Conversations With Leo

You Don't Become Wise...Without asking a lot of them.

23 notes &

The Poetry of a Four-Year-Old

As parents, we spend so much time trying to teach our kids the right words for things, and the correct way to communicate, that it can be hard to notice when they end up expressing things better than we ever could.

The other day, Leo and I were on a car trip listening to music, when a slow song came on. This was the exchange that followed:

LEO: This is a sad song.

ME: It’s not sad, Leo, it’s just slow.


LEO: Okay, it’s not SAD…it’s SHY.


ME: That’s perfect, Leo.

Friends, I am a writer by vocation AND profession, and I tell you honestly I could never have come up with that thought if I’d had a thousand years.

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9 notes &

The Twelve-Year Advanced Rebellion Gambit

When you have very young kids, one of your biggest fears is the day that they start climbing out of the crib, as that means you have lost one great controlling tool for nighttime. Luckily for us, while Leo was certainly ABLE to do it…it never occurred to him that he COULD.

I bet this phenomenon, stretched over countless examples, was much more prevalent in the days before mass media consumption. Today, with movies, TV and internet as a constant present in our (and our kids’) lives, they are constantly exposed to ideas and concepts, WAY before they’d come up with them on their own, or have any idea how to process them. This can be dangerous…but in some cases, it can also be downright hilarious.

The other day, Leo got VERY ANGRY at me for some injustice or another (probably having to do with an inadequate portion of dessert or TV-watching), and he decided to let me know just HOW angry he really was. This was the exchange that followed:

LEO: That’s IT Daddy. I’m going to run away.

ME (Trying and failing not to smile): Oh yeah?

LEO: It’s NOT FUNNY, Daddy!

ME (Still failing): I know, Buddy. I’m sorry.


ME (Failing harder): I see that. (Composing myself) So…where are you going to run away TO?

LEO: I’ll go to Virginia.

ME: I see. That’s pretty far. How are you going to get there.

LEO: I’ll drive.

ME: Good luck with that.

I’m not going to say he won’t…but by the time he actually COULD execute this plan, if he DOES, it will be for a different reason.

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12 notes &


I think it’s safe to say that “Perspective” is directly proportional to “Civility.” in other words, the more we as adults are able to see situations from multiple angles other than our own, the more likely we are to behave rationally in potentially stressful situations.

Unfortunately, it’s also an enormous pain in the ass.

Because perspective is also inversely proportional to decisiveness. The more you can see multiple angles, the harder it is to pick an action and stick to it.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that sometimes, adulthood sucks. Because with four-year-olds, not only can they make decisions without even a moment’s hesitation, but they do so in a world that’s starkly black and white, with no priorities other than their own to contend with.

Every day at our house, though ESPECIALLY on weekends, we are battling what seems like a constant war between Sally’s sleep schedule, and Leo’s inability to be quiet. He must be reminded constantly, and even then it’s not always sufficient.

The other day, while Sally was napping. Leo was playing out some imaginary scenario or another when he walked from one room to the other, and slammed the door behind him. This was the brief exchange that followed:

ME: Leo! Sally is napping! I told you to be quiet, and you just SLAMMED that DOOR!

LEO: But Daddy…I’m a VILLAIN!

ME: Uh…

From here, I attempted to explain to him the difference between the actor and his role, and how we all must strive to retain a sense of self and our surroundings, even as we get lost in the theater of life. But instead of listening to me, he tied me up to the radiator and stole my wallet.

He might not have any perspective, but man is he ever METHOD.

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21 notes &

Ironic, Isn’t it? Ironic, Isn’t it? Ironic, Isn’t it?

My wife and I are currently looking to buy a house in our newly adopted city. In fact, we even found one that we could both see living in for the next twenty years. It would be the perfect home, except for two hurdles:

  1. The house is currently overpriced by about 50k
  2. The owner of the house…is also the agent who’s selling it.

Of these two issues, #2 is by far the more difficult, for the same reason that doctors shouldn’t diagnose their own ailments, and lawyers shouldn’t represent themselves in court: we as people are TERRIBLE at taking our own advice.

When Leo was a baby, my wife and I were discussing good places to raise him, and she mentioned that she had considered moving to my hometown, as it was probably “a great place for a kid to grow up.” (My hometown, for the sake of context, is a tiny former industrial town of 15,000 people that has been struggling to re-invent itself for at least my whole lifetime.) I answered by suggesting we live in HER hometown, which is approximately ten times the size as mine. This was the exchange that followed:

JILL: We can’t do that.

ME: Why not?

JILL: I just feel like it would be a step backwards for me.

ME: (Open-mouthed, slack-jawed amazement)

Here’s my point: if we as ADULTS can’t heed our own wisdom and truisms…what CHANCE does a four-year-old have to be able to do it?

Leo is currently in a phase where, when he asks a question, he demands an answer IMMEDIATELY. If any query goes more than 1.5 seconds without a response, he will re-ask it, over and over again, until it does.

Yesterday, Leo and I spent some extended time in the car. On the first leg of the journey, I let him listen to “his” music the whole way. When we set off for home, I was trying to find my way back, on a twisty country road, in pitch-blackness. While that was happening, we had the following exchange:

LEO: Daddy, can we put on MY music?

ME: Right now, I need to focus on getting us home, Leo.

LEO: Daddy, can we put on MY music?

ME: Right now, I need to focus on getting us home, Leo.




LEO: Grrr. Daddy, it’s VERY annoying when you keep repeating.

ME: …noted.

He continued to tell me how annoying it was every couple of seconds…until I put on his music to shut him up. See, no four-year-old can get the best of…DAMN IT!

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11 notes &

And Slinkies Can Go F*** Themselves!

Of all the concepts that a young child has to master, “evil” must be one of the most confusing. We parents are forever instilling and reinforcing “good” behavior, telling them that it’s the “right” thing to do…and with these lessons comes the assumption that everyone else in the world is, in fact…well…good. But as we all know, this simply isn’t the case.

When Leo and I started making up stories together, I was always struck by how he always wanted “evil” characters in the stories - be they fire-breathing dragons, wolves, or men - yet they were never defeated at the end, but rather changed their minds and became good. At the time, I thought this was lovely; his childlike innocence would not permit any character to be beyond redemption.

Now he is four years old…and if the events of yesterday are any indication, he has cured himself of this sentimentality in a BIG way.

In order to take advantage of the beautiful day (and to burn off some excess preschool energy while his baby sister napped), Leo and I were outside blowing bubbles. Which is to say, *I* was blowing bubbles, while he ran around slapping them out of existence. The game that evolved was that he wanted me to blow the biggest bubbles I could, since he apparently took especial delight in destroying them, and I would root for them to escape his clutches.

At one point, an especially large bubble rode the wind over his head, effectively out of his clutches. This was the exchange that followed:

ME: That one got away! Be free, Bubble!

LEO: I want him to be free too, Daddy. Be free, Bubble!

(The wind dies, and the bubble dips low again)

LEO: I was just joking, Bubble. I’m going to POP YOU!

(He slaps the bubble.)


ME: Good Lord!

Needless to say, I had no luck blowing bubbles after that incident. They wanted a chance to live, and being born into our backyard ironically left little chance of living happily ever grass after.

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9 notes &

Body Awareness Ambivalence

From adolescence on, the vast majority of us deal with body issues of one kind or another. This is too big or that is too small, and life would be so much better if I could reduce A or increase B.

This running dialogue becomes such a constant fixture in our lives that it is both refreshing and incredibly jarring to interact with four-year-olds, who are years away from even the first taste of this particular flavor of anxiety.

Last night, my friend Drew came over for dinner. He is a big fan of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (yes, he is an adult), and as it turns out, Leo’s favorite pajamas make him look like Michelangelo. As Drew and I went outside to cook dinner on the grill, Leo ran upstairs to put on his TMNT pajamas, and then emerged in our backyard, hands on his hips. Drew expressed suitable levels of awe, and Leo decided to up the ante by showing him the array of tattoos his mother allowed him to put on that morning. Unzipping his pajamas all the way to his knees, he re-assumed his heroic posture from before, now with a series of dragons, and his genitals, proudly displayed.

We then went in to have dinner, which included a cut up baguette for bread butter. As we all sat down to eat, Leo and I had the following exchange:

LEO: Daddy, can I have some bread and butter with dinner?

ME: Sure, buddy.

LEO: Can I have the piece that looks like [unintelligible]?

ME: Uh…WHICH piece do you want?

LEO: The one that looks like…the thing….the thing that Sally drinks milk from.

(Here’s the piece in question:)

ME: That’s my boy.

Throughout both of these incidents, as amusing as they were, NO ONE so much as cracked a smile, which I am very grateful for. He’ll have the rest of his life to experience anxiety and shame. For now, let’s just enjoy dinner, no matter what shape it comes in.

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11 notes &

The Preschool Power Shift

Through the eyes of a child, home life is a totalitarian state without reprieve. We parents control their menu, wardrobe, entertainment…hell, we even determine lights out like they do in prison.

Luckily for all of us, kids are completely unaware of the one weapon they have in their arsenal; the Achilles heel of all parents that COULD be exploited if only our children fully understood it. I’m talking about the depth of our love.

As parents, we love our kids DESPERATELY. They make us laugh and cry almost effortlessly, and that chest-expanding feeling you get when they do something wonderful is so heady that it could make you pass out.

We love our kids so much that it creates the ULTIMATE Keyser Soze moment where we re-examine our OWN childhoods through the lens that OUR parents must have felt the same way about us.

And here’s the point: if kids could actually grasp the enormity of this truth, they’d be able to wrest control and never give it back.

This morning, as Leo and I were leaving to go to school, his mother lifted the veil for a split second, and almost let the cat out of the bag, with the following exchange:

ME: Leo, it’s time to go. Let’s give Mommy a hug.

LEO: Goodbye, Mommy…

JILL (Mock Upset): Oh no.


JILL (Legitimately Upset): OH NO!

We then all left the house. Me to take Leo to school, Jill to go and buy him his first car.

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9 notes &

A Midsummer Newt’s Dream*

The world of acting is a fascinating (and frustrating) paradox. Generally speaking, the people who find themselves drawn to the stage shy away from the fierce competition of athletics, to favor the gentler and artistic camaraderie of theater. However, the arts is all ABOUT competition, albeit of a different kind. Performers are forever holding themselves up to scrutiny from casting agents, directors, reviewers, fellow performers, and themselves, just to name a few.

When I was in high school, I (like millions of other kids of that age) dreamed of making a career of acting. But even as I told myself that I would not have to endure the struggle and agony that comes while trying to establish yourself, I knew deep down that barring a miracle, it was inevitable. The only way I can think of that would absolutely guarantee an actor getting the exposure they want and need, without the soul-crushing competition, would be to write and produce their own material, and then get other people to come see it.

It took me decades to figure this out. It took my son a little over three minutes.

At this point, I have taken Leo to a few stage plays, and he loves each one more than the last. He spends the entire run time sitting on my lap, breathlessly captivated, and treats the performers as heroes among mortals after the show.

After a local performance of How I Became a Pirate, he was raving so much that I decided to see what he thought about his prospects of getting on stage one day. This was the exchange that followed:

ME: So Leo…do you think that YOU might want to be in a play someday?

LEO: Yeah. I’m going to be the pirate captain.

ME: Maybe.

LEO. No, I AM, Daddy.

ME: Well, you have to try out and see what you get.

LEO: What’s “try out?”

ME: The people who want to put on a play tell everyone it’s happening. And then, whoever wants to be in it comes to them and reads some lines, and maybe sings a song. Then the people decide who gets to be in the play.


LEO: Oh. Well then, I’M going to be in a KOMODO DRAGON play.

ME: Okay…but you’d still have to try out for that too.

LEO: NO, Daddy. I’ll be the only Komodo Dragon there, so I’ll get in.

ME: How very “method” of you.

So here’s my advice to all aspiring actors out there, courtesy of my son: simply transform yourself into a sentient non-human, and then wait patiently for a project to come along that calls for that specific creature, and you will be 100% guaranteed of getting that part. You’re welcome.

(*Alternate titles for this post that I considered include:

  • Twelfth Newt
  • Iguana Be a Star!
  • Waiting for Gecko

I’m happy to hear your suggestions, should you have any.)

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11 notes &

The Four-Most Expert in Homonyms

These days in my house, we are being re-staggered by the miracle of watching a baby recognize its name for the first time. Every time Sally turns her head when someone calls her, I am amazed anew at the ability of human beings to create words and assign meaning to them.

I then turn to my four-year-old, who is in the process of trying to master our language, and am freshly flabbergasted that we ever made it work.

I mean, what the hell is up with homonyms? Why did we take words that already had an individual meaning, and then assign other completely disparate meanings to them? How does that help ANYBODY? (Here’s an example for you: Smart. “Smart” means “intelligent,” “good-looking”…and “painful.” The only thing I know for sure is that the person who originated that third definition…was neither of the other two. “Oh, so I’m not smart? How’s THIS for smart!”)

The other night, we had an exchange that shows just how confusing this all can be:

LEO: Mommy…why do they call it your forehead?

JILL: Good question, Leo. Well, the word “fore” means “front,” so that word means it’s the front of your head.


LEO: Okay…but when I have a birthday, will it be my “fivehead?”

Buddy…for clarity (and humor’s) sake, the answer to that question, for me at least, is a resounding yes.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to take some ibuprofen. My thirtysixhead is POUNDING right now…

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14 notes &

Subconscious Rumblings from Batshit Mountain

I’ve written a lot of jokes since my kids were born, as a way to stay sane during the sleep-deprived madness that is new parenthood. Here’s one that I say a lot:

"These days, I love my wife 75% of the time, and it breaks down like this: 100% of the time, from 6am until Midnight."

See, my wife has two personae, which I have dubbed “Day Wife,” and “Night Wife.” Day Wife has composure, grace, and a wonderful sense of humor. By contrast, Night Wife is mercurial, unpredictable, and mean.

Every single one of the worst fights I’ve ever had has been with Night Wife, due in no small part to the fact that I am in my Night Me persona when it happens. Night Me, as far as I can tell, is not too dissimilar to Day Me, but with all of my worst qualities amplified a bit. So I’m even more quick to frustration, and sensitive to vocal tone, than normal.

So that’s the background. Here’s the story:

The other night, Night Wife and Night Me had it out at 4am while dealing with a screaming baby. Normally, when Sally wakes up at night (which she does frequently), she can be quickly soothed back to sleep if I give her her pacifier.

On this night, she woke up angrier than normal. I got up to do my thing, and the SECOND it didn’t work, Night Wife arose.

Night Wife barged into Sally’s room which startled her, picked Sally up which disoriented her, and started yelling “What’s WRONG with her!?” when she subsequently started crying harder. Night Wife was convinced that she needed to go to the emergency room right away, when two things happened within the span of two seconds:

1. Sally farted.

2. Sally went back to sleep.

Without another word, Night Wife went back to bed.

Night Me, however, was FURIOUS at this! I had been interrupted, overruled, and yelled at…and then I’m supposed to go back to SLEEP? NEVER!!!

Instead, I went back to bed, and began shadowboxing with my wife, who was sleeping peacefully next to me. I silently shouted at her how badly that situation was handled, and KNEW I was NEVER going to get back to sleep.

I then had the strangest subconscious experience of my life.

While still having the non-speaking argument with a mental manifestation of my wife…the fight moved outside. She laid down on the lawn, looked up at me, and said in the same defensive tone she had been using thus far:

NIGHT WIFE: But Corey…he’s going to RISE FROM THE ASHES!!!

In response, I bent down and snapped back in the same angry exasperation I had been using thus far:

NIGHT ME: Jill…it’s NOT A PERSON…it’s a FISH!!!

When that happened, another part of my brain kicked in, and recognized the utter batshit insanity of that exchange, and understood that I was, in fact, dreaming. This realization snapped me back into wakefulness, where my anger was INSTANTLY replaced with a sense of embarrassed amusement.

Best way to wake up ever…

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