Tag Archives: Parenting

How Dr. Who Saved My Family

My kids know how to manipulate me. Doesn’t matter how busy I am. I could be knee deep in dinner preparations or trying to locate important documents for Tax Season. “Hey Mom, would you watch ‘Dr. Who’ with us?” I drop everything and sit on the couch with them for one or two, — okay, let’s be honest — five or six episodes.  We are becoming die hard fans, nearing hyperventilation level geekery each time we spot anything that is Dr. Who related.  My sister discovered this last time she took us to a Barnes & Noble.  I think we drooled on every single mini Dalek and fingered all the Dr. Who Magazines featuring the last three Doctors on their covers. It wasn’t always this way.

I recall last spring, when I’d vaguely heard of some show with a cult following based on the antics of some rather emphatic British guy and his assorted companions, with a cast of ridiculous aliens in tow.  Not my thing at all.  I should have known it would become my kids’ thing.  And then my thing.  And then our thing.  And then the mad, bad, crazy world would start to make a little more sense.  Which is probably the genius of the show, and why so many people adore it.  But this really is not a critique.  It’s a story about a family coming together and bonding through shared nerdery.

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Dylan’s clay TARDIS, ready for adventure. Geronimo!

So last spring my son and I were talking on the phone and he said “Mom, I need you to download this show for me on Netflix so I can watch it when I’m visiting.”  I am a noncustodial parent.  Not by choice, and not an ideal situation, but I make the most of it by bonding with my son however and whenever possible.  He comes to visit for the summer, and we try to strike as many wishes off his list before time is up.  So when he started talking about a show he likes, I promised to look it up and got my pen and a sticky note ready.

“What show is it that you want to watch?”

“It’s called ‘Dr. Who’.  Have you ever heard of it?” slightly condescending, because adults have NO idea about anything in a preteen’s stratosphere.

“As a matter of fact, I have,” which was about as far as I knew anything about the show, but I tried to be impressive, AND… I already have it downloaded!”  This was true.  My son was impressed.

He made me promise not to watch any of the newest episodes before he arrived.  No problem!  I am not a science fiction fan.  But curiosity eventually won the day and I watched the pilot episode from the reboot with Christopher Eccleston.  It was a bit campy, but I could understand why my son liked it so I watched the second episode.  Before I knew it, I had watched my way well into David Tenant’s stint on the show, chatting with my son on the phone in between episodes. “Oh, you’re watching the old episodes?” slightly condescending again. “Yeah, I don’t like any of those.  The special effects are no good.  I only like the episodes with Matt Smith.”  Okay then.  He is apparently an expert.

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My daughter’s drawing of Dr. Who during our Fall/Winter 2013 marathon episode watching.

We talked extensively about ‘Dr. Who’,  comparing what we liked and reviled, gushing over favorite characters and exploring plots we would like to see unfold.  We discussed episodes to watch together.  Then we just started talking about everything else.  My son was more open and willing to talk after Dr. Who broke the ice.  Now we have something in common, something neutral to dispel any tension and discomfort from external sources.

My daughters took an almost immediate interest in ‘Dr. Who’.  I was surprised at first, but we are a family of dreamers.  Why not come together to enjoy a show that reminds us to think big, be extravagant, and believe the good guys always persevere?  The idea of the Doctor as a theme of kindness, humor, and love has become  indoctrinated among my children. One day while feeling ill, I was surprised to find a Lego TARDIS on my coffee table after an afternoon nap.  A tiny Matt Smith made of cardboard was propped up next to it. It brought a smile to my face.  Best. Gift. Ever.  Inevitably, characters from the show show up in my children’s drawings and dioramas.  My son’s 3D scene of favorite things included Olaf the snowman from the movie ‘Frozen’ and…the TARDIS.  My oldest daughter has been planning the dimensions for her construction project of an actual TARDIS as soon as she finds a box big enough…we are forever on the lookout!

In our home, being active and busy is encouraged.  There is always something to do and somewhere to go.  Sometimes we are all so busy that conversation becomes a daunting challenge. But when we pause and spend time together enjoying this one show that we all really love, I am reminded that we are all connected by a strong bond.  And when my son has to go at the end of the summer, I know that there will still be many conversations.  You can argue all day long about the Doctor’s best act of courage and compassion, but I know that it was creating the greatest icebreaker and saving our family from frigid conversation and unfriendly silence for years to come.  Thank you, Doctor.  Because of you, my family and I will all have so much more to discuss about the great mysteries of the universe.

~ G

Post dedicated to my son.

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Homecoming

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An imposing perspective on parent/child relationships. You can go home again, but it’s scary!

So here is a confession: my parents and I had a falling out recently.  The details need not be aired, but I will admit that I spent several weeks not talking to them, and it was brutal.  As summer neared, the mulish anger subsided, and just in time for the return of the prodigal daughter.  I placed a phone call to Mom to patch things up.

I was still skittish about coming home after making amends with Mom and Dad.  After only a few delicately worded conversations, it seemed that we were all walking on egg shells, and anything was apt to go wrong.  Visiting my parents is not like visiting other parents.

Mom and Dad live in a giant, ancient schoolhouse.  Correction: the third floor of a giant, ancient schoolhouse.  So a visit begins with the hauling of half a ton of belongings up three flights of slippery crumbling tile stairs, usually late at night, during a rain storm.  Can’t find your kids at Papa and Nana’s?  They are probably just playing hide-and-seek, aren’t they?  At my parents’ schoolhouse, which is roughly 45,000 square feet of mystery and danger, I have about as much chance locating my wandering children as the drunken transient who has broken into the building in search of valuables to steal and sell at the pawn shop down the street.  There’s a Hunger Games vibe.

In a town full of individualistic characters, my parents are the definition of characters.  Everyone knows them, and depending on previous encounters, the mere mention of their names can bring smiles and happy anecdotes or dark scowls of contempt.  Am I proud of this?  Damn right I am!  Does it make life a little harder when I come to visit?  Sometimes.  But while running errands around town today, something made me realize how important your family is, even when driving you crazy, making you mad, and causing you constant frustration.

It started at the dented can store — the kind of place where you buy cereal boxes that have the tops taped back on and cans of organic black beans with little dents in the sides — all at a discount.  We went to look for “good deals”, a longtime family ritual.  Inside the store a photograph of me is tacked up at one of the cash registers.  It has been there since 2003, when I left home to go to Baghdad.  Me in my Army uniform, with my infant son, who is holding a little American flag.

Every time we have gone into this store over the past eleven years, my parents have made a fuss over the picture.  Now my children make similar remarks, mimicking what they have heard my parents say for their entire lives.  “Doesn’t Momma look neat in that Army uniform?”  It finally occurred to me that the picture is still tacked up at the register because my parents have made sure I’m not forgotten.  They have made me into the hometown hero and carried on my memory long after I’ve gone.

Running errands around a town  this small, my main concern was finding sustenance to accommodate my annoying food sensitivities.  I had already fallen off the gluten-free wagon during a delicious but near disastrous lunch at a local sports bar, so I was thrilled to discover that one of the grocery stores features a new, impressive gluten-free section!  Arriving back at the schoolhouse (and after four trips up the three flights of stairs carrying 200 pounds of grocery items) I mentioned to Dad that the section was quite progressive.  He took  complete credit for its inception.

“I talked to the store manager for some time about doing that,” he said.  “I told him that you needed better food options when you visit, and that there are a lot of other people in the community who need gluten-free foods.”

I was, quite frankly, in awe.  It’s possible that my father was not the one person solely responsible for the gluten-free section of the grocery store.  However, knowing him, he probably spent a great amount of personal time lobbying the store on my behalf.  Just like he spent eleven years remarking on my deployment photo, making sure that everyone within earshot didn’t forget me.  It made me wonder if the reasons why I had been so upset with my parents were really worth being so angry after all.

 It makes me wonder something else too.  Will I ever be as good a parent to my children as my parents have been to me?

— G

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Our Neighborhood Belongs to the Children

One of the neatest things about living where we do is that our neighborhood is under the control of the hundred or so children who constantly swarm in and out of our houses, caring little whether the house is actually theirs.  I have never lived any place where this was possible or even acceptable, and there is something so freeing about it.  In other places we’ve lived, always basically nice neighborhoods, the idea of children roaming unattended through the streets, playing in neighbors’ yards, and entering unfamiliar houses was unthinkable, maybe dangerous.

In our neighborhood this behavior is not only allowed but enforced by the children, who would have it no other way.  Perhaps this regime was established years ago when the neighborhood was still brand new and the first families decided to band together to create a close knit environment; then the environment thrived into a microcosm where the children exercise their democracy through the freedom to run and explore, free range, inside the established boundaries.

What a visitor sees when coming to our street is a residential scene from a bygone era: children shooting around on vintage looking bikes, scooters, and skateboards, the muffled sounds of lawn mowers and sprinklers mixed with laugher and the crack of baseball bats, and then in the distance the ice cream van’s jingling songs play merrily.  The children might disappear momentarily to grab a fistful of change, but soon they are back, jostling into a jagged line to buy ice cream and popsicles, and then it is back to zooming around on the now empty street.

While all this is going on there is limited parental supervision.  One or two parents may sit on the front steps of their homes, or fiddle with a dodgy sprinkler in the yard, but no one hovers over the kids while they play.  Some might consider this as irresponsible parenting, but I have had the chance to get to know some of the parents in the neighborhood, and they do not strike me as the type.  It seems more like a social experiment, an understanding between parents and children in which parents allow their offspring to leave the nest and venture out into the world to explore and network with peers.  In this cell phone age when parents and children are just a call away, why not let children explore unsupervised to give them a stronger sense of confidence, accomplishment, adventure?

Often the adventuring leads neighborhood children to my door.  Since I am a well known authority figure in their school, the children feel comfortable coming to me for all kinds of reasons: to ask for a glass of water or a popsicle, to see if they can help me in my garden, to ask if I will teach them how to make sushi, and my favorite, why my hair looks so funny.  I also often look out my window to find neighborhood children just playing in my front yard for no other reason than because their parents probably told them to “go play somewhere else”.  This causes no concern except for when the little boy on the corner is in my yard.  I frequently find him going after my daughters with a hollow plastic baseball bat.  They probably instigate the ‘attacks’ and on the flip side, they are all smiling and laughing, and my girls always have foam pool noodles for self defense.

One day I woke up from a nap to hear noise outside and when I looked out the window there were half a dozen children in my front yard with a remote control monster truck.  They were racing it up the driveway and trying to jump it off of my bottom step.  It kept crashing all over the place and they were making quite a racket.  When I threw open the front door they all froze and looked at me with guilty expressions.  “What are you doing out here?”  I asked.  “Uhh…testing out the monster truck…”  “Do you want candy canes?”  “YES PLEASE!!!”  I shouldn’t have fed them, now they are in my yard all the time.  But they are cute and sweet and they don’t mess with me because I yell at them plenty at school.

Another caveat to the free ranging children is that for some reason they will inevitably want to come into my house and explore when they get tired of exhausting the resources of the surrounding outdoors.  Usually I can fend them off with a popsicle bribe and a hollow promise that “sometime soon” they can come in, perhaps when I am making cookies, but “not now, the house is way too messy!”  It always is.

The best lesson I have learned from these little intrepid spirits is that when they come to my door, it is the perfect excuse to drop the laundry, the dusting, the cooking, or whatever mundane house chore I feel obligated to drudge through and go outside to get in touch with my inner child.  Their subtle, adorable hijacking of the neighborhood has given me a little freedom because I can say to myself, “hey this is not so important when there is a beautiful evening to experience!  I’ll outside and see what my kids are doing, and get back in touch with neighbors I haven’t seen in ages!  Goodbye laundry basket and mop bucket!”

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Zombie Princess drawn by my daughter. Happy Halloween!

Tomorrow the neighborhood will be swarming with children in costumes.  Our neighborhood is THE place to trick or treat.  Many neighbors go all out to decorate houses and stash truckloads of candy for the hoards of costumed youngsters who will invade.  Children at the school have been asking me all week if I will be at my house to hand out candy.  I bought a five gallon pumpkin shaped bucket to fill and still need to go back to the store for backup candy.  It would not be surprising to see at least 200 children at my door tonight.  Children from other parts of town and as far as Fort Riley will come to our neighborhood for candy.  That is fine with me, just as long as no one asks to come into my house.  It is still a mess.

— G