Being A Dad

You could keep your Mario Brothers, your Halo and your Sonic Hedgehogs - my video game addiction was all about Madden and MLB The Show.  My game system of choice was the Playstation 2 and my intervention came in the form of having kids where I learned to value sleep more than scouring the free agent market for a middle infielder at 3:30 in the morning.  

And so my PS2 sat dormant, collecting dust until about a year or so ago when Jackson started to show interest.  Not surprisingly, he showed the most interest in baseball video games and while he's played them all, MLB The Show remains the king.  

The game offers tons of features to keep adults playing deep into the night, but I'd like to focus on some of the kid-friendly features that Jackson enjoys the most.  

First and foremost, each team is represented with a pretty accurate roster and each ballpark is rendered in super detail (for an additional fee, you can have a smelly fat guy sit in front of you when you play).  

Each team offers several different uniform options including some awesomely hideous throwback choices from the 70s and 80s.  

Virtually every part of the game play is adjustable - automatic or assisted fielding, base running, sliding and throwing all limit the frustration possibilities for the kiddies.  

Kids, like chicks, dig the long ball so the Home Run Derby option is a popular choice.  

Old Timers are well represented with two teams from the Golden Era (Ruth, Cobb, Wagner, etc) and Silver Era (Bench, Gwynn, Seaver, etc) available for play as is a selection of vintage stadiums including the Polo Grounds and Forbes Field and not so vintage stadiums like Shea the Metrodome.  It's the perfect opportunity for your kids to make you feel really old when they pepper you with questions about players you grew up watching.  

One of Jackson's favorite features is to reset all the rosters via a fantasy draft - he prefers the game's auto draft so he can be surprised to find out which players wound up on each team (he accomplishes this by closing his eyes as tight as he can while dad presses a button).  

From a financial standpoint, you can't go wrong with the PS2 - MLB 10 brand new is less than 30 bucks while the same game for the PS3 is closer to 60.  Yes, you sacrifice features like virtual jock itch, but the savings are worth it.  

Speaking of savings, if your child doesn't know or care about accurate rosters you can get a previous edition of the game for anywhere from $5 to $15 - the older the game, the cheaper it is.  Of course Jackson is such a freak for baseball that he likes to play as many previous versions of the game as possible so he can appreciate the nuances of Jose Valentin's swing from the 2006 season.  

Probably the best feature of them all is that I get to play too and rationalize it as good old fashioned father-son bonding time.  

I don't get it.  

You'd think I would - I like cartoons... I like sponges... I like nautical stuff... I love Clancy Brown... what's missing?  

For starters, I can't seem to watch an episode without feeling nauseated - it may be a highly detailed illustration of toe nail fungus or eyeball veins, but there always seems to be something that makes me want to wretch.  

And I can appreciate programs that offer something for both adults and kids - Looney Tunes being the Grand Poobah of this genre - but while it works for my kids, it does nothing for me.  

Now unless you've been living in a pineapple under the sea, you know how much I'm in the minority here.  Everyone loves Spongebob - he's like Raymond, only yellow and more porous.  

So I guess I'll have to make my peace with the videos, the games, the clothes, the backpacks and all the assorted merchandise.  But it doesn't mean I have to like it.  

Can Little Red keep up the pace? Can the slowest car win the race?

I think it's safe to say both Jackson and Griffin inherited the obsessive gene from me. Both discover something they love and forsake everything else until they find their next interest. Currently for Jackson, it's baseball and for Griffin it's the unlikely trio of Max & Ruby, Dinosaurs and Bruce Springsteen (case in point - as I type this he's watching a Max & Ruby DVD, flipping through his favorite dinosaur books and serenading the neighborhood with his rendition of Radio Nowhere).  

The first book Jackson started to read/memorize was The Berenstain Bears and the Big Road Race. He was between 2 and 3 and it was during his cars and trucks phase. The book is basically a retelling of the tortoise and the hare story except it's got bears driving race cars through the countryside. What could be better?

The other night I found his coverless copy of the book and read it to him at bedtime. It was a little hard to tell how much he remembered it but his dear old dad remembered it fondly.   

Every night, before he goes to sleep, I read a book to Jackson.  Groundbreaking stuff, I know.  Anyway, Jackson is almost 7 so do the math - that's a lot of books. And not all of them are great.  Books based on Lego playsets, for example, aren't exactly ripping yarns.  So I'm always happy when something good gets added to the rotation.  

A few years back, my brother and his family gave Jackson a collection of Frog and Toad stories and as the title suggests, they're about two friends - a Frog and a Toad. One has a sunnier disposition than the other, but to be honest with you, I always get them confused.  They're kind of like the amphibious Odd Couple.  

The stories cover a number of topics like being alone, procrastinating, waiting for a letter, wearing a silly swimsuit, etc, and are accompanied by wonderful illustrations.  

If you're looking for a bedtime, or really anytime, read you can't go wrong with Frog and Toad

Let me start off by saying this has nothing to do with whether or not I think this is a good movie.  I'm more concerned with whether or not it's appropriate for kids.  And in that regard, I suppose you have to ask yourself the following questions - are you a big fan of nightmares?  Of having your kids run screaming in the night to your bed? Then by all means, nuke up some popcorn, grab the kiddies and have yourself a good, old fashioned movie night!

For the record, people love this movie.  It was nominated for an Oscar (then again, so was Titanic, so take that with a grain of salt), it's based on an acclaimed book and was made by the same director of an another beloved movie, The Nightmare Before Christmas.  

All of that is well and good - the problem is people have started to equate animated movies with kids movies and that's not always the case.  Many adults will love this film.  Many teenagers too and I'm sure there are a lot of young kids who will dig it as well.  But watch it for yourself first to decide whether your child will be bothered by things like losing your parents, having buttons sewn into your eyes, creepy houses, ghosts, etc.  

Now I know what you're thinking - "you're a parent, it's your responsibility to pre-screen everything your child is exposed to."  To which I say two things...

1) What about the time I need for other, equally important things like checking my fantasy baseball team and reading Lost recaps?  

2) Bite me.  

I loved MAD magazine when I was growing up in the early to mid-70s.  Don Martin, Dave Berg, Sergio Aragones, Spy vs Spy, the movie parodies, etc.  I bring this up because every time I watch Monsters vs Aliens, I'm reminded of MAD. The character of the President especially looks like he was lifted right out of a back issue.  Plus it's a little gross, a little inappropriate at times and pretty funny.  

For those who don't like stunt casting in animated movies, avert your eyes for a minute.  Reese Witherspoon, Hugh Laurie, Seth Rogen, Stephen Colbert, Paul Rudd, Will Arnett, Kiefer Sutherland, Amy Poehler, Rainn Wilson, John Krasinski and Ed Helms are all featured here.  Hugh Laurie as the maniacal Dr. Cockroach and Will Arnett as the strutting Missing Link are particularly good.  

The main villain, Gallaxhar, might be a little intense for the young ones so keep that in mind.  Also, Insectosaurus is pretty repulsive but that's usually a big plus for kids.  

Dreamworks animated movies can be a little hit or miss - for every Shrek or Kung Fu Panda there's a Shark's Tale but I feel pretty comfortable putting this one down in the hit column.  

Never in a million years did I ever imagine I'd be watching monster truck shows, let alone attending one (more on that later). Here's how it happened...

When Jackson was about 2, he was heavily into cars and trucks - he could name any make and model, he would choose to page through car magazines over children's books and he had amassed the largest collection of Matchbox and Hot Wheels cars I had ever seen.  

One day, while flipping through the channels looking for something to watch, I came upon a program on Speed Channel called Monster Jam.  After one viewing, he was hooked.  Simply put, Monster Jam is a 60 minute program where a colorful variety of trucks with names like Grave Digger, Maximum Destruction and Bounty Hunter race against each other (Racing) or smash and crash their way through a semi-obstacle course (Freestyle).  

Racing is pretty boring, to be honest with you.  What you really want to tune in for is Freestyle.  The episodes are set either inside an arena or football stadium, equipped with a roaring crowd and over the top announcers - think pro wrestling, but much more family friendly.  

Each of the trucks and drivers have a loyal fan base - people like Tom Meents, Jim Koehler, Jimmy Creten, Chad Fortune, Adam Anderson and his dad, probably the most famous of them all, Dennis Anderson (you'll be amazed at how quickly you'll pick this stuff up).  

There's also some pretty clever marketing involved here too - there are trucks based on popular characters like Batman and Superman as well as the Tazmanian Devil and Donkey Kong.  And Hot Wheels makes a line of toy versions of practically all the trucks, selling for about $4 a piece.  

As I alluded to earlier, Jackson and I attended a Monster Jam event a couple of years ago - this was a different experience entirely.  First of all, it's the loudest thing you've ever heard.  Even with earplugs, Jackson was traumatized by the volume.  And there's a lot of waiting around for the next event to start.  As for the crowd?  Let's just say it's not filled with Obama supporters and leave it at that.  

My suggestion?  Stick to the TV show and the toys.  

Let me set the record straight - I am not responsible for Jackson's obsession with baseball, but I've done nothing to discourage it.  Okay, I've done a few things to encourage it.  Maybe more than a few.  The point is, I never wanted to force my interests on my kids.  But that doesn't mean I wasn't secretly hoping they'd share one or two with me.  

I've loved baseball for longer than I can remember and as much as I've always looked forward to the start of each new season, nothing compares to the joy of sharing it with my son.  

Now some might say having a 6 year old that knows Harmon Killebrew's uniform number or what team Wally Post played for is going a little overboard.  Some might say that - of course I wouldn't.  

Seeing Jackson run through the door today when he got home after school to check the Mets score was just an awesome experience (being able to tell him they were winning wasn't too shabby either).  And then having him ask to watch the bottom of the ninth of the Rangers-Blue Jays game was just the icing on the cake.  The Rangers won in a walk-off, by the way.  

The games might be too slow, the season too long, but my boy and I are going to savor every moment.  

Play Ball.  

Welcome to the world my newest nephew Drew Markus Cosover. Congratulations and lots of love to Shauna & Mark and big brothers Peyton and Justin.  

Bonus congrats to Kerra & Brett for the arrival of Kason Anderson Field.  

Awfully considerate of you both to have the babies on the same day, in the same hospital, with the same doctor.