Full disclosure (in case you couldn’t already tell): I was a full-blown theater nerd in high school and college. As I got older, and the realities of what it would mean to be a professional actor set in, I veered away. But for about a decade, theater was my niche, it was what I was good at, and it gave me an identity that has led me to my current career, albeit circuitously.
Perhaps then, you can understand why I spent the entirety of a recent high-school production of Shrek fighting back tears.
You see, this wasn’t just A play…it was Leo’s very first one. As an added bonus, in order to ensure he could see, he watched the entire thing from my lap.
The show was easily two hours long, but Leo was CAPTIVATED the entire time. Not only that, but he would frequently become so overcome with the sheer awesomeness of the experience that he would lean back and give me (or my brother Seth, who was sitting next to us) a hug or kiss. It made me think about the first time I saw plays as a kid, and how excited I was to be part of that world someday.
And if all this wasn’t enough…there was a dragon.
This production had an enormous dragon puppet that three performers ran at the same time, and if it were up to Leo, it would have never left the stage.
In fact, at some point during the second act, Leo started to miss her, and we had the following exchange:
LEO (Full voice): Daddy, when is the dragon coming back?
ME (Whispering): I think she’s coming back soon, buddy.
SETH (Whispering): You really like that dragon, huh Leo?
LEO (Full voice): SHHHHH!!!!!
Chastised, Seth went back to the show. But a few minutes later, when he attempted to open a candy wrapped in cellophane, Leo reached over and strangled the life out of him.
I would have stopped him, but I was too busy crying like a theater nerd.
Everyone tells you about the terrible twos…NO ONE prepares you for what happens at four.
Leo is in the midst of a MASSIVE defiance-based tantrum phase. When the cocktail is properly mixed (tired, hungry, jealous of baby sister, etc.), just about ANYTHING can set it off. Over the past week alone, Leo has had full-on meltdowns for the following reasons:
- Didn’t want to wear a jacket when it was cold outside.
- Wanted a juice box instead of a glass of juice.
- Didn’t want to go to the zoo. Followed by…
- Wanted to go to the zoo.
- The bread used for his PB&J sandwich was too small.
- Wasn’t allowed to have his teeth brushed while hanging off the sink.
When tantrums occur, I find that there’s a mental shopping list of tactics you run through to try to make it stop. There’s redirection, patient explanation, nurturing attention, threatening and implementing punishments, and finally, exasperation.
The other night (after the long holiday weekend where most of the above tantrums occurred), my wife gently pointed out that I had been tending a bit too much to the last tactic on that list. To make reparations (and to hopefully improve the long-term situation), I had the following exchange with my son the next morning:
ME: Leo…I think I maybe have been yelling a bit too much these days. Do you think so too?
LEO: No, Daddy.
ME: …Uh…well I do. So I was thinking that we should make some promises to each other.
ME: So I PROMISE you, that I am going to try not to yell as much anymore.
LEO: And *I* promise…to get you any toy you want for your birthday.
From there, I gently steered that promise more toward “try not to be such an asshole” territory. Which is something of a tragedy, because I need a new ninja turtle…
One great thing about seeing a kid slowly grow up is the slow acquisition of long-term memories. When they start recalling events of the past, it’s both fascinating to see what things stick in their heads, and incredibly gratifying to realize that your efforts will finally start having some lasting impact.
Their short-term memories, however, still suck just as badly as ever.
The other morning, Leo and I had the following exchange while hanging out in the house:
LEO: Daddy…where’s the medal you got for running in that race?
ME: I don’t know, Buddy. You were playing with it the other day, so you were the last one who had it.
LEO (Patiently, as though I’m an idiot): Yeah…but I put it down SOMEWHERE!
It turns out, his memory was DEAD ON accurate, in that he did NOT, in fact, have the medal on his person at the time of the discussion.
After this talk, he then went on to make a wonderful memory doing…something.
Over the months on this page, I have provided many different examples of my son using innocent language to say something inadvertently crass. Here’s a holiday-appropriate example of the opposite phenomenon.
Around the time of last Thanksgiving, one of Leo’s language quirks was that he confused the words “nothing” and “anything.” This makes perfect sense when you think about it, as the phrases “I want nothing” and “I don’t want anything” mean exactly the same thing. But despite how commonplace that error maybe SHOULD be, the fact is that whenever he busted it out in public, only my wife and I could figure out what he was trying to say.
So at last year’s Thanksgiving dinner, we spent it with a branch of the family that Leo was not as familiar with, and as a result he was a bit on edge. He did that burying-his-head-in-his-Daddy’s-shoulder trick an awful lot, and relied on the if-I-don’t-respond-then-you’re-not-talking-to-me conversational gambit. For the most part, he was left alone.
However, when we all sat down to eat, it was decided that we should all go around the table to say what we’re thankful for. There were a lot of nice sentiments about family passed around, and everyone was in a pretty festive mood when it was Leo’s turn. This was the exchange that followed:
ME: Leo, what are you thankful for?
LEO: I’m thankful for ANYTHING!
ME: … Who’s next?
Leo was TRYING to be a jerk…and everyone THOUGHT he was trying to be sweet. It’s like an asshole’s worst nightmare.
Happy Holidays everyone. And circa Leo 2012, may absolutely anything go wrong for you during this special time.
Here’s a fact of life for everyone, of any age: you will never know when something is going to make you feel old, but it’s always just around the corner.
About ten years ago, I had a cousin who was a freshman in college tell me how everyone in his dorm would gather in his room to watch one particular TV show together. In an attempt to bond with him, I said that the same thing used to happen when I had gone to school with Dawson’s Creek. My cousin laughed at me when I said this, and told me he barely even REMEMBERED that show. Here’s what I said to him: “Laugh it up now, my firend. But all you’re doing is creating a cultural touchstone for yourself that will make YOU feel old when someone a few years younger does the same thing to you.”
(The show that he and his friends gathered to watch? The O.C. I rest my case)
Why do I bring this up? Because the world of kids today is changing SO fast all the time, these opportunities to feel ancient are going to come up ALL THE TIME!
Here’s an example:
The other day, Leo and I were in a hotel, when the room phone started ringing. I must have picked it up just as the other person gave up, because there was nothing but a dial tone on the other end. To be silly, I handed it to Leo and said “It’s for you!” He took the phone…and tried for the next twenty seconds to get a response from it. And that’s when it dawned on me: HE HAD NEVER HEARD A DIAL TONE BEFORE!!
We were at the same hotel when we reached the point of the day when Leo gets to watch movies. We stumbled into the middle of Mulan on ABC Family, which he had never seen before, but loved (mostly due to the dragon). But every so often, he started to express extreme displeasure, grunting and stomping and whining. When I finally asked what the problem was, this was the response he gave me:
LEO: I want to watch my MOVIE. This is SO ANNOYING!
Mister Netflix and DVDs was experiencing commercials for the first time in his life, an admittedly profound annoyance that we all have grown so accustomed to that we often don’t even notice them anymore.
As icing on the cake, when it was finally over, he asked me to load up the beginning, so he could see how it started. I didn’t even have the HEART to let him in on the tyranny of network scheduling…
I was going to give him grief about all this, when two things stopped me:
1. BECAUSE he’s never seen commercials, I have never ONCE been bombarded with requests for sugar cereals, cheap toys, or trips to McDonalds. That’s GOT to be worth something…
2. Someday, someone is going to laugh at him for watching shows on something as archaic as Neflix. I might even be alive to see it, since it’s probably only a few years away…