Dear Jackrabbit #41 — Free Range Childhoods and Why That’s Probably Not Going To Be Much of a Thing For You

Dear Jackrabbit,

I wanted to be a little more caught up on these letters by today, but at least I’m not falling further behind.

Another busy week compounded by a sick dog that’s got me all sorts of distracted. Still, we push on and move forward.

Have I written about free-range childhoods yet?

I bring this up because of an article I read recently that mentioned numerous incidents in which parents were charged with neglect just for letting their kids play outside without direct supervision.

You have no idea how alien this seems to me.

Even at a young age–certainly by six years old– I was playing outside. When we lived on Rocket Street we’d go down to the little wooded area at the end of the street and look for turtles. We’d climb and jump the walls along the side of the road and into the grass. We’d run around all of the back yards in the neighborhood.

Don’t be fooled by the cherubic smiles on myself, Uncle Tim, and Uncle Andrew. We look like angels now, but we’re planning trouble as soon as we’re out the door.

By the time we were on Pleasant Street, we’d be exploring the woods on the hill, climbing the woodpile behind the Guild Guitar factory, hanging out at the loading dock by the Red Fox Soda Company warehouse, following “the brook,” as we called it, into the woods near the abandoned train tracks, grabbing discarded carpet strips from Pucci’s Carpets down the street to pad the floors of our tree forts–hell–we were dragging lumber and tools into the woods to make tree forts. Do kids still do things like that? I have no idea who owned that land, but over the years it saw numerous little construction projects by local kids.

We won’t even talk about swinging on vines out over piles of old quarry rock. And speaking of quarries… by the time we were on Pierce St., we were hitting the quarry swimming holes pretty regularly. I’m pretty sure I already wrote about this one. Pretty dangerous, I know. There were a few injuries and fatalities, but when you’re a kid you don’t think about stuff like that.

And sure, maybe cutting through the train tracks to get to the town park in the dead of night wasn’t always the smartest thing. Same with riding a bike to the beach after midnight where there are no street lights wasn’t entirely wise.

What was my point?

Oh, yeah…free-range parenting versus this kind of over-restrictive thing that seems to be the rage today.

Not fooled by that smile for one second. I’m keeping my eye on you, boy.

I hesitate to say one is better than the other. Sure, I think I had a pretty cool childhood with the amount of freedom I had, but at the same time–my judgement may not have always been the best, but that’s on my folks. I know some of the stuff my dad got up to when he was a kid, so he doesn’t even have the excuse of not knowing better.

At the same time, I know what I was like as a kid (and I wasn’t even the worst of the Teehan boys)… so I have a fair idea of what you will be like. Sure, you’ll have your mother’s influence as well…but not sure if we can really take that chance.

My plan is to trust your judgement… to a degree, and to the degree that we can get away with legally (that’s not to say we might not try to push a few boundaries here and there).

Now…the really bad news.

You’re probably going to have a much harder time getting away with things than I did as a child. There was no internet when I was a kid. Certainly no digital camera technology or social media. There is very little actual evidence of any trouble I got into back in the day. There was also no kiddie-lo-jacking. No cameras everywhere. No satellites taking pictures of every little minor sin.

Whereas for you, my boy, all I’ll probably have to do is check my “What The Hell Is My Son Doing Now?” app on my phone and there you’ll be–lighting firecrackers and tossing them into the… no… no… no… I’m not here to give you ideas. Not publically, anyway. Come talk to me later.

However it rolls, we’ll try out best to make sure you have a decent childhood, a modicum of freedom tempered with a sense of safety and responsibility…

…and just a enough trouble to keep it interesting. Don’t tell your mother.

All my love,

–Dad

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Dear Jackrabbit #40 — Keep On Keeping On

Dear Jackrabbit,

Okay, boy. Let’s start off with some mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.

It’s Latin, look it up. A passing of knowledge of Latin is a minimum expectation I have for you by, at least, your teen years. Trust me on this. Learning Latin will help you learn just about every other language–and greatly enhance your understanding of English vocabulary and grammar.

But I digress. The opening line is an apology. For what? Well, I’ve missed two Dear Jackrabbit Sundays in a row–well, three is you count the last one which was still a couple of days late. I’ve been very busy lately. Work, work, work. Chores, chores, chores. And the need to sleep, sleep, and maybe a quick nap.

Sorry about all of that. But it’s for a good cause. Work helps with the bills. Chores keep the place from falling apart. Sleep keeps dear old dad from falling apart. I’ll be catching up on these entries over the course of the next week or so and, hopefully, get back on track.

Baby fashions were not exactly something to write home about in 1967.

So what’s new? Well, you’re ten months old now. And check it out. I found a picture of myself at ten months old. We both make great looking babies. As far as you being ten months old, you’re getting more and more active. Every morning you pull yourself up and stand to greet me when I come into your bedroom to get you. When given opportunity, you pull yourself into standing positions by the couch and gates in the living room. You even walk, after a fashion while holding on to something hand over hand, toward your mother or me.

It’s pretty cool.

You’re super curious about things. To be honest, it’s a little bit of a challenge to keep up with you. You need watching, boy, or else you’re going to grab something you shouldn’t or, worse, put it in your mouth. We’ve addressed the babyproofing in your roaming areas, but you’re a clever kid. Too clever at times. We have to keep an every watchful eye because you have obviously seen things we haven’t.

Still, on the other hand, I’m pretty proud of you for that.

Always be curious. Always see what others don’t.

Keep on keeping on, son.

All my love,

–Dad

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Dear Jackrabbit #39 — State of the Child

Dear Jackrabbit,

Sorry this letter is a bit late. I’ve been hugely busy lately and it’s probably not going to slow down much anytime soon. That said, I figure the least I could do is give you a little bit of an update as to what you’ve been up to.

Did you know that you’re standing? Well, mostly. You need to hold onto something, but not necessarily with both hands. You’re getting big, fast. I swear I just saw you see if you could climb over the gate to freedom, sweet freedom. That might have been my imagination. More likely, you’re experimenting with this whole standing and, soon enough, walking thing. And as for climbing… yeah, you’re into that. I caught you standing on your more sturdy toys in order to get some height by that gate.

Why?

Watcha doin’?

So you could grab stuff off the shelf just within reach.

This is stuff you do right now.

You’re also starting to eat people food, i.e., grown-up food.

I mean, you’re not eating steak and potatoes or anything–not with a knife and fork. Instead, you’re eating macaroni and cheese, chicken, hotdogs, scrambled eggs, or whatever else we, too, are having with dinner. You’re not eating them in big bites, of course, but in little tiny pieces that you won’t choke on, but can still get some practice chewing up.

You make quite a mess at times, but it’s all part of the process. The dog doesn’t mind the mess you make. He gets to clean it up.

Back to the gate… it has greatly given you more room to move around in now–pretty much most of the living room. No more Pak ‘n Play penning you in. No longer trapped on my lap on the couch.

You seem to be enjoying it. I’ve been trying to take advantage of it by taking my laptop into the living room and seeing how possible it is to sneak in some work as I watch over you playing. It’s had some mixed results. You’re not a fan of my attention being diverted. That’s okay.

And you really like peek-a-boo (see picture). You’ll come up and pull yourself up by my knees, hold onto the laptop, and peer around the side at me… then hide… then peer around again with that great goofy grin of yours.

So, yeah… not going to get much work done. That’s okay. I’m in awe while watching you. Continue reading

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DearJackrabbit #38 — Happy First Father’s Day

Dear Jackrabbit,

Happy Father’s Day.

There are any number of topics I could choose from on this, our first Father’s Day. I was thinking of writing about my dad. A quite worthy subject, but there will be time enough. I considered writing about myself–another quite worthy subject I’m sure you’ll agree. But again, time enough.

Instead, I’m writing about you.

Why?

Because you’re the reason I’m a dad.

Oh, well, yes… you’re mother was there, of course. Hats off to her, you know.

Q: What’s the difference between a high-hit baseball and a maggot’s father?
A: One’s a pop fly. The other’s a fly pop.

The point I’m trying to make is that I wouldn’t be getting a Father’s Day card today were it not for you. A large part of me thinks I’m the one who should be getting you the card. Being your father is a privilege. You’re an amazing kid. It’s going to sound horribly saccharine to say, but with you around… every day is Father’s Day.

When asked what I wanted to do today, I jokingly responded with desires to sleep all day. Well… a good nap wouldn’t be unwelcome, but I think I understand more why on Father’s Day around the country, a lot of dads aren’t napping, but doing stuff with their kids instead.

Because it’s our privilege.

Don’t let it go to your head son. I saw what you did to that diaper yesterday.

Twice.

Maybe what it comes down to is, at the very least, this is your day as much as it may be mine. And there really isn’t much difference between today and every other day other than I have this nice Father’s Day card sitting next to me.

I love you, Jack. Remember that.

All my love,

–Dad

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DearJackrabbit #37 — Relish These Days

Dear Jackrabbit,

I was going to write about the days leading up to your birth, but, to be honest, I’m super busy these days and, on top of that, I should try to take it easy for a little bit. Dear old dad done broke himself a bit in that he’s saddled with an upper back injury. It’s happened before–not in a while, though–and will likely happen again.

It happens.

So it’s pain killers, cold and heat compresses, special exercises, and generally trying to be a little easy on that part of the body. It will pass eventually. And I’m going to try my best not to be grumpy about it and try my best not to let it interfere with our “us” time. Still, if you’re going to play “Hop on Pop” I’d appreciate it if you did it more on my left side than my right.

Thanks. You’re a good boy.

So, whats up?

Tough life, eh?I mean…can someone have too many toys?

Meh, the usual. Focusing a lot on work so we can pay them never-ending bills. Your mother has her day job and her freelance clients. I’m working on a bunch of different projects all at once. Some film journals, a book of plays by Jules Verne (look him up), a trivia book about old-time radio, a collection of interviews with famous writers, a book about Harvey Comics, and probably something else I’m forgetting.

I’ve also more personal projects going on–mostly writing-oriented. I have a couple of short stories I’m in the middle of editing, a longer piece I’m mapping out, some non-fiction pieces, and some game writing. All of these may earn some money at some point, but right now the focus is on the freelance work that’s a guaranteed paid. I’ve got a few art projects in mind, but those will have to wait their turn.

So there’s that. I’ve got some yard work to do which is going to have a to wait a few days. It’s Sunday and there are chores–laundry and shopping, for instance–that will need to be addressed.

So, what are you doing right now?

You’re sitting happily in your Pak ‘n Play watching a musical video about a baby shark.

Good for you, son. Relish this time. I know we do.

Despite all of the work and whatnot your mother and I have to take of, we’re both very happy that you can be a baby, that you can be a child and not have to worry about things. Our mission is to make sure that lasts as long as possible and we don’t mind a single bit.

And no matter how busy we get, between us we will always make sure we have time for you, to spend with it.

Otherwise, what’s the point?

So enjoy these years, boy.

We will as well.

All my love,

–Dad

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Dear Jackrabbit #36 — The Truth Must Be Told

Dear Jackrabbit,

One day you may be given a school assignment to write about a member of your family.

While I heartily recommend that you write about your mother who is a much better person than I and who, as I have stated numerous times in these letters already, is a goddamn hero… it would be disingenous of me to suggest that, perhaps, your old man doesn’t have a few interesting stories to tell.

Should it come up, you may use any of these tidbits from my past as a topic for your school essay. I affirm that all are extremely true.*

Why would I lie?

  • In 1921 I accompanied a polar expedition that was seeking the entrance to the Hollow Earth. I did not stay with the expedition the entire time, so I don’t know how successful they were. Granted, I also never heard from them again. I left the group sometime before then in order to continue my own search for the elusive Polaris Sunflower. I was, of course, successful and that is how I saved the town of Dire End in Nunavut.
  • While there exist drawings of me riding what appears to be a T-Rex in certain volumes held by the International Geographic Society dating from the late 1880s, I hasten to point out that pen-and-ink evidence does not equal photographic evidence–of which there is none.
  • On March 30, 1981, I was at the Dallas Book Depository–over a thousand miles away.
  • Elvis Presley and I shared the same shoe size and he got those blue suede shoes from me–although to be honest, I stole them from Carl Perkins. My bad.
  • A rare, un-retouched photograph of Ambrose Bierce taken in 1745.

    I did not ride with Pancho Villa. He rode with me. (As did Ambrose Bierce.)

  • For about a week in 1976 I did not cast a shadow. I had been sick for a short time and been treated by a passing Austrian physician with something he called “The Unspecified Tincture.” I don’t recall much from that week, but am told that television reception suffered when I was near. The effects passed without fanfare or note–much to everyone’s relief.
  • I have only been to outer space once, but did not have an opportunity to go outside. Heck of a layover, but it saved me $100 on the total cost of my flight to Chicago.
  • It has been said that I have the heart and soul of a lion. This is a baseless accusation. Still… well… if you walk ten paces north of the back porch and dig for five or six feet… you may be in for a surprise. Be careful not to break the glass or they will escape.
  • I can consume my weight in tacos and have done so on three different occasions. Twice was for fun, but the third was all business.
  • President Frankilin Delano Roosevelt once said, after finishing a bowl of my signature 13-apostle chili, “Solen ska bli svart och månen blodröd innan. Herrens stora dag kommer. And if you ever repeat what I just told you, I am banishing you to Borneo.”
  • “My dear captain, once again I feel I must call into question the veracity of your outlandish claims. Dost thou thinkest I was born but yesterday? Really, now!”

    My original birth certificate is in a small, grey metal box buried deep in the Ross Ice Shelf in the Antarctic. This is one reason why your revered father is so concerned with global warming issues.

  • Once, in Borneo, I again ran into Ambrose Bierce who, when he saw me, gave a startled yelp and disappeared in a puff of blue smoke that smelled of ancient lavender. Two days later I was allowed to return to the US with a full pardon and apology.
  • There are only twelve people on this planet who know what’s really going on. I’m not one of them… but they have my phone number.

I hope this convinces you that dear old dad wasn’t always the lazy layabout you see today, forming a deep butt impression upon the couch.

All my love,

–Dad

*Most of these facts can be confirmed (and only confirmed) by referring to the 43-volume Compleat and Unexpurgated Encyclopidea of Events and Affaires, 1985 Special Edition of which the only surviving copy (in fact, the only ever printed copy) is in the possession of one Mr. Simons of West Roxbury.

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More on Movies

Back in February I wrote about how much Jack is enraptured by the Despicable Me franchise. I don’t entirely get why. Don’t get me wrong… I love the movies as well. Always have. The boy’s fascination is probably my fault–DNA, having them on too much in the background, witch’s curse–that kind of thing.

[Disclaimer: Before y’all start chiming in on TV viewing and children and what not… we don’t spent all day in front of the TV. Honest.]

But Despicable Me and its sequels serve well as a way to distract Jack when I need to head to the other room for a few minutes to prepare his food, check e-mail, oversee the overthrow of a government, etc.

But I gotta tell ya… I could use a break from Despicable Me–at least until the next movie hits the digital airwaves.

There have been some more recent contenders for acceptable alternatives: Secret Life of Pets, Storks, and Boss Baby.

Okay, that last one is still in theaters and isn’t a home viewing option yet–but there are so many extended previews on YouTube that I feel like I’ve seen it already. Kid with an overactive imagination gets a baby brother. Neither are happy about it. The baby is very clever. The boy and the baby have a bit of a feud, but then something happens in which they need to cooperate and then they become the best of friends. Right?

First things, first, though.

Secret Life of Pets. I know a lot of people really enjoyed this movie. I’m not a big fan. Sure, it’s cute in spots. Even funny. But I never really cared about any of the characters or the plot. It’s a big ol’ yawn. For me, this is surprising as it comes to us from the Despicable Me folks. By all rights I should love it. But I don’t. (I will admit that I like the opening song. Movie could have ended there, though.)

The boy seems to like it… to a degree. But that’s it.

Storks. This just arrived on HBO. Love it. Great animation. Characters I care about. Great voice acting. Funny as hell. Clever as hell. By the end it got me right in the feels. The kid seems to like it more than the pet movie. Good on him. This is a winner and we’ll be watching it again many times I’m sure.

The Boss Baby. Like I said… it’s not really in rotation yet because it’s still in theaters, but the boy seems to like watching the extended previews. Add to that the extended previews for Despicable Me 3 and the onslaught of kiddie music videos (like “Baby Shark”) YouTube is doing a fine job as a media provider.

Observation… Of the three movies, I was surprised to find how much I like the two that feature babies. I can’t help but wonder if I’d have felt the same way had I not been a parent of a baby.

Maybe? Really can’t know for sure. Is this some kind of syndrome all new parents go through? One day you’re watching art house films or superhero adventure flics and everything is fine–and then–BAM!–it’s kids movies.

Weird.

I’m not going to make a judgement call on this. Let’s just call it something that is.

I’ll give the boy a few more months and then we’ll roll out a Criterion edition of La Vie de Boheme.

Cheers!

–John

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Dear Jackrabbit #35 — On Growing Up Too Quickly

[My apologies for missing a couple of regular blog posts last week. The boy has been going through another one of those periods where he wakes up yelling in the middle of the night and it’s played havoc with my schedule. Things seem to be evening off again now.]

Dear Jackrabbit,

Ten years or so from now when you’re likely to be reading these various posts and letters (or having them beamed directly into your brain or however you kids are accessing the internet by then), you’ll see me here today commenting on a couple of things you’re doing right now.

To whit…

You’re growing up a bit too quickly now, ain’t ya?

I didn’t attend my first cookout until I was twice your age, and here you are eating bits of hotdog like a pro.

I mean, come on… you’re just a bit over eight months old and you’re handling your own bottle and feeding yourself. You’re picking up little bits of solid food your mother puts on the highchair tray and feeding yourself. You’re holding onto the edge of the pak ‘n play and standing. You’re picking out your own toys from The Pile. You’re sitting up on your own and examining items with a suspicious intensity.

What’s next? Changing your own diaper?

Old dad is starting to feel a little unnecessary. Maybe redundant.

I see you examining the straps on the car seat. You’re planning your next move. I see you trying to figure out the TV remotes so that instead of watching what dad likes (Gravity Falls, Great British Bake-Off) you can watch what you like (Despicable Me and old Spencer Tracy films on TCM).

Your mother says you took a step or two the other day–granted while being held up. And you’re making progress crawling on your own. I can see in your big blue eyes that as soon as you can manage it, you’re going to be running all over the place.

All over the place.

And talking… you’re starting to get out a couple of words. I suspect you know more than you’re letting on. Again… suspicious.

I’m not saying you should stop growing up.

Heavens, no.

But dial it down a notch for your old man, eh?

Apparently this whole baby thing is just “a stage” and I get that, but let me enjoy it a little while longer before you head off to college, okay?

Thanks!

All my love,

–Dad

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Dear Jackrabbit #34 — On Speech

Dear Jackrabbit,

Let’s see, boy. A little over eight months on this planet and you’re becoming quite a chatterbox. You’re making sounds that could reasonably be recognized as “mama” and “dada” and we’re both quite delighted.

Granted, whether or not you’ve associated meaning with these sounds hasn’t been determined and, in all likelihood, not a thing yet… at least it’s a start.

“Pater, your words are wise… as always.”

Speech can be a great power. And if Stan Lee (look him up) has taught us anything at all, it’s that with great power comes great responsibility.

Words matter.

“But Captain,” you might say to me (quite appropriately), “what do you mean?”

Well, boy, I bring this up because speech has become an important topic in this country of late–particularly hate speech. Hate speech is typically described as speech which intends to threaten, harass, diminish, or otherwise harm another person–usually based on race, gender, sexuality, religion, and so forth. Most often, it comes from folk with privilege as a mean to keep those with less privilege “in their place.”

Weird, right?

In their minds, affording other people the same dignity and respect that they receive (whether or not it’s merited) seems to make them think that their own dignity and respect will be diminished.

I know. It doesn’t make sense.

For example, someone might call homosexuals hateful terms–especially when they are trying to defend their equal rights to have their marriages recognized by the state. Somehow they think that two guys getting hitched makes any marriage they have less legitimate.

I have no idea why.

Continue reading

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Calculating Baby

There is a pretty classic brain teaser about a farmer, a fox, a chicken, a sack of corn, and a river. It goes kind of like…

  • A man has to get a fox, a chicken, and a sack of corn across a river.
  • He has a rowboat, and it can only carry him and one other thing.
  • If the fox and the chicken are left together, the fox will eat the chicken.
  • If the chicken and the corn are left together, the chicken will eat the corn.
  • How does the man do it?

This picture is not related to today’s topic. I’m just including it because it’s such a wonderfully dorky image. I love this kid.

I’ll leave the answer to you to figure out if this is new to you. In short, there’s a bit of back and forth in what gets rowed where.

The point is… it’s a similar exercise when doing things with a baby.

I wish I could say that having Jack around has not affected my ability to do certain things. The reality is that he’s had a big impact. I’m not complaining, but I admit it’s a period of adjustment.

I have a certain way I like to do some things. They aren’t necessarily routine for the sake of routine. They’re routines that exist because they’re the most efficient in my experience. I usually have a pretty good reason for doing things the way I do them.

But the best laid plans and all that…

You can’t leave a baby alone in a car. Not never, not no how. Fair enough. So if I want to go to the convenience store to pick up some milk or a case of soda or somesuch, Jack has to come inside with me. This effectively renders me one-handed. Tricky. So instead of a convenience store, I may end up going someplace less convenient–but with shopping carriages I can strap Jack into.

So be it.

If I’m hitting the laundromat, I need to do something akin to the farmer’s quandary when bringing bags of laundry inside, and wrangling the boy so he is never out of my sight. Doable. Taking the boy with me on a laundry trip or a shopping trip or other errand can make a quick errand a long errand.

So be it.

Household chores get tricky. I used to do chores like dishes and picking up and so forth at certain times of day. Now I have to do them at different times of day depending on what the boy is up to. And there is no set routine. Things change almost weekly. With springtime here and a vague obligation to do yardwork… hello, new challenges!

Personal things get trickier. Margaret and I usually try to have a night of gaming every week or two. We can usually count on grandma to help watch Jack, but sometimes things come up and Jack has to come with us for a little while or we have to pick a different night. Flexibility.

We adapt. We don’t get too attached to our plans. We realize that with a baby on hand that additional measures must be taken, possibilities to be considered. And it’s nothing to get worked up over. You plan, baby laughs, but it’s still a joy to have him around.

If anything… this is probably making us sharper parents.

That’s my story–and I’m sticking to it.

Cheers!

–John

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