarian when each level ended in a “I know Daddy, but why?”. Try with patience, dear parents, to not answer, “because it just is” although after a while it may be your last resort. Celebrate their curiosity with a brush-up on much needed researching skills.

In the end, we frown as our children quickly become adults and as our time spent parenting becomes less and less. Celebrate these milestones with a small party, which you can now attend cleaner, with fewer diapers with the knowledge of why a banana is really yellow.

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Photoblog: Somewhere Over The Rainbow

If happy little bluebirds fly beyond the rainbow; why, oh why, can't I?

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