Being A Dad

You can have your Grapes of Wrath... The Iliad... Oprah: The Biography... for my money, one of the greatest books ever written is The Monster at the End of this Book starring lovable, furry old Grover.  

It was always one of my favorites when I was growing up in the early 70s - the heyday for Sesame Street and Sesame Street merchandise.  The plot is pretty simple - Grover is convinced there's a monster at the end of the book (hence the title) and he is trying to convince the reader not to get to the end.  The more pages you turn, the more frantic he gets.  This is a spoiler free post, so you're going to have to discover the ending for yourself.  

I bought a new copy before Jackson was born and it has remained in heavy bedtime rotation ever since.  

Bonus tip: to take the reading experience to a whole other level, you have to read it in Grover's voice.  I find a build up of phlegm helps but of course, your results may vary.  

I'm a fan of pretty much all of the Pixar movies but this one is extra special to me because it was the first movie Jackson saw in the theaters.

I've always loved movies and I always especially loved going to the movies (for the record, my first one in the theaters was "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory". And I'm pretty sure my second was "The Great Gatsby" - mom and dad weren't really into "kids" movies).  I was fortunate enough to marry someone who shared my love of eating stale popcorn while sitting next to two loud mouths from Great Neck (although lately we spend more time talking about going to the movies than actually, you know, going to the movies but that's another story for another blog).  

Anyway, most parents will tell you a lot can go into the decision of taking your kids to the movies for the first time. What if they freak out when the lights go out? What if it's too loud? What if they want to leave 5 minutes after it starts? What if they don't like German expressionism?  

Kristin and I were pretty confident that Cars was the right choice for Jackson. He was heavily into cars and trucks at the time and he was eager to go. We chose the earliest show (always a good idea, especially when the theater offers matinee pricing) and sat in the back by the exit (just in case he wanted to leave or "duty" called). 

Long story short, it was a big success and the DVD has been in heavy rotation ever since. It also helped that the toys from the movie were awesome (and plentiful, especially after the initial collector's craze died down where I would encounter middle-aged women waiting for the toys to come off the truck to feed their ebay habits).  

Cars the movie?  Ka-Chow.  

13 years ago today, my lovely wife and I got married.  It was the perfect combination of my good fortune and her poor judgment.  

Thanks honey - I couldn't have done it without you.  Well, I guess I could have but it would have looked ridiculous.  

We have our good friend Shari to thank for this one. I was woefully ignorant of the wonders of Willems until Shari started giving Jackson some selections from his Pigeon series for special occasions.  

The stories are deceptively simple but extremely entertaining - the Pigeon wants to eat a hot dog, the Pigeon doesn't want to go to sleep, the Pigeon wants a puppy, etc. 

Mo was a writer and animator for Sesame Street so there's a nice mix of humor for the kids and adults alike.  

We haven't sampled any of his Elephant and Piggie books yet but both boys have birthdays coming up, so Shari if you're reading this - hint, hint.  

There are certain things in life that require the word "actually" when describing them. As in "actually, it's not that bad" or "actually, I didn't hate it." 

Kicking & Screaming falls into that category. A guilty pleasure, to be sure, but just enough laughs for Will Ferrell fans and just enough dumb & gross for the kids.  

I'm not going to bother with the plot because it's basically a Bad News Bears knock-off but I will say that the always good Robert Duvall co-stars and it features probably Mike Ditka's finest acting work.  

There are a couple of scenes in a coffee shop that Jackson made me rewind about a thousand times. That's quality, folks.  

A very Happy Mother's Day to the woman who made me and to the woman who made me a dad.  And to all you other mothers as well.  

If you're of a certain vintage like I am (I'm 42) you probably have a certain fondness for the Saturday morning cartoons of yesteryear.  And if you're like me, that fondness included planning each Saturday morning around watching 4 or 5 hours of those programs while you inhaled bowl after bowl of sugary cereal.  

The good news is you can get your nostalgic fix thanks to the cable network Boomerang.  Boomerang is the sister channel to the Cartoon Network and it's where they seem to send all of their older shows.  Lately they're starting to add too many non-classics for my taste but on any given day you can still find The Flintstones, The Jetsons, Scooby Doo, Tom & Jerry, The Pink Panther, Wacky Races, Yogi Bear, Jonny Quest and many others populating their schedule.  Other old-time greats like Hong Kong Fooey, the Funky Phantom and Wheelie & the Chopper Bunch seem to rotate in and out of their schedule.  Plus they randomly schedule Looney Tunes marathons, perfect for maxing out the ol' DVR.  

Of course not every show holds up after all these years - you'll notice a certain amount of repetition among some of the lesser known Hanna Barbera titles and it's amazing how many different shows featured a group of groovy teenagers solving mysteries. But if you're starting to glaze over after endless viewings of Dora, Diego and the Wonder Pets, you can't go wrong with revisiting your old addictions courtesy of Boomerang.  

When I was growing up, you had certain allegiances: Mets or Yankees, DC or Marvel, Matchbox or Hot Wheels.  And while I had plenty of Hot Wheels - as well as Corgis, Johnny Lightnings and other diecast toys - the choice for me was always Matchbox. 

The main difference was Matchbox was more realistic and Hot Wheels was more hot rods, fantasy cars, etc.  Which meant I spent more time playing with a '73 Citroen than a metallic purple car with oversized wheels and an engine the size of my head. 

Of course, when it came to accessories Hot Wheels won hands down with one of the greatest inventions ever - the plastic orange tracks (with purple connectors).  

These days, the distinction between Matchbox and Hot Wheels is less significant because both brands are now owned by the same company, Mattel.  

But enough of the back story, whether you choose Matchbox, Hot Wheels or both, they remain great toys.  And unless you go for something fancy, they're one of the most economical toy purchases around - usually about a buck.  And anyone who has ever stepped on one while barefoot can tell you how durable they are.  

Presently, our house has about 6000 of these things lying around - the living room looks like the LIE on a summer Friday at 5 o'clock.   So perhaps we've created a monster, but it's still worth it because I get to play with them under the guise of father-son bonding time.  

Oh, and a word to the wise - stay away from the Matchbox or Hot Wheels playsets. They're really cool for the first half hour after they're assembled but once they start to fall apart or you lose pieces, your playroom will look like Fred Sanford's front yard.  

Our house is filled with toys.  Some good, some not so good.  Some played with, some still sitting on the shelf in shrink-wrap.  

The way a parent judges a toy is completely different from the way a child does.  A kid's judgment generally ends with the "is it cool?" question.  A parent, on the other hand, takes many different things in account - how much does it cost, how long does it take to assemble, is it going to break anything, will there be a trip to the emergency room in our immediate future, how long does it take to clean up/will that stain ever come out, how much noise does it make and the granddaddy of them all - how many godforsaken batteries am I going to have to cram into this thing before they get bored with it?  

One toy that passes this parental litmus test is stomp rockets.  They come in different names, sizes and colors but the concept is the same - foam rockets that you place on a pad and then launch into the air with the stomp of a foot.  That's it - guaranteed entertainment for children of all ages (and immature adults as well).  

Of course by the end of the season (or even the afternoon), your gutters and trees will be filled with rockets but as long as you have some extras on hand you should be in good shape.  

Stomp Rockets - all you need is a heavy foot and a dream.  

There's a scene in the classic film Diner where Eddie (Steve Guttenberg) and Billy (Tim Daly) are in a movie theater watching The Seventh Seal.  With a dumbfounded expression, Eddie exclaims, "What am I watching? It just started, and I don't know what's happening."   

I'm reminded of this whenever I experience something wildly popular for the first time that I just don't get.  Like Yo Gabba Gabba!

Atonal singing, creepy characters, LSD induced imagery and what appears to be Jimmie "Dyn-O-Mite!" Walker in a shag carpet bathing cap.  These are just a few of the things you'll find during any given episode.  Not to mention appearances by folks whose hipster quotient is through the roof (people who would never use the word folks, for instance) like Jack Black, Andy Samberg and The Roots.  

I recently read the program was not developed by TV executives but rather by two young dads who were disappointed with children's television choices.  Which reminds me of another movie quote, this one from the family classic, Die Hard:

John McClane: Now, you listen to me, jerk-off, if you're not part of the solution, you're a part of the problem.  Quit being a part of the f-ing problem and put the other guy back on!

Welcome to the party, parents.