The Turnabout Intruder


It was bad enough with Star Wars.

The boys saw a scene from the Original Trilogy on a television, watched for a moment, turned to me, and asked, “Why are those clonetroopers shooting good guys?”

Sigh.

But then, yesterday, the seven-year-old and I are talking about aliens, in reference to the movie Megamind, which has one character, Megamind, who is very clearly and alien, and another, Metro Man, who looks like a normal person, despite both being from other planets. So I’m explaining the diversity of aliens in science fiction.

And then there are the aliens that look almost like humans, like Mr. Spock.

“Who is Spock?”

Knowing that he’s seen the J.J. Abrams Star Trek movie, I try to explain which one Spock is.

“Is he the one who was always kissing the girl?”

Um, yes. Yes, he was.

The next generation thinks that stormtroopers are good guys, and that the guy on Star Trek who’s always kissing a girl is Mr. Spock.

Angels and ministers of grace defend us…

Chicken Tenders and Other Bad Words


“Ooooh, you said a bad word!”

So the five-year-old informed me when I told him what I fixed for lunch today — to wit: chicken tenders.

“What?” asked his mother.

“He said ‘tenders’,” Caden informed her.

Heather, apparently unprivy to previous relevant conversations between her sons, continued to look confused.

“Tenders,” I knowingly explained, “as in, ‘oooh, he was kicked in the …'”

Heather made a valiant effort at explaining that chicken tenders were a perfectly valid form of food, and that ‘tenders’ was a perfectly acceptable word to use in describing them.

Caden, on the other hand, just continued to be amused that I, and now his mother, kept repeatedly saying a bad word.

So I tried a different tack. “I could say ‘I had four apples, BUT I gave Caden three.’ And it’s OK to say ‘but’ when I’m talking about the apples like that.”

Caden paused, and pondered this.

And then looked at me with his most serious expression and asked …

“What are ‘butt apples’?”

Nature, Nurture Or None Of The Above


To be fair, it’s happened before in good ways.

But Thursday morning before the launch, as Finn and I were facing off and I found myself entering terra incognita of child discipline with a mad, hurt, yet staunchly stubborn and defiant seven year old in front of me, the thought entered my head, “This child is so much like me.”

It’s a weird feeling.

By nature, he’s not like me at all. He’s not mine. He inherited nothing from me. Genetically, he doesn’t have my stubbornness any more than he’ll ever have my nose.

By nurture, yeah, he’s starting to be a little bit like me. You can definitely tell where I’m starting to rub off a little on both of the boys. The little things make me smile — like hearing them tell a “One-hundred-and-one” joke like we do in the improv shows. The big things make me really happy, though — you can tell there’s an increased love of narrative that I think is really cool. And, Heather says, they pray more, and more personally, because of me. And, yeah, that means a whole lot. A whole lot.

But then there’s another category, the none-of-the-above comparisons.

You become friends with someone because you find things you have in common. At the beginning of a dating relationship, you’re amazed at all the commonalities — “You like movies!? I like movies! And, hey, we’re both bipedal mammals! How amazing is that!? Clearly we were meant to be!”

But you share those things not because of any shared background, but because you both just happen to have taken different roads that ended up in the same place in those areas.

Caden and I have a few of those, but, to be honest, any commonalities with Caden are more with an idealized version of me than with the real me. I wish I were as free-spirited as he is, able to enjoy life the same way, as gifted at encouragement as he just naturally is. I tell him I’ll do something, and get around to it a few days later, and am greeted not with a “finally” type of response, but with “Good remembering, David!” I wish I could master that outlook.

Finn and I, on the other hand …

I saw him standing there in front of me last Thursday, and could put myself in his shoes, standing like that in front of my own dad. Stubborn, proud, desperately wanting to be as much in control as I could be. I wished I knew how to tell him that. It also made me put myself in the shoes of my dad a couple of decades ago. I have a few things in common with him, too.

I also see myself also in Finn’s cleverness. He’s competitive, but he loves figuring out how to work the system, to find the loopholes that give him an edge. Like me, he’s an odd blend of introvert and extrovert. He’ll not speak to a schoolmate in public because he doesn’t know what to say, but he’ll do a chicken dance in front of friends at a Havoc game.

It’s fun. I had no idea what it would be like having kids be a big part of my life, and that’s been one of the biggest surprises — that one of the most challenging and most rewarding parts of it has been discovering just who these two guys are as people. They have their own personalities, vastly different from each other, but each with so many things that warm my heart and probably more than a few things that try my patience. But they’re both just so wholly and fully and uniquely them.

It’s a cool thing where my commonality with their uniqueness gives me a perspective that Heather doesn’t have; it lets me feel like I actually contribute something.

And knowing that being around me has an impact on them; seeing how they are shaped because I’m in their life, is one of the most rewarding experiences and yet heaviest burdens I’ve had.

STS-133 Launch: Worth Waiting For


launch of sts-133

One earlier time, I was glad for a scrub.

A year and a half ago, I drove down for the launch of Ares I-X. After spending eight hours on the Causeway the launch was scrubbed for the day, a victim of the much-dreaded triboelectrification and of a wayward boat captain who wandered into the range.

The next day, we came back, waited, as I recall, nearly another eight hours, but this time with the payoff of watching a spectacular launch, possibly my favorite of the six or so I’ve seen from the cape area. The wait was well worth it; the skies were so much more clear the second day that it was an entirely different experience than it would have been the day before. That unknown boat captain was my best friend as I watched the Ares rocket soar in its unlikely fashion through the sky.

But that was just one day. There was one scrub, and it launched the next day.

STS-133, on the other hand …

Heather, the boys and I went down in November to try to watch it. It scrubbed the first time before we even left town, but we were already committed to our travel plans. The trip lasted a week. And at the end of that week, the launch was pushed back more than two months.

We hadn’t planned on going back, but circumstances sort of fell together the right way, and so last Thursday we were standing on a pier watching Discovery soar through the sky.

And I was glad the mission had scrubbed.

When we went down in November, the boys’ thoughts on the pending launch ranged from, at best, mild curiosity about this thing we’d brought them down to see to, at worst, annoyance that it would mean time away from Disney and the swimming pool. Excitement was not part of the equation. The afternoon we spend at the Kennedy Space Center Visitors Center was perhaps one of the low-points of the trip, in part because of my frustration stemming from wanting them to get it in a way they simply didn’t.

In the meantime, however, Heather and I finished the book we’d been writing about the early shuttle program, and Caden finally got curious about what this thing was that was taking up so much of mommy and David’s time that rightfully should have been his. So he came and asked me questions. I gave him answers. We watched videos together on YouTube of launches and landings and everything in between. Any chance he got, he asked me to tell him stories about space. And I did.

Going back down this time, Caden was excited. He got it. It was an entirely different experience for him than it would have been if it had gone the first time, and I was grateful for the delay that gave him time to catch up.

In the acknowledgments of both my books, I’ve mentioned my dad as the source of an interest in space that led me to where I am today. He shared his passion with me, and it’s lasted to this day. When the first space shuttle flew, I was five years old. Caden right now is five years old. I can’t tell you how cool it was for me to be able to share that with him at that point in life.

My dad tried more than once to take me to a launch. Fittingly, they all scrubbed. He and I did both watch STS-131 last year in person, but from two different locations. It wasn’t quite the same, but it meant a lot for me to complete the mission he started when I was younger, taking a child with stars in his eyes to see a launch.

And, yeah, afterwards, having him tell me that “the space shuttle launch was the awesomest thing ever”?

Totally worth the wait.

Caden and I at the launch with Discovery's plume in the background.

The Good Of The Juan


The envelope was smaller than it should have been.

Normally around this time of year, I get an envelope from Compassion International with an update about my sponsored child, Juan., with a new picture and his family and school situation.

This year, the envelope marked “Information About Your Sponsored Child” was smaller than it should have been. I worried. I opened it up, and there was only a single sheet of paper inside. Oh no.

It was bad news, but not as bad as it should have been. Juan had stopped attending the Compassion student center, and so was no longer participating in the program, and his sponsorship had to be ended.

I really don’t remember how long ago I started sponsoring Juan; I would guess about six or seven years. I wish my story were that I was a better person, but the truth was, I went to Family Christian one day and they were running an offer were you got a good coupon if you signed up to sponsor a child, so I did.

Juan is 15 now. He lives in Guatemala. He struggled in school; as I understand, last year he was still only in second grade. We wrote back and forth a few times a year, not as frequently as I should have. I thought it was sweet that, long after the divorce, he would still ask me if I knew how Nicole was doing. He was a good kid, and I wonder what happened. Of the options, I would like to think he had to dedicate more time to the needs of his growing family.

Compassion, of course, encouraged me to begin sponsoring a new child, and even found one similar to Juan to suggest.

Instead, however, I’m going in a different direction this time.

My new child, Hansell, is less than a month younger than Finn. (His birthday is the day before mine.) Like Finn, he’s in second grade, and his performance is above average. He has one sibling, and they live with his mother and stepfather. I wanted to find a child similar to Finn, in hopes that they could become penpals and learn about each other. It would give the child another link beyond just my sponsor letters, and help Finn learn more about life outside the United States. Hansell lives in Nicaragua, where Flint River sends mission teams, and Finn and Caden have participated in fundraisers they’ve done in the children’s program at the church to support the trips, so there’s even a connection there.

I’m excited about it. I hate that Juan left the program, but I want to make the most of the opportunity by starting over in Compassion a little wiser and more experienced about how to go about it so I can be a better sponsor this time.

I’m always very reluctant to push charity causes — I believe firmly that charitable giving is best when it’s given to a cause that the giver is passionate about. So I’m not going to encourage you to support Compassion if it’s not something you are interested in;particularly since it’s a cause that really needs not only money but time to show love to the sponsored kids, even it if’s just the occasional letter. If you are interested, however, I’ve found it to be a good program, and would encourage you to sponsor a child.

Kinda-Review: Green Hornet (In Which I Become An Old Fuddy-Duddy)


I wanted to go see Tron again.

Heather was going out for a girls’ night with some friends, so the boys and I were having a guys’ night — dinner and a movie. There aren’t many kids’ movies out right now; and they’d pretty much seen them, except for Yogi Bear, and I do have some standards.

I’d seen Tron thrice before, and the boys had seen it twice. They’d seen Green Hornet once before, and I’d not seen it at all, and Finn really pushed for Green Hornet (because he wanted me to see it) over Tron.

I normally would have balked at the PG-13 rating — the recommended age is older than both boys put together — but their granny had already taken them, and all involved swore it wasn’t that bad. So I’m not going to be exposing them to anything they haven’t already seen. Well, OK, then, Green Hornet it is.

I should have stuck with Tron.

The thing that I’ve been wondering since then is whether it was really that reprehensible, or whether it was just my perspective was different watching it with the boys. What would I have thought if I was watching it by myself?

And it was reprehensible. The “heroes” treated each other badly. They treated women badly. Their language was awful. They fought police and put them in mortal danger on a lark. (And these are the good guys.) They were cavalier about destruction of property and endangering bystanders. Arguably, they had no redeeming traits at all. Sure, there’s a “redemptive” level of “helping others,” but it’s really far more about their own self-indulgence; their “help” is self-centered, dangerous and largely unproductive. Even their climactic battle, presented as being important, is ultimately pretty whimsical.

And I’ll admit a further bias that, while I’ve never been a huge Green Hornet fan, I felt like the movie was disrespectful to the original source, which is something that’s a big turn-off for me in movies. If you want to remake  a property, remake it in the spirit of the original. If you want to make something in a different spirit, then use some creativity and do it with your own invention instead of someone else’s.

So I can’t swear that I wouldn’t have enjoyed Green Hornet if I had seen it by myself, but I would imagine probably not. (Adding to this theory — I’ve never seen, nor had any desire to see, any other Seth Rogen movie.)

But it’s another piece of evidence for the state in the growing case that being around the boys is making me an old fuddy-duddy. Exhibit #193 — Last week, I was at the comic book store, picking up my weekly comics. (A good exhibit for the defense, let the record show.) Caden wanted a book, and I grabbed a Star Wars comic off the shelf because it featured on the cover a large number of Clone Troopers, which Caden loves. (I’m not sure whether the prosecution or plaintiff arguments are supported better by the fact that part of me finds it wrong that their post-prequel upbringing makes them think stormtroopers are good guys and not care about Han Solo.)

Flipping through it, I saw that it showed Anakin, sans a good chunk of his arms and legs, dangling from the ceiling, having his cybernetic systems replaced. Later in the book, and somewhat subtly, a minor character’s head is visible mid-frame, having been removed from its proper place via lightsaber. Is this appropriate for a five-year-old? How am I supposed to know? Is it any worse than the last Star Wars movie, which he’s seen?

And I found myself thinking a weird thought, that I never thought I would think.

And let me point out, I think it should be optional, I think you should be able to publish whatever sort of comic book you want, but I think there should be a way of knowing what comic books are appropriate for what audiences.

But, dadgumit, I miss when books were approved by the Comics Code Authority.

I Feel Funny … And Contagious


This is the latest in my series of blog entries taking a fresh look at a variety of topics. I’ve set up a page on the blog explaining the project and linking to my entries. This post’s topic is “Your Sense Of Humor.”


Caden:
“Three hundred ninjas walk into a coffee shop.
The breester says we don’t serve your kind here.
And the ninja says, maybe we should destroy your whole building!”

David:
“That’s kinda extreme.”

Caden:
“And the ninja says, maybe we should destroy your whole building …
And make a better building for the coffee shop.”

David:
“Oh, that’s nice!”

I’ve always been proud of my sense of humor.

Even if I couldn’t tell a joke to save my life.

For me, a good sense of humor is not really about being funny.

It’s about not taking things too seriously.

I’ve always been proud of the fact that, no matter how bad things may be, I can always laugh about it.

The truth is, there’s humor all around us. Life is funny, you know?

But most of the time, we take it too seriously to notice that.

When we stop, we started seeing the humor in things that we’ve been missing.

To the extent that I can be funny — and by now, I can be funny — it’s not so much because I can come up with funny things, it’s that I see the funniness already in things. Or see how to defy the expectations that we have in order to make things funny.

That’s the secret to a lot of improv we do. Sure, sometimes we’re funny because someone says something clever. But frequently we’re funny because the scene shows funny truths about life, and, because they’re pretend and on stage, it’s easy to let them be funny. Sometimes we’re funny because in our day to day lives, things happen in a consistent and logical pattern, and we find it funny when a scene deviates from that pattern.

If you can recognize those same things when they’re not on stage, the world becomes a happier place.

I enjoy laughing. I enjoy making people laugh. I do like being funny, because I like funny things.

I love sharing them with others.

Humor is one place I’ve been able to see that Finn and Caden are picking things up from being around me. They’ve come to several improv shows, and enjoy watching them, but they also want to do it themselves. They love giving suggestions during the show, but then they’ll want to play the games themselves afterward.

Finn was the first, completely on his own, to start telling the “101” jokes we do in the shows. When Finn started, Caden had to as well. Finn understands why my pun punchlines are funny, but struggles to make his own. Caden doesn’t get it at all, but finds the whole conceit of the joke funny. But it really doesn’t matter. Whether it’s because they came up with a good punchline or because their joke was totally random, the results are funny. And it’s fun to see them wanting to share that with me.

I hope that I can also teach them the truth in some wise words from A Wrinkle In Time by Madeleine L’Engle.

“The only way to cope with something deadly serious is to try to treat it a little lightly.”