explorations of mindful fatherhood


Sick Day: Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love a Good Pillow Fort (and TV and Star Wars II)

pillow fortSick days are sacred.  They’re about taking care of yourself, sitting on your butt, and doing whatever the hell you want. We had a sick day recently, and I recommitted to this idea, while getting the chance to reflect on my everyday (non-sick?) life.

You know your child is having a hard time sleeping when you roll over in the middle of the night to find him staring straight at you as he says “Hi Dad,” with absolute lucidity.  That’s what happened the other night when my son couldn’t sleep, plagued by terrible fits of coughing that thwarted his attempts at rest.  He eventually made it across the hallway into his parents’ bed, keeping us all marginally awake for most of the night.

Needless to say, he was a mess the next morning and had to take the day off of school. I opted to stay home with him so my wife could go to work, and after firing off a few work-related emails, I was free the rest of the day to relax and enjoy.  But at first, I wasn’t quite sure what to do with him.  I tend to be a “let’s get out of here” sort of dad.  On the days that my son and I have had together without his mom, we tend to go to the park, hike, visit museums, enjoy street fairs, that sort of thing.  I tend to be pretty active.  I’m not as good sitting at home coming up with activities.

That’s why this sick day posed a certain challenge for me.  What was I to do with my son for the day, stuck at home?  And here was the fear: We’d only watch TV.  I’m kind of a TV addict.  That’s one of the reasons why we got rid of cable recently.  And yet, without cable, there’s still hulu, amazon streaming, youtube, blu-rays, and a host of other non-cable media options.  When I’m kind of stuck, parenting-wise, I tend to rely on TV as my old fall-back.  We’re tired after dinner: How about an episode of AFV?  Groggy at breakfast: Why not watch an episode of Ninjago?  Mom’s on a work call: Did you see they’re streaming episodes of Ultraman on hulu?

So, a day stuck at home with a sick kid was just screaming out for non-stop television/movie time.  And what did I do?  I turned on the TV of course.  We had breakfast on the couch, watching America’s Funniest Home Videos, but the whole time I was wracking my brain for things to do.  My son’s been learning chess…no, I’m crap at that.  He has reading to do….no, it seemed unreasonable to make him do homework while he’s sick.  We could do some math….no, for the same reason as the reading.

Then I realized the conundrum I was in. I truly believe that sick days are  sacred, and that in this age of achievement and ambition, our bodies sometimes put on the breaks.  When we get sick, I firmly believe that we need to take cues from our bodies and slow down.  So, on a sick day we’re supposed to sit around all day.  We’re supposed to do the things we want to do.  We’re supposed to put everything else down.  The tricky part was that I’m a little too quick to sit around watching TV on days when my family and I are healthy!  I tend to use TV to numb us out on a daily basis.  My sick-day anxiety was due to this push and pull: feeling the need to honor what my son wanted to do on his special sick day (TV) and fighting the laziness that I tend to embody daily (TV).  So what was the answer?  TV.

I had to prioritize the fact that it was his sick day, so we were going to do what he wanted to do in order to feel rested and rejuvenated.  I realized I couldn’t make up for my laziness on that day, of all days.  I would have to start embodying more conscientious ways of unwinding when he or I weren’t sick.  That way, when we’re truly sick or truly exhausted, television can be a special treat.

For that particular sick day, I just needed to be a little savvy and break up the day, because 8 hours of the tube wasn’t going to do anyone any good.  When AFV concluded, I suggested, “Hey, why don’t we build a pillow fort?”  Within a few minutes we had a fort of pillows and blankets scaffolding the couch.  Dad’s fat ass nearly pulled the thing down getting in, but it survived.  Then I suggested I read him a book inside the fort.  He said I could pick the book.  “Even the Hobbit?” I asked hopefully (I’ve been pushing Middle-earth on him for months).  He said yes!  So we cuddled up for nearly an hour under the almost-too-hot blankets, enjoying Bilbo’s unexpected gathering together.

And in the end, more TV.  When I asked him what he wanted to do next, it was to watch Star Wars.  Yes, there is one word that describes both my son and I: Nerds.  He settled on  Attack of the Clones, and I tried not to laugh too hard when Anakin and Padme frolicked in the meadows of Naboo.

In the end, we had a great time.  Sometimes it takes an sick a day to realize you need some rest, but it may also take a sick day to realize the ways in which you spend your everyday life.


PG-13 Woes

pg-13There comes a time in every geek dad’s life when he needs to ask himself a very important question: “Is my child old enough to watch Star Wars?”

My wife and I have been very careful about the type of media our son consumes.  Especially when he was a toddler, we committed ourselves to avoiding any form of commercial consumption by our son.  We also made sure he wasn’t exposed to violence prematurely.  That made for a very PBS-oriented upbringing.  Blues Clues, Thomas the Tank Engine, Dinosaur Train, Curious George, and an occasional Barney episode filled our screen whenever our son was allowed TV time.  Then we graduated to movies and watched most of the Pixars, a lot of Miyazaki, and some Disneys.

Then came that critical question.

In Kindergarten, several of the boys were obsessed with Star Wars.  Midway through the school year, my son knew the names Yoda, Darth Vader, and Han Solo, without having seen even a snippet of Star Wars.  Soon he started to ask for it.  By March of that year, he was asking for it a lot, and so my wife and I put Episode I on our Netflix queue.  We re-watched, but this time from a 5-year-old’s perspective.  We tried to figure out if it was okay for his little brain, but there was no simple answer.  It’s hard to put aside your love for a movie to truly glean whether it’s actually “good” for your Kindergartener.  Up until then, our 5-year-old hadn’t seen a single movie or television show with a gun in it.  He hadn’t watched people physically fight or die in anything.  On the continuum of media violence, this was certainly many steps up from PBS.

But this is the bind: when you love Star Wars and other childhood favorites as much my wife and I, it’s hard to make an objective decision about taking that next Star Wars step.  “It’s not that bad,” we rationalized.  “It’s not as though they’re shooting guns. It’s only blasters and lightsabers.”  “Plus,” I added, “it’s an epic battle of good versus evil. It’s like a greek tragedy.  We’re actually educating him about myth, archetypes, and human nature!”

Hayden_Christensen_in_Star_Wars-_Episode_III_-_Revenge_of_the_Sith_Wallpaper_1_1280Sounds good, right? We thought so too.  We let him watch it.  We also let him watch Episode II (like the next day).  And then, the big question of Episode III arose.  It’s a terribly slippery slope.  Do you let a 5-year-old watch a PG-13 movie?  I mean, he’d seen the first two.  How could we deprive him of the 3rd?  Plus, as children of the 70s, my wife and I were dying to show him Episodes IV, V, and VI.  I mean, that’s the heart of the story!  I hang my head and admit that we let him watch it.  I’m both proud of it (my son has since seen every Star Wars), and ashamed (my 5-year-old watched a guy get his limbs cut off and then burst into flames).

This whole debate is being conjured up again as The Hobbit hits theaters with its damned PG-13 rating.  While my son hasn’t seen any of the Lord of the Rings, we’ve been waiting on tenterhooks to show him.  However, because of the sheer brutality in many of the scenes (somehow death by sword of steel seems worse than by saber of light), we’ve saved these movies for later.  But as The Hobbit hits theaters, we relive the same debate: “Wouldn’t it be cool to watch it with him?” versus “But it’s just too much.”

hobbit_an_unexpected_journeyAnd so, geeky parents across the country are probably embroiled in the same debate.  When we as parents have no emotional connection to a film, we’re more likely to gain a clear picture of that movie’s violence and, therefore, better able to assess whether we should expose our children to it.  But, if we’re fans of the movie, or if it resonates with the child within us, we’re more prone to jump the gun and sit down with our kids to watch.

So, what’s a good age for The Hobbit’s PG-13 rating?  8-years-old?  Please tell me it is; I couldn’t hold off much longer than that.


The Lightsaber I Never Had

Dooku_yodaThis past week, my son and his neighbor-slash-best-friend were at our house when I got home, and they begged me to come outside for a lightsaber battle in the dark.  In spite of my wife warning it was too cold, we ran outside and slashed at each other; me in Sith red and my son and his friend in Jedi blue and green.

I was quick to jump out the door because of the exhilaration of a good lightsaber battle, and because my son’s toys are friggin’ awesome.  When I was a kid and Star Wars was in the theaters, the toys were great, but limited, and there were tons of knock-offs back then in the early 80s.  I remember the nearest thing we got to a toy lightsaber was a colored hollow tube, with a super-thick handle.  As best I can recall, the thing resembled thin 2-inch pvc piping, and was just as difficult to wield for my tiny hands.  My brother and I pleaded with our parents to buy them, and were lucky enough to wear them down one Christmas.  Although I loved the thing, I imagined one that could be so much better, with lights, sounds and power.  I’d ask myself why couldn’t toy engineers work a little harder.  My brother and I played with the lightsabers in the house when we weren’t supposed to and cracked them against things not meant to be hit with a lightsaber.  Soon the tubes bent under the weight of our battles, rendering the damn things useless.

Flash forward 30 years and my son and I were in Target shopping the Star Wars aisle a few months ago.  We saw the lightsabers, and I nearly fell down. This one lightsaber looked exactly like Darth Vader’s; it powered up, illuminating the blade from the bottom up with a progressive “whoosh”, and responded to our movements with the whirring sounds only a real lightsaber can make.  When it came into contact with something, there was a resulting crackling sound.  Awesome.  This was the lightsaber of my childhood dreams.  It did everything my 7-year-old brain had imagined a toy lightsaber should do.  In spite of my giddy anticipation, I slowed my role.  My son and I talked about saving up for the thing, but were there the next weekend to purchase it.

On the car ride home, I impressed upon my son how lucky he is to live in an age in which toymakers could construct the perfect lightsaber toy.  I recounted the lameness of my original toy, and hyped up every feature of his new one.  Over the subsequent months, many more lightsabers were purchased.  Let’s just say the umbrella bin at our front door is filled with lightsabers, as though we run some Jedi saloon.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m quick to value the importance of imagination in play.  In fact, aside from legos, art supplies, and stuffed animals, there aren’t a lot of toys around our house.  I think a good stick can be a sword and a treehouse can be an Imperial fortress.  But, there’s no denying the value of a kick-ass lightsaber.  It was a great tool for connecting the joys of my own childhood with my son’s.

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