Monday, August 30, 2010

John Ratzenberger Spans Generations

I have watched Cars so many times the past few weeks that I honestly was trying to explain to Arica last night some deeper meaning that I had attributed to the movie. That may have been the last straw, but with Braden acquiring a toy Doc and the Cars sound track over the weekend I probably still have a few hundred more viewings to go.

I promise to stop writing about our favorite family movie soon, but I have one more thought inspired by the animated talking automobiles today.

The topic of changes from generation to generation has been covered ad nauseum. No one needs me to tell them how much different our children's life will be from our own. We have all considered the disappearance of VCRs and eventually DVDs and CDs. We know about life before computers and cell phones. Certainly we are all aware that our children will consider us prehistoric dinosaurs when we try to explain to them our childhood.

This has been going on for the entire history of mankind. I am sure young Caveman Jr. once laughed at his Dad when he learned about Dad's life before the discovery of fire.

Today's generation gap spanning thought is about TV. Imagine that. I am talking about TV again.

During one of my myriad of recent Cars viewings I began thinking about John Ratzenberger who played the know it all mail man Cliff Clavin on Cheers. I love Cheers and I still watch reruns from time to time. I imagine it will be one of my staple old man shows someday when I reach that age which prohibits me from watching any new TV shows. It seems to happen to all old people. That's why someone invented TV Land.

When that happens to me Braden will walk into the room while I am watching Cheers. During one of Cliff's crazy stories he will get that look of sudden realization in his eyes and say, "Hey Dad, That's Mack!"

To which I will only elicit the groan of an old man who just instantly aged 20 more years.

Thursday, August 26, 2010


The government has all sorts of classifications for cars and trucks. These classes affect things like insurance, taxes, and other boring things. There are car classes based on size like compact and full-size cars. There are tons of truck sizes based on axle weights. Vehicles can be classed as commercial or personal vehicles. The EPA has it's own class system that has to do with air pollution regulations.

Basically I don't know much about these classes, but I know enough to say it looks confusing. So I am offering a new vehicle classification system. We will call it Braden's Buggy Classification or BBC.

Yes I could have went with the less recognizable BVC by substituting vehicle for buggy. But I am holding out hope that this system will become so wildly popular that a little TV network in the U.K. will sue me for rights to the name. Then I can maybe get a few bucks out of the deal. If nothing else I would settle for a lifetime supply of fish and chips.

On to the classifications. Since Braden is enamored with all things about cars right now we go through classifying them every day. He hands me one of his toy cars and either proclaims its class or asks "What dis?" Then I give it a class.

As Braden learns the classes he likes to yell them out when we are in the car. Every day as Arica drives home past a local tractor supply store and dealership she hears, "Mama, Mama, Tactor!" He will repeat his proclamation until you acknowledge the wonderful tractors presence.

So after compiling all this knowledge gained from my wonderful son I present to you the first edition of the BBC.

Car: Any personal vehicle that is not a truck including SUV's like "Mama Car."
Tuck: Any personal vehicle that looks like "Daddy Tuck" and is not clearly a car. Also includes some work trucks. i.e pick-ups, dump trucks, etc.
Tactor: Tractors and other implements used for working construction i.e. bulldozers, backhoes, etc.
Bus: Buses and other trucks with boxy appearances. i.e. moving vans, delivery trucks, service trucks, fire trucks, etc.
Big Tuck or Mack: Eighteen wheelers including both Mack trucks and Peterbilts

Please forward all vehicle classification inquiries to this blog and I will take them to our Transportation Secretary, and creator of the BBC, Mr. Braden himself.

Monday, August 23, 2010

A Japanese Grandma

Arica, Braden and I enjoyed a simple pleasure of life last night. It was so simple and so enjoyable that it almost defies any possible explanation.

Ours is an instant gratification society. We have everything we ever need right at our fingertips at all times. We have access to everything online. We have games, movies, recorded shows on the DVR. There is an endless array of entertainment vehicles at our disposal.

I sometimes even find myself hurrying to get to everything I want to enjoy. Hurry up so we can watch the Netflix movie that came in today. Hurry up so we can get to our TV shows before I fall asleep. Hurry. Hurry. Hurry.

It is so easy now to skip out on simple conversation with family and friends.  It seems that being neighborly is often a thing of the past as well. We hurry to our next meeting or the next event on our busy social calendar. This is how we live our lives.

We had a wonderful reminder last night of what can be truly joyful in life. Our family was invited to a cookout at our next door neighbor Jim's house. He lives alone. He has lived in the U.S. for over 30 years while all his family remains in Japan. This past week Jim's brother and his brother's wife have been visiting. Our neighbor and friend wanted to thank us for feeding his animals by having us over.

It was simply a wonderful evening. Jim and his family speak very little English, but it was a lot of fun to talk with them about their lives and experiences anyway. They were so kind and the food was so good.

Jim's brother broke out the harmonica and played several songs after dinner. We all laughed and sang along as Braden danced. Braden played with the cat and made a new friend in Jim's sister in-law. She was like his Japanese Grandma.

Japanese Grandma spoke zero English, but Braden loved her anyway. He grabbed her by the hand and led her off to play. Small children can certainly teach us a lesson in these situations about seeing the heart of a person rather than their outside appearance. The language of caring and love is much more important than English or Japanese.

During this entire time no TV, radio, or other modern entertainment device was ever turned on. There was no texting, no facebook, not even a simple phone call.

We were all so deeply involved in a wonderful conversation that it would have taken a tornado siren to drag us away anyway. I hope as Braden gets older we can continue to find ways to teach him about the joy of meeting people and the joy of seeing other cultures.

As life gets faster and faster in the years to come I think it will be even more important to remember how to slow down, simplify life, and get in touch with one another.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Disney Pixar's Cars with Braden

During the past two weeks Braden has developed a new fascination. The fact that this fascination is supported by the TV should come as no surprise as he is my child. Lately Braden watches the Disney Pixar film Cars all the time. By all the time I mean it is on a continuous loop at our house from the time he comes home from school until the time he goes to bed. He plays and does other things, but Cars must be on at all times. When the movie is over Braden always suggests, “Mo Car.” If you think he is not watching and try to turn it off you will hear “I wa Car.” He cannot be deterred.

So I have watched Cars a few hundred times now it seems. Since Arica and Braden get home a few hours before me each day, Arica has seen it even more. I am happy to watch Cars rather than that purple dinosaur Braden used to watch so I try not to complain. Still it gets old after about the third straight viewing.

Here is a little play by play of our movie watching experience. Braden loves Mack, the truck that hauls Lightning McQueen from race to race. As soon as he comes on the screen Braden starts pointing and exclaiming, “Mack, Mack, Mack” until you respond. Then he waits a bit and does it again.

His love of the Mack truck reminds me of a saying a French colleague of mine once told me about. He said in France they have a saying that translates to "pretty as an American truck." At first that sounds ridiculous, but if you have seen the small ugly things that pass for big trucks in Europe you might understand. Our Eighteen wheelers are huge and covered in about 500 pounds of chrome. So Braden finding joy in a beautiful American Mack truck is an understandable thing. Plus it's huge and powerful and all boys like that.

Right after Mack makes his first appearance he and Lightning McQueen leave on a trip for California amidst Braden's exclamations of "MACK!" The song “Life is a Highway” plays at the start of this trip. Braden dances with this song every single time. He loves it. See for yourself.

After that song is over Mack eventually falls asleep and loses Lightning McQueen. When McQueen wakes up he storms off looking for Mack. During this time Braden is looking for Mack too. Then comes the train that McQueen has to beat to the railroad crossing. Even before the train appears Braden starts saying “choo choo.” He has the events in the story down pat at this point.

After that the Sheriff chases our friendly race car through the countryside. Then the movie cuts to a scene of the sleepy little town of Radiator Springs. To show how sleepy the town really is there is absolutely no sound during this part. It is in great contrast to the high speed chase that precedes the scene. Every time this happens Braden says “Uh-Oh” because he thinks the sound is broke. Then he gets the remote and gives it to either me or Arica to fix it.

This little sequence plays out at our house about 5 times a day. The rest of the movie is filled with naming a few characters like "mamer" or "Doc". Braden also has learned the word speed and can point out the Piston Cup or "tin cup" on sight. Who says you can't learn things from watching TV.

Braden likes Cars so much that when I woke him up on Tuesday morning the first thing he said to me was “I wa Car.” I tilted him back from my shoulder to discuss this with him and I noticed his eyes were only cracked open the tiniest bit. He was not even half awake yet. Still, in his sleepy haze, Braden knew that he wanted to watch a little bit of Cars to start his day.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Digital Memories

In this digital age all new families have an enormous collection of pictures of their children. Ours already number in the thousands. It is even feasible to have a picture of every day of a child's life. We will never forget our children's faces and how they changed over the years. Neither will we forget any of the important moments in their lives because they will all be recorded and stored on hard drives, CDs, and DVDs.

But what about all those other moments? Will we still remember to cherish every little moment whether we have camera in hand or not?  Can our minds, now trained to look through picture after picture for our favorite experiences, still contain memories of their own?  Will we throw aside the crutch from time to time to view things through our minds eye?

I was thinking about this a few days ago when I was giving Braden a bath. Actually the bathing was done, and we were playing. Braden has a big box of those foam letters and numbers that stick to the tub and the tile. We use them to learn letters and sounds. Sometimes we stick them on Braden. This night we were throwing them at the tiled shower wall trying to get them to stick.

Braden was humming them about 60 mph and I was collecting a few of his rebounds as they came screaming by my ears. I was using a letter throwing technique that I learned from Arica the night before when we did the same thing. I was spinning the letters as I tossed them, trying to balance the strength of my throw. The toss has to be hard enough to make the letters stick, but soft enough so they don't bounce off.

While doing this I wondered if I would ever tell Braden about the times we spent throwing our ABC's at the bathroom wall. I wondered if I would ever tell him about the three weeks we spent feeding turkeys and raccoons for our Japanese neighbor. Will I share with him how many minutes we stood at the storm door just to look at "Daddy Tuck" parked in the road. Which of these seemingly innocent things will become memories of my own.

You never know which memories are destined to become lasting. You never know when you are living in a moment that will transcend time. Some moments actually become part of who you are forever. These moments aren't always on vacation or at birthday parties. They don't all occur at Christmas or Easter.  You never know when they will come so you don't always have your camera ready.

I think the key is to slow down and enjoy every moment. I hope I can learn to better live in the moment and enjoy exactly what I am doing with Braden and Arica. My impatience is certain to cost me many special times if left unchecked. I plan to keep working on that because I don't want to miss any opportunity to form lasting memories. As long as my mind stays sharp I plan to remember some of these little things to share as stories in the future.

And in case my memory goes I sure am glad that I have this blog.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Future Cardinal

Everyone here knows that I love baseball. Everyone knows that I dream of my son taking up an interest in the game as well. To some degree that has started to happen. Braden has, at last count, 7 different bats including three wooden ones that he can use to cause some real damage. He has too many baseballs to count including a couple real ones that are also relatively dangerous.

Most nights I put the TV on the Cardinals game while we play. Nearly every time Braden will sit down and watch a little bit with me. He can now say Pujols when we watch our favorite player hit. He claps when I clap, and he genuinely like watching for brief periods of time.

The best part of his growing love for baseball, however, is his actual ability to hit the ball off the tee.  He can really smoke it some times. And as a proud daddy I want to share a video of his hitting with all of you.

Braden swings and misses once during the video, but that is OK. Even Mighty Casey struck out. Unlike Casey, Braden only gets one strike before he follows up with a swing that nearly puts a dent in the wall. His best hit is the last one which follows a request for a home run. Apparently he can hit homers at will too.

The video is a little long, but I just couldn't decide what to cut. So you get the full experience including Braden's Godparents and our friends Kelly and Lisa doing most of the helping.

I hope you enjoy watching our future Cardinal.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Half Baked

I dont' have any good ideas for post. I had nothing Friday. Nothing occurred to me over the weekend. Here it is late Monday afternoon and my mind is as empty as the Chicago Cubs trophy case.

I blame my lack of creativity on the weather. My brain is fried. Actually since it is wrapped up in my head it is more likely baked. I am half baked, but not like the guys in the movie of the same name. Rather than go mute I think we should break out the trusty old bullet point post. That's a great way to bring together several disjointed topics that represent my disjointed thought process at the moment.

So there it is. I am half-baked by the sun and bringing you bullet points.
  • Braden still likes shoes although not as much. He loves to put on his "bip bops" though. He can't leave the house without them.
  • I have been feeding my neighbors cat, the semi wild turkeys, and the raccoons at his house for two weeks now while he is gone on vacation. Braden loves to go and help me with the feeding. He always gets his hat and his "bip bops" when I get home from work. Then he is ready to feed the "tu-teys".
  • Yes I said that I am feeding raccoons. My neighbor asked and I obliged. I would rather shoot them, but he probably doesn't have a need for coonskin caps.
  • The same coons come into my garage and eat my dog food sometimes. I guess I better keep feeding them next door to keep them at bay.
  • My neighbors cat has decided his owner is not coming home and took up residence outside our door last night. It meowed all night. You try to be nice and this is what you get. A cat. And who really wants a cat?
  • Arica killed another snake a couple weeks ago. She attacked it, but it got away under a bush. It turned up dead a few days later. That puts the standings over the last two years at Arica 2, Robert 1. My wife is the family snake killer. Don't mess with her.
  • I thought I lost my keys to Arica's car today.That will put you in a panic about as quick as anything. I tried to blame it on Braden, but Arica put a stop to that. She was right. I had just misplaced them. In a related note I am still looking for the spare set of truck keys I lost in 2008.
  • Not long ago Arica spotted and I killed a scorpion in our house. Yes a scorpion.
  • Is anyone out there starting to fear for us with the snakes, coons, and scorpions stalking our house.
  • In a totally unrelated note we still have our house on the market if anyone is interested. Just like the Kamp Komfort clerk said on National Lampoon's Vacation, our price "includes scenery and wildlife fun".

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Go Daddy

Braden knows right from wrong. There is no confusion about what his parents will allow and what we won't. It's obvious when Braden, doing something wrong, stares at me or Arica to see if we are watching. Sometimes he even smiles that sly grin knowing that we are about to make our move to interrupt his fun. That's all part of normal development. He is trying to determine his boundaries, and in some cases stretch them as far as he can.

Braden even knows what things are more likely to elicit a response from me rather than Arica and vice versa. Recently he has started using this information to try and improve his chances of getting away with things. Mostly he uses this new technique to look at things or get into cabinets and drawers. He likes to play with our PS3 and Wii game cases and discs. I let him play with the old ones but not the new ones. They are too expensive for toddler inspection.

So how does my son deal with this problem? He throws me out of the room.

When Braden wants to look at the games he tells me to "GO!" If I don't go then he will physically push me out of the room. Sometimes he even pushes me two rooms over and around the corner to make sure I can't see him. While he walks back to the location of his planned hijinks he watches me the entire time. If I take a step towards him Braden will point at me with his little finger and repeat his demands of "GO!"

While Braden can easily determine right from wrong, we need to work on his understanding of when these rules apply. That is a worry for the future though. For now I just admire his creativity.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Free As I'll Ever Be

After years away I have fully rejoined the country music fan base. I have seen a couple concerts and I am an avid listener to country music radio once again like I was as a child. During this time I have become a big fan of the Zac Brown Band.  One of their new songs is called "Free" and these lyrics got me thinking about freedom recently.

So we live in our old van, travel all across this land, me and you...Just as free, free as we'll ever be. - Zac Brown Band

That verse rings true because there is something about being on the open road that is freeing. When I was in college I worked a few summers at a U-Haul center. Sometimes I would have to travel to another town to pick up a truck that we needed and drive it back to our center. I remember how free it felt to drive those big lumbering 26 foot moving vans. It was as close as I will get to being a truck driver. I always had the windows down no matter what the temperature. Between my legs was a sugar and caffeine filled bottle of Mt. Dew. In my left hand was always a slowly smoldering cigarette. As I drove a few hours along the highways of NE Arkansas with absolutely nothing on my mind I felt free.

Later after I graduated college I used my freedom in other ways. At that time I felt free to go out to a local bar and grill 4 or 5 times a week for supper. I always took the same chair at the bar. The bartender would give me the remote control, and I would put it on whatever sporting event I wanted to watch. Every night in the summer it was Cardinals baseball. Then I would order my food without benefit of a menu, as the bartender automatically poured me a cold draft beer. Sitting atop my perch bellied up to the bar I felt free.

Eventually the bar was replaced by other hobbies. Just months before I met Arica I bought a fishing boat. Since then my favorite hobby has been bass fishing. I love to get up before sunrise on those chilly April and May mornings to head to the lake. I make my 20 minute drive out to beautiful lake Ouachita where there is no shoreline construction. Out on the lake it is just me and my boat surrounded by mountains and forests. In the middle of the lake as the sun comes up over the pine covered peaks I feel free.

While it is true that having a kid has cut into fishing time and cut out time at the bar I still feel free. You see as a Dad you are allowed another type of freedom. A type that couldn't be matched by scaling Mt. Everest, fishing in the pre-oil spill gulf, or anything else in the world.

When I come home from work and Braden runs across the room to greet me with a DADDY!! I feel free.

Free from sadness.
Free from worry.
Free from pain.
Free from stress.
Free from any problem this world can throw at at me.

The love of my son makes me feel, to borrow from Mr. Brown, "Free as I'll ever be."