Lego

Elf You!

This post originally appeared on December 5, 2013.

elfIt happened again this morning–another reminder of how I am depriving my children, something that I’m sure will leave an emotional scar for decades to come. You see, our house is elfless. You read that right. We do not have an”Elf on the Shelf” (brought to you by Hasbro…batteries not included). Sorry, certain marketing gems bring me back to the commercials of my childhood.

Anyway, there we were, getting ready for school, the boys eating breakfast at the kitchen counter, when a neighbor dropped off her two kids for my wife to put on the bus. “Now, Adam, don’t forget to have a good day at school,”she calls out to him as he bounces through the kitchen. Then, she turns to us and says, “Blinky had to make a special trip to the North Pole to give Santa a report.” The boys and I exchange confused looks. Pam says, “Oh, you have an elf.” “Yep,” she says, smiling, although I can’t tell if her look is one of rejoicing or regret. “He’s helping Santa keep a close eye on them.” We all laugh nervously–my wife and I with the fear that our boys will ask why we don’t have an elf. Thankfully, they don’t. Yet, as we continue with the morning routine, I feel a bit sad for them. They are excluded from this new holiday tradition. We are completely disconnected from the elf craze. This is what it must be like for my Jewish friends who did not grow up with Santa, I think. Lucky them!

I am kind of a curmudgeon when it comes to Christmas. I hate all the hullabaloo about shopping and buying presents, of giving and getting gifts. “We have to get Soandso a gift because they get us one.” “Another pleather wallet! You shouldn’t have, Uncle Marty.” Really, you shouldn’t have. It’s worse with my own kids, who start making preliminary Christmas lists in June! I think they’ve made six this year (so far). I’m such a Grinch that I look forward to the day when they no longer believe in Mr. Claus. Then, I won’t feel bad about shooting down their wish lists. Now, we have to invent stories about why they couldn’t get a thousand dollars worth of Legos from Santa.

I enjoy family get togethers. I like the idea of decorating a tree and eating Christmas cookies, but the whole consumerism thing gives me a headache as thick as Target‘s Christmas catalogue–which arrived before Halloween. And that’s why I was actually glad when we dodged the snowball of Elf on the Shelf. It has gained popularity just as our sons’ belief in Santa is waning. They are seven and nine for Kringle‘s sake. My wife almost caved last year, but I begged her not to give in. Thankfully, she was strong. But it is awkward for us when others mention their elves. Anyone with younger kids, toddlers and such, HAS to have one, like my poor neighbor this morning, whose son is in kindergarten. If our kids were younger, we’d have an elf. And I’d be in HELF–Elf Hell.

I don’t think American culture needs any more encouragement when it comes to celebrating Christmas. As a matter of fact, I wish there was a little more coal handed out. Plus, I’m bothered by the whole “Watching You” concept. It’s bad enough to invent the omnipresent eyes of the invisible Santa, but now to have one of his minions looking in on you, well, in that case why not just call him Big Brother? Sorry to be such a downer, but you can’t convince me of the value of this. Parenting is just one idle threat after another–I don’t need a plastic pixy to do my dirty work. Just as I try to stay away from Black Friday sales–which are still going on a week later, I might add–I try to avoid all things elf.

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But I did have fun on my way to work. I fantasized about what I would tell the boys if they do ask why we don’t have an Elf on the Shelf. “Mommy’s allergic.” No. “They cost too much money.” Nope, they know how much they cost because they’re on display in every toy and card store. “They will leave poop in the house.” Definitely not. Knowing my boys, that would make them want one even more. Finally, I fantasize about having a conversation with them where I explain how we can’t get an elf because we have two new dogs under the age of one. Huck and Rosie would attack the elf, and could possibly even kill it, I explain. Next, we would all imagine the elf torn to shreds–its pointy nose and impish smile chewed to bits. Then one of the boys would ask if elves bleed, and I would nod yes. Their eyes would widen, as they hug me and thank me for saving one of Santa’s helpers. Then they would go to their rooms, clean them without asking and see all the toys they already have. “Dad,” they would holler, “come here, quick!” I would run upstairs to find them finishing a note to Santa that reads: Christmas List–Revised (in my fantasy, they know what revised means). “Here,” they would say (in my fantasy, they would speak in unison). Then, they’d hand me the piece of paper, which would state: “All we want for Christmas is peace on Earth.”

My boys…I shake myself from the fantasy just as I am pulling into the parking lot at work. I feel good. I’m oddly proud of my sons for wanting world peace. I remind myself to enjoy Christmas with them this year–it’s probably Owen’s last year “believing”.

And then an image pops into my head that warms my heart: It’s of our two dogs lying by the fire Christmas morning, gnawing on the last remnants of an elf ear . Ahhhh. Don’t you just love the holidays?

Photo credits: Michael Kappel

 

A Midwinter Night’s Dream

This winter is certainly starting to wear thin on our nerves. As the East Coast battles its latest storm and the aftermath, cabin fever is running amok at our house. We’ve had more snow days than school days since forever, and the novelty of sledding and snowball fights has grown tired.

This is starting to become our winter of discontent.

If you’re a literary sort, you may notice that the title of this post and the reference above allude to works from the great master, William Shakespeare. I seem to be in a Shakespeare sort of mind. Indeed, this winter is one of history (the worst power outage in Pennsylvania history); comedy (the boys and I building our first igloo in the yard); and tragedy (trees and power lines falling around us like Armageddon).

But the reason Shakespeare is present in this post may surprise you. It’s not because I’ve curled up with one of the Bard’s classic plays by the fire, it’s because of LEGOs. Yes, LEGOs.

If you have kids and you don’t live under a rock (or you didn’t live under one until the latest ice storm), then you are aware that The LEGO Movie photo (38)comes out today. Yes, dear reader, by the time you see this post, we may have already seen this epic film. I am genuinely excited. My boys are LEGO freaks. Plus, the film is getting great reviews and stars all the people I’d like to hang out with if I were famous–Chris Pratt, Elizabeth Banks, and a few of the great Wills of our time: Will Ferrell, Will Arnett and Will Forte. And one of the characters in the film is the greatest Will of all time.

LEGOs abound in my house. I step on them when I enter my sons’ rooms. I put them in various bins and boxes whenever I come upon discarded pieces. I’ve created shelves and cleared bookcases so my boys’ creations would last–they don’t. And all of these aspects drive me crazy.

But the one thing I love about LEGOs is how they captivate the imagination. My photo (40)boys can play with them for hours. And they create and recreate various scenes with the thousands of pieces that litter our house. So, it’s not uncommon for me to come upon various tableaus of LEGO figures everywhere I turn: the dining room table, the kitchen counter, the bathroom sink, and every floor space imaginable–none on the damn shelves I put up for display, though!

Here is a LEGO scene created by my seven-year-old this morning that sits behind me on the kitchen counter while I type:

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And it is these types of things that I have come to love–and expect–as a parent. My boys create all over the house. They build. They destroy. They imagine. And I bear witness to it all. Pre-kids, this would have driven me crazy. I would have viewed it as clutter and crap. But little by little my defenses have been whittled down. Now, it’s like pop-up pop culture surrounds me.

And sometimes, worlds collide. When LEGO announced the latest minifigure series in honor of the movie, the boys were ecstatic. And I had to laugh, because I became excited that Shakespeare was part of the lineup.

“If one of you gets Shakespeare, can I have it?”

“Why?”

“Because I’m an English teacher!” NOTE: I do know I should have said “may” in my question above, but we don’t talk like that all the time:) “Shakespeare is the greatest writer of all time,” I continued.

I proceeded to describe Shakespeare to the boys. Then, I was like a kid when they opened the wrappers for their minifigures. And lo and behold, Hayden DID get Shakespeare and I now get to watch Will in action as he makes his way around the house.

Like this little scenario I came upon the other night:

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It’s Will riding on the hood of a fire truck with a mermaid behind him. It’s sounds like the premise of a bad joke. But it is simply one of the many bizarre, wonderful creations of my boys thanks to LEGOs.  When I came upon it, I laughed out loud. Here was one of my idols, a man who intimidated me as a teacher for years, in a rather absurd scenario. It’s as if Will is riding around on his imagination thinking up one of his many fantastical stories–The Tempest, perhaps?

And then it dawned on me–that’s just the way Shakespeare would have wanted it. As he would say: “Thephoto (41) play’s the thing.” And LEGOs have taught my sons how to play, how to create, how to dream. And I hate that this post sounds like a cheesy ad for LEGO, but they have been integral to my sons’ childhood–and a huge deficit to  our bank account.

But as I sit with the doldrums of winter, and we all try to weather these storms, it is my sons’ LEGO scenes, and the iconic characters they employ, that help remind me that all of this is part of a bigger story. The plot of Life continues to be surprising and challenging; random and riveting.

I’m reminded of my son Owen’s words the other night as we prepared to sleep in front of the fireplace due to no electricity: “It’s an adventure!” he shouted enthusiastically. And it is. All of it.

I think Shakespeare would agree.

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And you thought YOU were busy! Check out my seven-year-old’s TO DO List.

Hayden brought these Post-its home from school the other day. I asked if the teacher assigned them the job of making a list. He said, “No, a few of us just wanted to make them.” I love how he put the heading at the top of each page–with an exclamation point! Please read til the end–he saved the best for last:)

photo (37) 1. Go on bus.

2. Go in school.

3. Learn (how to spell).

4. “Special” is the term for a rotating class-Art, Gym, Music…

5. Go home.

photo (38) 6. Have a snack.

7. Play LEGOs.

8. Have fun at LEGOs.

9. Eat dinner.

photo (39) 10. Watch TV.

11. Go upstairs.

12. Brush teeth.

13. Floss good.

14. Pink–Pink is what we call their flouride rinse. So glad that I put the fear of the dentist in them–can you tell?

photo (40) 15. Go pee.

16. Go in my bed.

17. Jump and do armpit farts! The boy is lucky he hasn’t cracked any ribs he’s been doing so many damn armpit farts.

Lego Minifigures: The Funeral Series?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe boys and I have been spending a lot of time in the fields behind our house. The weather has been picture perfect, and our two new dogs, Huck and Rosie, are frolicking like young pups should. There are moments of pure joy–like when I watch the boys smiling as they race the dogs in the tall grass–and there are moments of pure annoyance–like when the boys want to play Simon Says. There’s so much I love about being a dad, but I really can’t stand children’s games: “Simon says, leave me alone!”

The highlight of these walks involves  little pockets of conversation we have between picking up dog poop and wiping away tears because someone got attacked by a thorny branch. Take this conversation from earlier in the week:

Owen (8): Dad, when I grow up, maybe I’ll work for the LEGO company and I’ll design LEGO lands and stuff.

Me (43 for one more day): That would be so cool, O.

Owen: Yeah, and, and like maybe I’ll be in charge of making LEGO minifigures, and I’ll make one of you.

My heart swells with pride. My boy wants to make a LEGO figure out of me! This is the epitome of love and respect coming from a third-grader.

Owen: And I’ll make him have glasses, and bald on top with a patch of hair under his chin like you have, and he’ll be holding a cup of coffee.

MY BOY. I can see the figure now, sitting on my desk, inspiring me as I write another one of my best-selling books. But wait, what’s this? I’m awakened from my daydream as I hear Hayden calling out something a few feet behind.

Hayden (7): Yeah, and we’ll bury the minifigure with you because you’ll be dead by then. Lego-Spooky-knight-

Me: NOOO!

I envision my gravesite, on a similarly beautiful afternoon, with mourners tossing in LEGO figures the way others would flowers.

Hayden: Yeah, you’ll be dead by then, right? Well, wait, when do people die again? Seventy? Eighty?

Me: Well, it depends. You have to take care of yourself so you can live longer. That’s why you shouldn’t smoke, or lecture-lecture-lecture, blah-blah-blah…

Owen: Yeah, Hayden, look at Pop‘s dad. He’s still alive and he’s 98! That means he took care of himself.

At this point I make some lame attempt to explain to the boys the theory of “everything in moderation.” I tell them how too much of anything is bad for them, and then I give some terrible analogy about ice cream. How they eat ice cream most nights, but if they ate an entire container every night, they’d probably be unhealthy. I mean this from a cholesterol standpoint, but I miss the mark.

Owen: Then you’d be so fat, you wouldn’t be able to leave the house.

Me: Well…here I try to defend overweight people but the moment is lost…

Owen: Dad, how DOES Santa get down the chimney? I mean, he’s fat. Really fat, right? How does he do it?

Lego_SantaAnd hear we go again–Santa! Everything comes back to Santa Claus.

Me: I think he uses a magic dust made out of snowflakes (Oh, God. am I encouraging drug use for them down the road? I wonder.)

Owen: I KNOW Santa’s real, because we get gifts on Christmas that are signed From: Santa.

He reaches out to hold my hand, wanting me to reassure him that Santa does exist. I think, yeah, third grade, that’s when the doubt reaches its highpoint. I hold his hand firmly. I watch his little brother bounce ahead of us with the dogs. I breathe in the fresh air and then it dawns on me that there are three topics my sons never tire of: LEGOS, Death, and Santa.

This conversation has become the most exhausting thing about my day. I go from being immortalized as a LEGO, to my untimely death, topped off by the reminder that Santa’s days are numbered, too.

Maybe tomorrow, I’ll walk the dogs after bedtime. Alone.

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Image 1,2,and 4 courtesy of Johnson Cameraman

Image 3 courtesy of Lego-wiki

Morning Glories

My heart and mind have been heavy this past week or so, with all of the horrible atrocities that seem to plague children. The Boy Scouts of America are the latest to join the ranks of those leaders who harbored pedophiles and knowingly covered it up.  A young Palestinian girl named Malala Yousufzai is gunned down on her way home from school by the Taliban. Her crime: wanting an education. And just yesterday, much closer to home, news of a twelve-year-old girl from New Jersey abducted and killed at the hands of two teenage boys—brothers. I am sickened and saddened by these situations.  As I commiserate with the rest of society over these despicable events, I am also reminded how we must cherish each day and embrace those we love. Especially our children.

Anyone who has children is used to hearing others remark “how fast it all goes.” And it does!!  That is why I try to be present–every single day–in their world. I want to remember these moments and recall all of the time we spend together. Then, this morning, it happens—I am greeted with a perfect morning. Each encounter was incredible, reaffirming, lyrical, and sweet. It was as if the universe knew that I needed a pick me up. Don’t get the wrong idea, most mornings are not like this. Usually, someone is annoyed. And those in a good mood can instantly turn ugly. But today, today was perfect! Allow me to explain:

6 a.m.   I slam the snooze button. As I try to fall back asleep, I hear Owen (7 ) humming a song in his room while he builds with his Legos.

6: 15     After feeding the cats and dog, I sit in the dark downstairs enjoying my first cup of coffee. Owen comes down the steps, rushes over to me and gives me a big hug and kiss. Kisses from this guy are getting rarer than Haley’s Comet, so I was pleasantly surprised. “Wow, what a way to start my day!” I tell him. He goes bee-bopping down into the basement to play with more Legos.

6:20    Hayden (6) awakens in what seems to be a relatively good mood–it’s a crap shoot with this one. I direct him downstairs to Owen.

6:21    The boys begin to play nicely, and this lasts, uninterrupted, for a good half-hour.

7:00    While I am upstairs shaving, Owen sneaks in to scare me with his Halloween mask–a freaky silver skeleton mask. I feign fright. He then reveals that he has on ANOTHER scary mask underneath his skeleton mask–so people think he’s really scary.

7:05    I catch a glimpse of my wife, Pam, on the steps with Hayden. She is removing an eye lash from his cheek, after which she tells him to “make a wish”. I see him contemplate this task, mouth the words of his wish to himself, then blow away the eyelash with all his might. He runs downstairs. “I made a wish! I made a wish!”

7:07    Owen comes into my room and asks, “Is this how you whistle?” I attempt to instruct him on this once again. “Pucker your lips…Try to loosen your lips…Relax your mouth…Wait, put your top lip over your bottom lip…You’ll get it, buddy.” He scampers away “whistling”.

7:20    Hayden reads off the names of the boys invited to Owen’s birthday party. Pam remarks, “Boy, you seem more excited than Owen!” Owen looks at me and smiles. “He is,” he agrees.

7: 25    As I pour their cereal, Owen asks if he can go to sleep on his own tonight. We have been trying to wean him of some of the bedtime routine for over a year now. He usually insists we stay until he falls asleep. “Are you sure?” “Yeah, I’m ready.” The heavens open up. I hear angels sing from on high. I think to myself, So maybe I can say goodnight like they do on TV? Just tuck you in and leave? Yahoo!

7:30    While the boys eat their cereal and I pack my lunch, I wish Hayden good luck on his Show-and-Tell. “What if everyone hates it?” he asks. (IT, by the way, is a Halloween mouse decoration I bought two years ago after a mouse chased us around the house). “First of all,” I say, “it’s awesome.” “What’s second of all?” he asks. “Second of all, I love it,” I say. “What’s third of all?” he continues.  “Third of all, it’s a funny story.” “What’s fourth of all?” “Fourth of all, your friends are nice.” “What’s fifth of all?” Enter Mommy. “Ask Mommy.” “Ask Mommy what?” she says. I hightail it out of the kitchen.

7:35    As I leave for work, I give Pam a kiss and enter the TV room where both boys are now dressed and ready for school. They are not into kisses these days, so I usually just tousle their hair and remind them to be good for their teachers. Owen says, “Wait!” then runs over, jumps in my arms and plants another kiss on me. “Wow, two kisses today. I am one lucky guy. How about you, Hayd? Can I get a kiss from you?” He just looks at me and shakes his head no. Owen comes running back to me. “I’ll give you one from him, Dad.” And he does. That makes more kisses from Owen this morning than the last 3 weeks combined!

7:40    I drive to work on this autumn morning in a lighter mood. I can’t help but smile as I reflect on all of the small joys that made up this mundane Wednesday morning.

There is a great quote by Robert Brault. It reads: “Enjoy the little things, for one day you will look back and they will be the big things.” I try to remember this often. Today, it was easier to do than other days. And for that I a most grateful.