Sunday, February 28, 2010

Weekly Features Include Scruffy Sneetch...ers?

To the left of this blog's posts is a column of features. Several of these are designed to changed weekly. You may distinguish them by noticing "week" somewhere in the title. That tip is free.

I've been writing here daily, and intend to keep doing so, but I also thought it would be nice to have some material along the side that changes on a weekly basis.

However, the side column does not leave much room for explanation and no room for discussion, so in the interest of allowing feedback (from anyone, please read, love me, LOVE ME) I've decided to dedicate each Sunday post to the update and discussion of the weekly features. The top five list will be pretty random. The Star Wars quote will be too, I suppose. There may also be other things added as time goes on, but these two will be mainstays, I've put my foot down on that.

Quick tangent, I've been considering referring to myself as "we." I would just find it sort of funny, but I'm wondering if it would come across more as schizophrenic, or worse, pretentious.

Well...without any further ado:

This weeks top five is books by the one and only Dr. Seuss. I know I'm not alone in that I absolutely loved Dr. Seuss as a kid. I love reading his book's to my sons and fear they may be too old to enjoy them soon. To pick a top five, when his works are so extensive, is tough, but these are my definite winners.

I Had Trouble in Getting to Solla Sollew is the absolute best. The message itself is something I've tried to teach my boys. Don't run from your problems. Have no fear.

On Beyond Zebra! is a masterpiece of made up words. Seuss is famous for just making things up so they rhyme, and this, I believe to be his best example of that technique. Plus, I remember my dad tripping over the words, "Floob-Boober-Bab-Boober-Bubs," every dang time he read it and finding that hysterical.

Everyone loves a good bed time book, and Dr. Seuss's Sleep Book is one of the best. It's long for a bedtime story, but I think it sort of lulls the young one your reading to asleep that way. There's a sort of pattern to it that really seems to help one wind down gradually.

McElligot's Pool has a message that goes hand in hand with the purpose of this blog. One may get teased and told they're crazy for being able to have a vivid imagination, but don't give up on your dreams or change what you do to make yourself happy. There's nothing wrong with hope.

The last spot was tough to decide on. So many good titles left out. The Sneetches and Other Stories captured the last spot, however. The story of the Sneetches itself tells a great lesson without being preachy (like The Butter Battle Book) and even though it's a shorter tale, it stands on its own quite powerfully. On top of that, you have What Was I Scared Of? at the end of the book and I always thought a pair of creepy green pants made for a goofy story.

That brings us to the Star Wars quote of the week. It comes from Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back and is Han Solo's response to Princess Leia's insult: "You stuck-up, half-witted, scruffy-looking nerf herder!" His reply: "Who's scruffy-looking?!" The comedy move of overlooking all the other insults (suggesting they are valid) and focusing on one in particular is classic. I still like gags you'd find in an Abbott & Costello film.

The various surveys are not necessarily a weekly feature. Currently, I'd like to know which Star Wars movie you would show your children first (whether those children are real or hypothetical). I'd like to leave these questions up until I think the number of votes represents a decent sampling size. Of course, if you spread the word about this blog and we get more readers (wink, wink), then the poll could be a weekly feature.

Here, I wish I could tell you the "What I'm Reading," section will change weekly, but I have no delusions that I will read a book per week. I do, however, hope to include book, movie and video game reviews down the road.

So that's it for this week's features. Next Sunday will see these changed and we'll talk more about it (okay, there it was, the "we," was it weird?). Regular posts resume tomorrow.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Je Suis un Chien. Laissez-Moi la Paix

I talk to my dog. I know everybody who owns a dog, talks to it, but not the way I do. I talk to him like he’s human.

By this, I don’t mean the pandering baby talk that spoiled lap dogs get from their annoying owners (I find the owners of these dogs are usually far more annoying than the tiny, high pitched yapping dogs themselves). “Mr. Barky would like a snack now, wouldn’t he? Wouldn’t he? Of course he would!”

Nor do I mean the way an insane person might talk to a dog and actually expect an answer, or even hear one in their own minds.

I am at once realistic and unsettlingly personable in the way I talk to my dog. I never, ever expect any kind of response in return communication from him. Not even a head tilt of confusion. Yet I speak to him in a manner that would suggest I think he actually understands what I’m saying.

“Oh, I didn’t see you there,” I say to him after I’ve entered and crossed the room and turn to exit again. Having finished what I came into the room to do, I turned and noticed him resting on a pile of dirty clothes.

I acknowledge him in a way suggesting he would understand and appreciate the verbal acknowledgement. I don’t raise my voice or add any over the top inflection like I’m talking to, again, a baby. I respect him too much. He’s been with me almost as long as my wife has and there is a certain dignity I see in that relationship.

Respect and dignity accounted for, I sometimes feel strange when I find myself saying something like, “They won the game last night after all, how about that,” to him during SportsCenter. It’s not a thinking out loud thing, either. This is something I would keep in my head, silent, if I didn't know my dog was in the room with me. It’s like I’m saying it for his benefit, to let him know he’s included. When I do these things, often he barely opens his eyes and looks at me for a second before closing them. I imagine him thinking to himself, “Shut up. I’m sleeping. I’m a dog and don’t give a crap about sports.”

Even my sons know enough to keep their conversation with the dog to commands. “No,” and “Cookie,” and “C’mon,” sum up what they say to him. Anything else is directed at another human in the room, as they know it would be lost on the dog.

Yet still I do it.

I wonder sometimes if it’s an internally imposed comfort mechanism. Saying something to someone I know will not answer or respond in any way, but who will still be there. Or perhaps it’s a repressed dream. My childhood imagination could be nagging at me in the back of my psyche, wanting me to let go enough to entertain the thought that dogs could really be smarter than we think and that he might really understand. Hell, maybe I do hope in some deep inner part of me that he will stand on his hind legs, cross his stubby little forelegs in front of him and say, “I see your point and I’ve been thinking about it for a long time,” as he produces a small doggy pipe from some hidden pocket in his fur and begins to pack it with tobacco. Then we’ll have a long, intelligent conversation about society’s ills.

I must admit, I sometimes feel a small glint of hope that he can at least translate what I’m saying into dog language (what if that weren’t a mix of barks and growls, but French, not that he could speak it, but he thinks in French, how odd would that be?) and I begin to think I see something in his big brown eyes that says, “I hear ya, buddy.” I’d like to think he’d call me buddy, but I think he might be more afraid of me than anything.

More like annoyed. I probably annoy him.

Friday, February 26, 2010

William Wordsworth's Words Worth Wrewreading

Once, I heard it said that children who see their parents read on a regular basis will, in turn, read more and perform better in school. I am often skeptical of the results of studies like this. It’s not that I disagree that children who read more will do better in school. Certain things go, naturally, hand in hand. I just question statements that try to pinpoint one exact cause for a given effect.

What begets what? Is it the reading that makes them perform well in school, or is it their school performance and natural intellect that makes them more apt to read in their spare time? Is this really because they see their parent(s) reading often or is it merely a symptom of a family more prone to intelligence? Do comic books count (because that’s mostly what I read in front of them)?

My oldest son started reading overnight one day. “Dad, why do you have a game on your phone called Sex Jokes?” I knew then there was no turning back, and from that point on, he began surprising me with new facts that he had read on his own.

His younger brother, who seemingly alternates between the “Me too” phase and the “I want to do the exact opposite of you” phase (unpredictably I might add), followed suit and began wanting to go on his own fact finding missions through book after book. His reading skills have picked up considerably since.

While both are still at a beginning reading level, they sit down with a book without being prompted to do so at least once a day. But, prior to their being confident enough to pick up a book without immediately shoving it in my face (the universal non-verbal cue that they want you to read it to them), I didn’t read in front of them. I hadn’t the time. I read them whatever Dr. Seuss book they wanted and if I had something to read on my own it was done after they were in bed or during the sparse moments of quiet time sprinkled throughout a day in a home with young children. Yes, that does mean what you’re thinking: when I was on the toilet.

Now, I read in front of them far more often and have been reminded of William Wordsworth’s line, “The child is father of the Man.” I find myself following their lead as I sit on the couch with a (comic) book of my own and they sit silently gazing at the pages they’ve selected.

Honestly, I haven’t read this much in years. In fact, I have a stack of books. I purchase them ahead of time and know that I’ll get to this one after I read those other two. I haven’t had a reading list like this since I graduated from college. Plus, in the meantime, there are the several Marvel comics I subscribe to being delivered. I actually read as a break from reading. At one point in my life, I’d have thought this an affliction requiring medication.

At some point in a day when all four of us are together at home (which doesn’t happen as often as we’d like), we may all be reading independently. My wife powers through the most volume as she is the fastest reader. I secretly suspect she really has the Cliff Notes versions of every book she picks up, that’s how jealous I am of her ability. And just like that we have become a reading family. Not through any gimmick that tricked our children into having a subconscious desire to read. It just happened.

My oldest son deserves the credit for his pioneering spirit, I suppose. His thirst for knowledge brought him to new frontiers. It encouraged his brother to follow. My wife was always more of a reader than I, but now she has time to do it out in the open as well. Watching all this made me double back and take a closer look at the territory I’d already walked through and left untouched long ago, and I’m happier for it.

“So was it when my life began,
So is it now I am a man;
So be it when I shall grow old,
Or let me die!
The child is father of the Man;”

- William Wordsworth “My Heart Leaps Up When I Behold”

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Ben Hur Does The Grand Canyon

Too often, in our haste to get where we’re going, we overlook an art form. A longstanding American tradition is dismissed without consideration. A tradition which requires forethought and dedication and which rewards the artist with majesty and rich experience.

I speak of the road trip.

As Spring approaches, I find myself with a wanderlust, as, no doubt, many do. Spring break will be upon us and parents around the country will look for something to do with their kids. For many, this will involve cashing in days off and taking a quick vacation.

While planning, most people tend to want to get where they are going fast, spend time there and then get back home quickly. Instead, I say, take your time. Drive. Let it take you a while to get to your destination. You’ll have some time to ponder where it is you’re going and the drive back will give you time to reminisce on the memories you have just made.

I understand the trepidation of some to pack into a car for a long trek. Especially those with young children. But there is no need to fear your minivan, SUV, station wagon, or chosen vehicle. It will only be a box of high speed woe and shrieking misery if that is what you allow it to be. When planned properly, a family road trip can transform your automobile into a shining golden chariot that shall transport you on a journey of wonder.

Too dramatic? Well, allow me to come back down to Earth and offer a few points to remember when planning your road trip anyway.

First things first: Prepare your vehicle. Not packing. Dedicate certain spaces within your chosen vessel to specific purposes. Create space to keep activities, games, or movies for the kids. In a minivan or larger vehicle, seats can be moved around or removed completely to make space and stretch out a little. Take advantage of this. Think ahead to what the people who aren’t driving will want to do. Keep in mind extra batteries or a cigarette lighter adapter so electronic items can be sustained through longer trips. Small pillows and blankets are also good. A nap is an activity.

I encourage a good cooler. If you have the space and can keep it accessible, a party cooler works wonders for providing snacks. It can serve as a table in the rear of a minivan while closed. I was always one to tote plenty of junk food on a road trip. You know, the kind that makes you want to barf after nervous eating it for several hours straight. I felt it was a rite of passage sort of thing. My wife then pointed out that fruit was a much better option for small stomachs and the cooler keeps it fresh.

Water and Gatorade are also essential. The wide necks of the Gatorade bottles can be useful for those of you with boys by prolonging the time between bathroom breaks. Just make sure you put the cap back on tight and keep a rool of paper towels nearby just in case.

Music is a major issue to a good road trip as well. This is where the iPod (or any MP3 player) is a blessing. I need road trip standards like Springsteen and Bob Seger around (try beginning your road trip with “Roll Me Away” - It’s glorious), but you need some variety. If everyone but you is sleeping, especially if you’re bold enough to try the over night expedition, you’re going to want some upbeat music to keep you awake. You hit shuffle, a song like “Everybody Hurts” comes on and the next thing you know, you’re in the opposite lane scene from Planes, Trains & Automobiles.

Also, set some ground rules regarding music. I personally say the driver picks the soundtrack, but perhaps you’d like to determine a rotation before departure and take turns.

This brings me to my final nugget of advice. The driver, whether it’s a title to be held by a single person for the whole trip or passed like a baton, is to be treated with consideration.

The best way to ensure this is with the assignment of a co-pilot. This is a designation my father used when I was younger, probably in a big way to appease me, but it’s a system that I firmly believe in. It can rotate just as easily as can the driver. Assign someone who knows how to read a map (be sure to provide them with one) to sit up front. Have them update the driver periodically, see if he or she needs anything from the cooler mentioned above and control the music selection. This is a huge help and makes the whole car seem to work as more of a team.

So, brave explorers, see more than just what lies waiting at your chosen destination. Enjoy better scenery than clouds on your excursion. Make some extra time to revisit the honorable tradition of the road trip when planning your next vacation. You’ll be glad you did.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The Devil's Music

One of my seven-year-old’s favorite songs is Metallica’s For Whom the Bell Tolls. My five-year-old could listen to Black Sabbath’s Iron Man on a continuous loop. Both of them request music like Coheed & Cambria’s Welcome Home while they have their action figures engage in combat.

As you might guess, I’m very proud.

However, there are times when, instead of overhearing them sing the lyrics to Kings of Leon, a small voice from the rear seat of the car can be heard mumbling, “Somebody call 9-1-1. Shorty fire burning on the dance floor…Oh-oh-oh.”

This is, no doubt, the evil influence of Kidz Bop.

If you don’t know what I’m talking about, go to your television, turn on any channel dedicated to kids’ programming and watch until a commercial break. You won’t have to watch any longer than that, because it will be on. I stake my reputation on it.

If you really have never seen this, prepare to be disturbed. Within minutes, you will hear multitudes of high voices singing songs they have no business singing. Now in its seventeenth (WHAAAAT?!) installment, Kidz Bop features current popular music being sung by hoards of children. To be honest, I have only heard the majority of these songs sung by the Kidz Bop masses, never by their original artists.

Children’s music used to be Peter, Paul & Mary’s Puff the Magic Dragon or Big Bird singing about the alphabet (he thought it was one long word – HAHAHAHAHA! Crazy muppet!). It wasn’t the least annoying music for an adult to overhear, I’m sure, but it had a higher purpose to it. At least it was more appropriate for kids.

Instead, as you will see on said commercial, today kids are learning newer lessons from music. Teach your child to equate love with obsession and stalking through the lyrics of Lady Gaga’s Paparazzi. Help them realize it’s a positive thing to make a display of themselves as they sing along to Brittany Spear’s epic Circus. Chuckle to yourself as the double meaning of the lyrics, “I can bring the fire, make you come…alive. I can take you higher,” from Kevin Rudolph’s Let It Rock sails right over their innocent little heads (I wonder here if they cut Lil’ Wayne’s diatribe out of this version). Don’t forget, the Pussycat Dolls appear on these albums too! Joy!

Don’t get me wrong. I firmly believe it is the responsibility of each parent to filter anything they don’t want their kids exposed to. I will also note that the majority of the songs featured on these collections are harmless, intended to let the kids have fun with the music. They even have a disc of Beatles songs that looks to me at first take to be pretty well selected.

But do the commercials have to be on constantly? Can’t I enjoy the new episode of Spongebob without hearing this music?

Plus, I used to be able to listen to classic rock, hard rock, rock (okay, some variety of rock, you get it) in the car with them. Now, if their faces aren’t buried in a handheld video game, I’m listening to dance and hip hop. Eww. And I’m not even buying them the Kidz Bop discs. This is all from the commercials.

Even as I try to hum Rosalita to myself and keep the demons out, eventually it creeps its way into my head. Before I know it, I’m singing along to I Hate This Part:

“I can’t take it any longer.
Thought that we were stronger.
All we do is linger.
Slipping through my fingers.
I don’t wanna try now.
All that’s left’s Goodbye now…”

Argh! It’s happening again! Curse you Kidz Bop!

Cuuuuurrrrrssssseeeee Yooooouuuuu!!!!!!!!!!

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

A Proper Education

Education is important to me. Choosing the proper education for your children is a daunting task.

Thus, it was after a great deal of thought and deliberation that I decided to show my sons the Star Wars movies in the order that they were originally released, starting with Episode IV and completing the original trilogy before exposing them to Episodes I, II, & III.

It’s my choice and I stand by it. I know there are conflicting schools of thought on this. Some would suggest that the Episodes are numbered for a reason. Just because the first three Episodes were not around when I was young, why deny my children the opportunity to see them in order?

I thought of all this. I wondered if I was being selfish. Forcing my opinions and childhood memories upon my boys. Would they resent me and rebel against this way of thinking later in life?

I nearly started with Episode I. I remembered being left with the following questions after watching Episodes IV – VI as a child:

- Why were Luke and Leia separated?
- Who was Obi-Wan Kenobi, really?
- Why don’t the Stormtroopers ever take their helmets off?
- Boba Fett is cool and all, but what the hell does he have to do with this story?
- What happened during the Clone Wars?

I would be haunted by such questions for most of my young life. Did I want to leave my children wondering the same things? Did I want to inflict on them the zombie-like daydream spells that I was subject to when one of these questions popped into my mind in the middle of math class, my teacher asking me why I wasn’t paying attention, and me having to gather myself and wipe the puddle of drool from my textbook?

That’s when it hit me. Are there questions from the original trilogy that are left unanswered? Sure there are, but that’s half the fun. There is a mystery surrounding the background of the characters and their plight. This is, after all, why the movies were released in the order they were.

Let’s face it, Episodes I-III only exist to give the background for the characters in Episodes IV-VI. Episodes I-III were made for the sole purpose of answering these very questions.

Episode I sets up Obi Wan Kenobi and the Jedi vs. the Sith. Episode II explains the Stromtroopers and Boba Fett. Episode III shows you the aftermath of the Clone Wars and, of course, gives you that moment that Anakin Skywalker becomes Darth Vader (hope that didn’t ruin anything for you). These movies are appreciated most when viewed in this order.

So call me a dinosaur if you will. Criticize me all you want. Label me a slave to tradition. Draw a caricature of me with a ball and chain around my ankle, with the words “Original Trilogy” etched into the ball. Actually, that would probably be taking it a bit far, but you get my point.

I call myself a Star Wars purest. I want my sons to have questions. I want there to be a period of wonder and thought before they get their answers. I want them to truly understand the story of the Star Wars movies. It’s my children’s education. It’s my right.

When I count, I start with 4.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Suggested Age

Still in its box, I happened to notice a toy my oldest son hadn’t gotten around to from his birthday.

How long it has sat unopened isn’t the issue here. The issue is the age labeled on the box.

My sons have generally been allowed by yours truly to play with toys that the powers that be have technically labeled for older children. At ages 5 and 7, they are trusted to play with toys labeled 8 and up on a regular basis.

It wasn’t the minimum suggested age that I happened to notice on this particular box. What I noticed was a suggested maximum age.

“8 – 12.” That’s what the box said: “8 - 12.”

You have a window of four years to enjoy this toy. Your parents are putting you at a certain risk by letting you play with this before you are eight years old. What you might not know is you are also at some sort of risk or in violation of a secret code that dates back generations if you are over the age of twelve. Just trust us, kid, you wouldn’t understand, but you’re going to want to leave that toy where it is.

I get the minimum age. I do. In a society where we need to be told that our hot coffee is hot, I can see that there would be parents out there who might give a newborn a pellet gun if not forewarned. This is someone else’s fault in that parent’s mind. The toy company is both covering its butt and being responsible by labeling the toy with a minimum age. But a maximum age? Really?

I picture somebody sitting in an office somewhere, evaluating toys and saying, “Oh, if a thirteen year old is seen playing with this, he’s going to get his ass kicked.”

Is there a concern that an older child will die of boredom if they play with this toy?

How is this maximum age to be enforced? When buying video games labeled a certain way, you need an adult present. Does a 13 year old kid buying a toy need to have a kid 12 or under with him. Is the clerk at the store going to give him a hard time if he doesn’t?

“Who exactly is going to play with this toy? You are definitely older than 12. Is there a younger child here with you? If not, I’m sorry, but I can’t allow you to purchase this.”

And what does this mean for me? I love building Lego sets to this day. I help the boys transform their Transformers and fight with their super hero figures. When a toy has a maximum suggested age, do I need to assemble it and then drop it immediately? Maybe there’s a fifteen minute grace period like in a parking garage.

Perhaps we will begin seeing only the maximum age labeled on the boxes. Most just have the minimum age and the plus sign: 2+, 6+, 8+. Maybe we need to start seeing labels like this: <13. We could begin incorporating algebraic inequalities and make it a learning experience as well. Maybe that eight to twelve span could be expressed, 7 < X < 13, where X is the child’s age. Or, if there is a certain age at which the children can’t play with the toy: 8 > X > 12, meaning, when you’re less than eight, you’ll love this toy, then go through a few years when you shouldn’t play with it. By age thirteen, however, you can legitimately begin playing with it again without any concern. Like a retro statute.

I think the ever confusing greater than or equal to sign needs to be used here. I would have used it myself but for the fact I could not find it for the life of me on my keyboard.

I appreciate the concern of those who make these decisions, but, honestly, if my kids like the toy, I’m going to let them keep playing with it. I don’t see maximum age restrictions on pacifiers or baby blankets and they could be way more damaging to a kid’s street cred.

How about just leaving it open ended, okay? No kid needs to look at a toy and be told he’s too old for it if he doesn’t think so on his own. Kids are being forced to grow up too fast as it is.

Don’t be in such a hurry to grow up. I’m still fighting it.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Sleeping Late & Mind Control

Today confirms that my sons are becoming smarter than me.

The first sign is that they are able to keep track of days of the week. This is something that I have a great deal of difficulty with. They're able to remember how many days of school are left in the week and which days they are off of school. They use this time to plot and prepare. To lull me into a sense of security.

I know this because on the days they have school, they continue to sleep as I come into their room to wake them at 7AM. Then they slowly drag their little butts out of bed and only do what I instruct them to do and only after I instruct them to do it at least five times.

Their internal clocks wake them up much earlier on the weekends. Usually, they come in to my room at 6AM to ask if they can play with my iPhone. I used to let them have it until another sign of increasing maturity - making their own phone calls - set in. So I tell them no and roll over, figuring, I'll get another hour or two of sleep and wake up naturally to the sound of them playing.

About noon, I roll over and see the clock and the guilt instantly sets in. So I awaken and head downstairs.

This leads me to the second sign that they're becoming smarter than me. They know, while I obviously don't, that I will remain sleeping until noon if they keep their mayhem quiet enough. The proof of this comes in the form of couch cushions lining the stairs to make it into a slide, toys strewn across every inch of the floor and, of course, their green tongues. The tongues show that they took the opportunity to eat candy all morning.

You'd think that this would send me over the deep end. I'd yell and make them clean everything up immediately. Then, it would be off to their rooms for their grounding. Such a sight must alter my behavior enough to cause me to begin setting my alarm on the weekends as well, making sure I'll at least wake up by, say 9 or 10AM, giving them a few precious hours less time to destroy anything.

You're not alone if you think this. You are not alone because it means that my sons are becoming smarter than you too.

I feel your pain.

Yes, the third sign is that my boys even know that I will not yell or scold until I start making a pot of coffee. So, they run around, whispering to each other, deciding which items to pick up first to make the house seem less messy as soon as possible. They also put the candy they ate for breakfast away.

You see, they have figured out that, if I'm out of bed, my wife will be close behind (as there are a few stops for her to make before heading downstairs). They know my wife is more forgiving than I and, furthermore, that I will seem crazy for complaining about what a mess the house was made into if it is suddenly half as messy as when I woke up. This will work in their favor when I attempt to get their mother to side with me on punishment.

"Honey, look at this mess. The couch cushions are..."

"The cushions are on the couch, dear. They just got a little excited with they're toys, that's all."

Touche, boys.

This may sound like enough for you. You may read this and say, "Wow, they've got this guy figured out. What are they going to get away with further down the road?"

My answer to you would be, "Honestly, the possibilities are endless" because now is the time they go in for the kill. They use the one device so fiendish, so diabolical, so crafty and manipulative that they know it will erase all of the morning's wrongdoings from my memory.

"We want bacon," they shout, and as I cook it on the stove top, all my worries melt away, floating off through the hood fan with the aromatic, sizzling bacon fat.

The only reason I remember it today is because I have used the short period between coffee and bacon to write this. At this moment my mind is clear. Their confidence in their control over me has allowed me time to document it.

I must publish this before they see me.

Send help.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

My True Form Revealed

I am 32. That’s what the math says. That’s what my less flexible than they used to be joints and less muscular physique say. The smattering of gray facial hairs are in agreement. Even my ability to be a trooper through a hangover is on board.

Despite the opinions of all the experts, I don’t feel 32. Physically, sure, but not mentally. In my mind, I’m 12. I act like I’m 12.

That’s not just me talking. It’s the various co-workers who note that I have no input on recent news stories because all I watch is cartoons and sports. It’s my wife rolling her eyes as I try to educate her on how the super heroes’ lives have been adapted somewhat during their transfer from comic book to movie screen. It’s my sons insisting that I finish the current level of the video game they can’t get past on their behalf and it’s the way they wait until I’m available to build their Lego Star Wars sets. It’s the way I purposely influence what toys they play with because I want to play with them too.

I was the age my oldest son is now when Transformers were originally released. I had (okay, HAVE) a collection that still occupies a few drawers of an old dresser in my parents’ basement. When the new movie came out and the toy lines hit the shelves, my sons found them under the tree at Christmas.

There are all sorts of ingenious marketing strategies involved here, timing movies and toys to be remade and re-released such that the kids who originally played with them will have their own kids. Marketing or not, it’s worked on me. I talk up toys that I want to play with to my sons. I whip them into a frenzy and convince them that the coolest things they could possibly want to play with are the toys I secretly want to play with while they’re asleep.

Thinking about the Transformers is when it hit me. Much like the toys that switch back and forth from giant, monstrous, fantastically awesome robots into ordinary, wouldn’t notice them on the street vehicles, designed to intentionally blend in with Earth society, I have somehow, inexplicably transformed into a father.

What’s more, I change back and forth from time to time, revealing my true nature to those I feel comfortable enough around. Optimus Prime avoided transforming into kick-ass robot form unless safety was at risk, otherwise the closed-minded humans might attempt to capture and study him. Of course, I just keep my secret in order to avoid getting made fun of by other adults, but you get the picture.

(DISCLAIMER: I know the original TV series didn’t involve humans, but battles between the Autobots and Decepticons on Cybertron. The movie’s storyline helps me make my point better, though. Please don’t criticize me too harshly for this.)

So, I hide. I don’t mention I like comic books until I’m pretty sure the human, er, person I’m about to reveal my secret to can be trusted. I act as if I know about all these toys because I’m opening packages and putting them together for my sons. I haven’t researched these toys ahead of time. I had no idea what their release dates were going to be. How absurd of you to suggest otherwise.

Yet, over time, I’ve realized there are more like me. The more often I share my secret, the more I find there are others who are the same. The closer I look, the more I discover adults with repressed imaginations flipping through comic books or intentionally walking slowly through the toy section that isn’t at all on the direct path to the cleaning supplies at Target.

I am sending a call out. To all my brothers and sisters hiding in plain sight. To all those children at heart who disguise themselves as mere parents, please know that you are not alone. You are safe here. There are others like you who have not been able to reveal themselves yet. Check back here regularly. Anonymously if you so choose. This can be our place to discuss our true selves, to advise one another on how to achieve the balance between our two sides, and to unite.