Sunday, November 1, 2015

Halloween: Obi Wan Kenobi

My son loves movies. I do not.  Animated movies – movies made especially for kids - are the hardest for me to sit through. I find most of them dreadfully boring. There are, of course, exceptions (such as Frozen) but even the exceptions I can only watch two or three times before they too get tedious and sleep arrives before the credits roll.
            By this time last year, as my son approached his fifth birthday, I had reached a point where I just could not bring myself to watch another animated show. I just couldn’t do it. One weekend, while we were visiting my parents, we stopped into the library and my son asked if we could please get a movie to watch that night. His grandparents, completely incapable of saying no, nodded their heads and my son, smile on his lips and eyes aglow with excitement, scanned the shelves in the children’s section. The thought of sitting through an animated show was too much. I couldn’t do it. I needed to find a non-animated movie that might appeal to him. A few weeks earlier I had suggested to my spouse that we should introduce our son to Star Wars. She thought he was still too young. But she wasn’t there at my parents’ house, so I plucked the original A New Hope off the shelves and handed it to my dad to check out.
            “What’s that?” My son asked, pointing to the movie now in Dad’s hands.
            Star Wars.”
            “Ohhhhh!” He complained. “But I want to watch these.”
            “We can get those too,” I compromised in an attempt to dodge a breakdown.
            “Okay, but we are watching these tonight.” My son insisted.
            “No, Star Wars tonight, and tomorrow while Grandpa and I are raking leaves you can watch those.” 
            Begrudgingly, he agreed.
Later that night, as my son cuddled on the couch with his grandparents, he was still not sold on the idea of watching a big person movie. And then it started. I read, as dramatically as I could, “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…” He sat up a little straighter and for the next two hours he was completely transfixed. He absolutely loved the movie and when I told him there were five more, his eyes opened wide and he announced, “I have to watch them – all of them.”
And so we did – over and over and over again – one every Saturday night for the next several months.
For Christmas, Santa brought him light sabers and for weeks all he wanted to do was fight me or anyone else who was willing to play. When we watched the movies, during the fight scenes, he would turn on his light saber and pretending to be Luke, Obi Wan or Yoda he would jump around the living room fighting the enemy - Darth Vader, Darth Maul or the Emperor. 
In church, during the kiss of peace, my son started walking around, shaking hands and saying, “May the force be with you.” Many people in the congregation played along, responding in kind.
By the time spring rolled around, my son believed that he was a Jedi, but not just any Jedi. On the playground, when kids asked him what his name was he would respond, “Obi Wan Kenobi.”
In May, he desperately needed a hair cut but for days he refused to go. He never had an issue getting his haircut in the past and we couldn’t understand what was wrong.
Finally I asked him, “Why won’t you let us cut your hair?”
            He responded, “I want a padawan braid.”
            I chuckled, enthralled with his passionate desire to be a Jedi. “You can grow a padawan braid and still get a haircut.”
            “I can?” His face was radiant with surprise.
            “Yes, we’ll just ask the barber to leave a patch in the back uncut.”
            Considering his obsession with Star Wars and his obstinate belief that he is a Jedi, no one was surprised when he announced that he wanted to be young padawan Obi Wan Kenobi for Halloween. My spouse made the costume from scratch and when he held his toy light saber he looked as if he was on a serious Jedi mission to defeat evil. 
The night before Halloween, my son’s school had a party for the students. When we arrived, my son saw one of his friends dressed as Darth Vador. Since they couldn’t bring weapons of any kind – even toys – to school, the two boys had a mock duel using glow bracelets.  They whipped the bracelets around and jabbed at each other, enjoying every moment of it.
            The following afternoon, while we were out trick-or-treating, evidence of the dark side seemed to lurk down every street. Kids dressed as Storm Troopers marched passed us quite frequently.  At each encounter, my son drew his light saber and pretended to fight them. Most of the time the Troopers were oblivious to his attack, but my son defeated each of them in his impassioned yet imaginary battle.
            Halloween may now be over, but my young Jedi refuses to relinquish his costume. This morning he wore it to church, and in less than two months, when the new movie is released, he intends on wearing the costume to the theater. He can’t wait – the force is strong with him.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

First Day of Kindergarten

My Dearest Little Man,

Someday, you will want to remember your first day of kindergarten. By then, my memory might be in pieces or shadows will come to replace realities. Therefore, I am writing this now so nothing is forgotten. 

We spent Labor Day weekend at Nonna and Grandpa’s house. While we were there, as always, they treated you like a little prince, granting each of your wishes and giving into your every desire. You swam at the beach, watched lots of movies and ate lots of treats. But a sadness, a foreboding, seemed to settle over you as the weekend drew to a close. On Saturday night, when your grandparents took us out to dinner to celebrate my birthday, Grandpa commented that you looked close to tears. Full time school, meant less weekends at the beach house with Nonna and Grandpa throughout the year, and that alone seemed reason enough for you not to want to go to school. I could relate. Thinking back to summers when I was a child, Labor Day Weekend held the somberness of a funeral. I hated the end of summer, the end of freedom, and the beginning of endless hours of homework that cut into my play time.

Driving home from New York, we talked about school and I tried to sound optimistic and excited for your benefit, but we all know I’ve never been a good actress. The world knows how I feel every moment of every day. I searched my memory, hoping to locate one happy moment I spent in school, one exciting event, but I came up empty. Elementary school and middle school were mountains of misery in my otherwise happy childhood. Students were mean and relentlessly made fun of me. My teachers ensured that reading and writing were the most boring activates on earth. And instead of being able to run around for hours every day, I was forced to sit still as if tied to my desk, staring out the window and yearning for the sun. Yuck. But for you, I had to fain happiness and pretend that school would bring friendships, opportunities and excitement. I’m afraid I wasn’t terribly convincing. As we crossed over from the Long Island Expressway to the Northern State Parkway, you said, “I hope it snows tomorrow. If it snows, I will get a snow day and then I won’t have to go to school the first day.” The sun was beating down on my car. Outside the temperature was soaring into the nineties. Snow was not even a remote possibility, but you didn’t care. You were still young enough to believe that anything, if you thought about it hard enough, was possible.

For awhile you said silently in the back, looking pensive as you stared out the window. Then your voice, not much more than whisper, pulled at my ear. “I am nervous about starting school and meeting new people,” you confessed. 

I smiled, looking at you in the rearview mirror. “I know how you feel. I was really nervous last summer when I started school at FDU. “

He shook his head, positive that I couldn’t relate, “But you knew Carrie.”

“No,” I chuckled, remembering the anxiety that nearly kept me home, kept me from following through with my plan to attend graduate school. “I met Carrie last summer.”

“When you were nervous?” 

“Yes. I met her when I was nervous.”

“And now she is your friend?” You asked, needing clarification.

“Yes,” I nodded, happy that I could settle on a memory to share, happy that I could think of school fondly and not as a torture chamber. 

“So maybe I’ll make new friends,” the beginnings of a smile tugged at the corners of your lips. “I’m still nervous, but I feel better.”

The rest of the day passed in a blur of activity. You and mommy ran some last minute errands, picking up lunch for school, your first lunch away from home. At night, as we were getting ready for bed, we climbed the stairs to my room, a stack of books in my hands to read to you as I read every night. Before I could turn on the light and the fan, you were jumping on the bed. 

“Please don’t jump so close to the edge of the bed,” I said as I sat down.

“Why?” With you it is always why.

“Because I don’t want you to get hurt.”


“Because I don’t want you to miss your first day of school.” That was the absolute wrong thing to say. You inched closer to the edge, looked down at the floor and got ready to dive.

“Do not jump!” 

But I don't want to go to school. I want to spend time with you. When I go to school I won't see you anymore.”

             “ That's not true. We will spend time together every day.” I love spending time with you and I couldn’t phantom a day when we didn’t do something together.
            “Every morning we will have breakfast together and every night we will read together. You will read to me and I'll read to you.” You were much more excited by the prospect of being read to.
            “Do you promise?” You asked, your voice close to breaking.
            “Yes,” I held out my arms and gave you a hug.
             “ I still don't want to go to school. My teacher won't be as smart as you, or Mommy or Nonna. Grandpa was never a teacher so maybe she will be as smart as grandpa.” I laughed. Except for a year of Sunday school, Nonna was never a teacher either. But if the teacher turns out as smart as Grandpa that won’t be so bad.

This morning, you were still sound asleep at 7:15. I hated having to wake you, but you needed to eat and get dressed for school. Slowly, you opened your eyes and smiled at me. As if wanting to stay little for just a moment longer, you asked me to carry you into the living room and I did. You watched Jake and the Neverland Pirates while I got breakfast ready. And you ate outside on the patio skyping Nonna and Grandpa while you ate. Suddenly, in the middle of the conversation you got excited about school. Taking one last bite of cereal you announced that you had to wash your face, comb your hair and brush your teeth. You kissed your grandparents goodbye and bounded off to the bathroom. 

After you finished making yourself handsome, you called me into the bathroom to weave your padawan braid. It is still stubby, but it is long enough to make you feel as though you are joining the ranks of Obi-Wan and Anakin. With your hair ready, you got dressed and then it was time to go. You grabbed your Star Wars backpack and Star Wars lunch bag and we went outside to take pictures. How could I not record the day?  I then drove you to school and by the time we pulled into the parking lot you were exploding with excitement. You practically ran to the door and when it was time to line up I kissed you goodbye. As you walked inside you were smiling. I took three steps and the tears came pouring down my cheeks. 

Driving home the car felt so empty and when I got home the house felt desolate. I missed you so much. I tried to keep busy by writing, working on my own homework assignment but I kept thinking about you and hoping you were having a good day, so my attention was shot. I accomplished little. For me, lunch was the hardest. It was the first time I ate alone during the week in nearly six years. I missed your chatter and your company.

By three-thirty, I was back at school – with your bicycle - waiting to pick you up. I had sent an email, notifying the school that I would pick you up and I told you not to get on the bus, that I would be there for you. Of course, the email was ignored, but you refused to get on the bus. Thank you for listening. When you saw me, you bolted out the door and dove into my arms, giving me a big hug. You were smiling - a good sign.

As you biked – and I walked – back to the car, I asked you how your day went. You told me it wasn’t as boring as you expected it to be. “We didn’t read and write all day. I got to do centers and I went out for recess.” I asked you what you did for centers and you said you played with the kitchen and you made things. You then stopped biking, asked me for your bag and opened it to show me what you made. You made me a heart. Tears slipped into my eyes again but I wiped them away before you saw them.
I asked if you made any friends and you said that you did. You got along with the girl who sits at your table. When I asked you what her name was you offered your classic response, “I forgot.” 

While I pushed you on the swing near the parking lot, you said that even though your day wasn’t absorbed with work, you did do some reading. At one point you were pulled from the class to be tested, only you didn’t know it was a test. I asked you if the reading was hard and you laughed, “No, it was easy, very easy.” You then proceeded to tell me the story, and how it was much easier than Mercy Watson but a little harder than Biscuit.  

Mommy had to work late, but she called to find out how your day was. When she asked you if you made friends or if you where shy you said, “I wasn’t shy at all. I walked into the room and boom! My brain almost burst it was so easy.” I’m glad the social anxiety you were felling melted away so quickly.

One girl, the girl who sat across from you, your new friend, you told me, said that braids were just for girls. You were very sad. But I told you that what she said was not true. Boys could wear braids if they want them. “But,” you argued, “She said girls should have long hair and boys should have short hair.” 

I looked at you and pointed to my own head. “I have short hair and Nonna has short hair. And Jedis have braids.”

“Yes, Jedi’s have braids,” you were smiling again. “But mine has to get longer. I hope it grows longer by Halloween.”

“It will, but it might be another year before it is as long as Obi-Wan’s.”

It is now long passed your bedtime. You are in your room and in bed but you are wired and still excited from your first day. My wish for you is that school continues to be fun, that you learn lots and that you continue to make friends.


Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Nature Friends

The last morning of our camping trip at Kettletown State Park, my son woke up early shouting, “Good Morning,” in a crisp voice, void of sleepiness. My spouse, exhausted from a long summer, slept through this pronouncement as well as his declaration that he desperately needed to visit the restroom. Before leaving the tent, I dressed us both in hiking clothes, figuring a short hike would be a fantastic way to begin our day. I knew better than to hope for anything more than a short hike, since my son had dug his heels in and refused to walk more than a mile or two the last several times we attempted to hike. When I told him of my plan, he groaned so loudly I was surprised my spouse did not stir. 

            After a stop in at the restroom, we headed to the closest trail. Along we way, my son spotted several worms which had lost their way, getting washed out of the dirt and onto the road. My son, of course, had to stop and say hello to each of them, wishing them all a good day. When he finally said goodbye to the worms, he walked maybe another two hundred meters before sighing heavily and complaining that his feet hurt. I may have agreed to turn around and return to the campsite, if I wasn’t already very familiar with this excuse which translated actually means, “I don’t want to walk. If you make me walk I will complain. Since you don’t want me to complain you must give in to my demands.” I didn’t want him to complain, but nor did I want to spend the morning doing absolutely nothing. So, with promises of a juice box and trail mix (yes, chocolate for breakfast – I was desperate to do some sort of physical activity before the long drive home) I convinced him to walk for ten minutes – ten minutes which I ultimately managed to stretched out to nearly and hour. 

            Every rock had to be climbed and every tree inspected, so it was at a snails pace that we inched our way through the forest. When we reached a cross roads, I allowed my son to choose our direction, hoping that if I granted him a say in where we went he might have a little more enthusiasm. He did not. Every three minutes he asked, “Can we turn around yet?” And I answered, “Just a little longer.” And just a little longer managed to carry us uphill to a cliff that overlooked the lake. The view was pretty, the silence and serenity spectacular. My son sat down, thrilled by opportunity to rest. Together we watched boats pass on the lake below, and my son made up stories about the dinosaurs who once walked across what is now Connecticut. We sat until my son declared that he was bored – roughly twelve minutes – and then we retraced our footsteps back to camp. 

            When we arrived back at the tent, my spouse was showered and ready to begin the day. Together we started to break camp. As we started to take down the tent, my son frantically ran around trying to save the spiders that had congregated on the outside. He didn’t want them to get squashed. When we finally packed up the car he said, “I’m going to miss my nature friends.”

            “Your nature friends?” I asked.          

            “Yes,” his voice was laced with sadness. “The worms and spiders are my nature friends.”

Monday, September 7, 2015

A Day At Dinosaur State Park

My son has loved dinosaurs since his third birthday. In fact, the theme of his third birthday was dinosaurs. We hung them from the ceiling and draped them on the walls; we gave them out in goodie bags and used them to decorate the cupcakes. At the time, my son, still struggling to pronounce words correctly, called them “dido-wars.” He wore them on his clothes and loved when I read books about them before bed. Two and a half years later, the giant beasts that once roamed the earth still fascinate him. The Land Before Time movies are some of his favorite shows. While eating lunch with me, he enjoys studying his flashcards, comparing stats about different dinosaurs and finding where they once roamed on the globe. Dinosaurs are in every corner of our house and frequently in the stories my son tells. 

            Because of my son’s obsession with dinosaurs, I have wanted to take him to Dinosaur State Park in Connecticut for at least two years. But the drive from where we live is close to four hours – far too long of a drive for day trip. However, this summer, for our annual camping trip, we decided to go to Connecticut. After hours of research, trying to locate the best campsite, my spouse settled on Kettletown State Park. A quick google search revealed that Dinosaur State Park was only forty-five minutes away – perfect for an afternoon adventure. 

            The days leading up to our camping had my son wound so tightly with excitement that sleep seemed impossible. At night, he lied in bed for hours pulling books off his shelves and reading them to his stuffed animals. And despite delaying sleep hour after hour, he woke up early every morning, questioning me almost immediately about how many days remained until we left. Then, on the morning of our departure, I was in the living room doing homework, when suddenly his voice shattered the silence, “Today is camping day – Yay!” And from that moment, he bounced around the house like a pinball, high on anticipation until I finally packed up the car and we left.

            My spouse’s work schedule, combined with traffic, ensured that we got to the campsite later than we had wished, but early enough to take a short walk down to the river before cooking dinner. Just being at the campsite, setting up the tent and playing in his sleeping bag, kept my son happily entertained.  While we cooked dinner, we played cards. This year we taught him how to play Skip-bo Junior, a kid’s version of a game a friend of mine had introduced us to years ago when we went to visit her out in Washington State. Even though my son was completely exhausted, slurring his words and struggling to keep his eyes open, he managed to stay away long enough to toast a few marshmallows before falling asleep in the tent.

            In the morning, we slept in – when your summer schedule has you waking up at 5 every morning, six thirty is sleeping in – and after brushing our teeth and washing our faces, we climbed into the car and headed north to Dinosaur State Park where dinosaur footprints have been preserved for millions of years. Based on my son’s infatuation with dinosaurs, I expected him to be thrilled and exploding with excitement when he saw the footprints. But my disappointment was matched only by his. Footprints, apparently, if they do not belong to a T-Rex are boring. After one quick glance, my son was ready move on. Luckily, there were other activities at the park that he found interesting. We watched a video about evolution that I didn’t like. I thought it jumped around too much and didn’t seem to follow through on any single idea, but what do I know. My son loved it. The claymation video about dinosaurs was much better – one of the few things my son and I were in agreement over all day.  Along with watching videos we took a nature walk where we learned a little about the geology of Connecticut and my son learned the word igneous which he enjoyed saying over and over and over again. After a picnic lunch we took a short hike, and my son was very excited to spot tree leaves that looked very much like the dinosaur footprints he had seen. He was more excited by the leaves then he had been about the actual footprints, so excited that he demanded I take a picture of them.

            I originally thought we’d spend an hour or two at the park, but instead we stayed almost until they closed. Even though the actual footprints – the entire reason we went there in the first place - were a let down, we did end up having a very enjoyable family day.