Saturday, December 15, 2012

Thirty years, sixty one mass shootings... Can we talk about it now?

Friday morning, I spoke to my writing partner, Ambarish Manepalli, and we sent off two scenes for a network diversity showcase in Los Angeles.  The scenes, from a screenplay we’d written a few years ago, is one of our favorites and the script is one of our next projects. 

The script is about two office drones from accounts payable who are bumbling their way through their first job as hit men.  (It is registered with the WGA, so, no, you can’t steal the idea…)

The end of one of the scenes is as follows.



Walt and Mikey flanked by fishing gear, camping equipment and badminton sets.  In front of them is an arsenal.  A wall of guns and ammunition.  A pimply high school kid stands in front of them.  A SIGN sits on the counter.

Walt reads it.

No background checks, no waiting period, no permits required.


Welcome to WalMart.


A little jab at the ridiculousness of our gun culture?  Yes.  

A funny bit?  Yes.

Deadly serious?  Absolutely. 

We hit "send" and off went our bit of tongue in cheek comic brilliance.  Only the two of us knew the truth of our script:  That Mikey and Walt never end up using the guns.  This was not a political decision, just worked in the scheme of the film. 

I went to the park with my toddler, passing the school where we go once a week for a pre-pre-K class, and we ran and played.  Then I checked my phone for email and dipped into Facebook. 

I wish I hadn’t. 

Twenty children and six adults, dead. 

One gunman.

This is becoming all too common in this country and it is unbearable. 

There was a flurry on Facebook and Twitter.  Expressions of grief, outrage and the typical gnashing of teeth associated with a mass shooting.  (There were three this week, in case you’re keeping score.)

And there was also the immediate call from gun advocates that, “This is not the time to discuss gun policy.” 

I grew up with a healthy respect for guns, taught to my by an uncle who made sure my cousins and I were educated in gun safety.   I’m not a hunter, fishing is more my speed, but I have no problem with people having guns.  None at all.   I will say that if you need an assault rifle to hunt, you're doing it wrong.  If you need one to protect your home, you might want to rethink what you're doing what would cause an army to invade your house.

But, I truly don’t want your guns.  I'm not asking for a ban on guns.  Seriously.  

I do want us to have a conversation about them.  I do want us to discuss the gun lobby and their power in the halls of our government.  (I lump the NRA in with the manufacturers, not gun owners.  It’s been a long time since they actually represented the desires of gun owners…)

For the last thirty years the gun lobby has dominated the debate.  When there’s a tragedy, they tell us it’s not the time to discuss gun policy.  When there’s not a tragedy, they sit on the shoulder of our elected representatives and remind them of campaign cash given and the promise of more. 

It doesn’t matter what party.  Republicans suck at the teat of the gun lobby with glee and Democrats are too feckless to do otherwise.

This time the victims aren’t adults strolling through a mall or grocery shopping at their local Albertsons or watching a movie.   The perpetrator is not a high school kid who has been bullied and taking revenge on his peers.  This time it’s an adult with a history of mental illness who took his mother’s legally purchased weapons, killed her, and then went into a classroom of six and seven year olds and killed them. 

There’s a rule in movies:  “You can’t kill the child.  The audience will disengage and hate your movie.”    Why?  Because it hits too close to home.   Parents project their own children onto that child on screen.

Just like every parent projected his or her children onto every victim in Newtown. 

I did it.  I knelt down in a sporting goods store, my child asleep in his stroller, surrounded by toddler sized soccer balls, and cried.  And I spent the rest of the day holding him any time I could.   My wife came home after work and sat on the floor, Turtle in her lap, and immediately engulfed him in hugs and kisses.

The people who make and sell guns have, for thirty years, had advocates and lobbyists to pursue their best interests in Washington.  It’s not about the Second Amendment, which is often mis-stated as “the right to bear arms, shall not be infringed.”  (The actual text says: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”  People forget the pre-amble.)   This fight has been about profit.  Gun manufacturers have a product to sell.   Relax gun laws and you can sell more powerful guns.  Keep gun owners scared that some unseen boogey man will take away their arsenal, and they’ll buy more and more.

It’s time those of us who don’t own a gun have the same kind of voice. 

It’s time that those too young to own a gun have advocates. 

It’s time we reclaim the discussion; pry it from the cold, dead hearts of the gun lobby, and talk about sensible measures that will ensure gun owners their right to have their guns but that protect the vast majority of us who don’t have them. 

According to Think Progress:

“a poll conducted in May (2012) by Republican pollster Frank Luntz for the group Mayors against Illegal Guns, gun-owning Americans, including National Rifle Association (NRA) members, overwhelmingly support a raft of common-sense measures typically described as “gun control:”
 1. Requiring criminal background checks on gun owners and gun shop employees. 87 percent of non-NRA gun-owners and 74 percent of NRA gun owners support the former, and 80 percent and 79 percent, respectively, endorse the latter.
 2. Prohibiting terrorist watch list members from acquiring guns. Support ranges from 80 percent among non-NRA gun-owners to 71 percent among NRA members.
 3. Mandating that gun-owners tell the police when their gun is stolen. 71 percent non-NRA gun-owners support this measure, as do 64 percent of NRA members.
 4. Concealed carry permits should only be restricted to individuals who have completed a safety training course and are 21 and older. 84 percent of non-NRA and 74 percent of NRA member gun-owners support the safety training restriction, and the numbers are 74 percent and 63 percent for the age restriction.
 5. Concealed carry permits shouldn’t be given to perpetrators of violent misdemeanors or individuals arrested for domestic violence. The NRA/non-NRA gun-owner split on these issues is 81 percent and 75 percent in favor of the violent misdemeanors provision and 78 percent/68 percent in favor of the domestic violence restriction.
 The poll, which sampled 945 gun owners around the country and had a margin of error of +/- 3, also found broad support gun-owners for the principle that “support for 2nd Amendment rights goes hand-in-hand with keeping illegal guns out of the hands of criminals.” In fact, more NRA members (87 percent) supported the statement than non-NRA members (83 percent).”

Maybe it’s time for we non-gun owners to unite with reasonable gun owners and force the NRA to represent it's member's best interests, the best interests of all Americans, not the industry.

Maybe I'll start with the guy who showed up at my son's school Christmas party brashly wearing his NRA hat in the middle of an auditorium full of elementary school kids - the same night as the Newtown shooting.  It displayed the kind of insensitivity that has marked our national discourse on gun control and gun safety for the last thirty years, but maybe, just maybe, if we have this conversation, we'll find common ground and can effect change.

Today, I’m adding this to the list of things for which I advocate for my son. 

The true tragedy is that I even have to.

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Saturday, December 1, 2012

Turtle, Disney's Rockin Ever After, and a Lesson in Small Things

I had the good fortune to be invited to the latest Disney on Ice show, Rockin Ever After.   

I should preface this by telling you I got free tickets for my family simply for sharing tweets and writing something about it.  I know there are plenty of bloggers out there who write these things to get free stuff.   

I’m not one of them.   

I prefer to pay for a product and then, if it’s horrible, I’ll be free to say so.  But this was an experience and one that my son would probably not get otherwise.  I’ll happily accept those.

I should also say I wasn’t a huge fan of ice shows, although one well-kept (until now) family secret is just how much I know about ice-skating every four years during the Olympics.   (I’ve recently become a convert to ice shows.  My toddler changed my mind.)

I am now the father of a two and a half year old son who is obsessed with princesses, quite specifically Belle from Beauty and the Beast. 

Turtle is the kid who memorizes every song from Mary Poppins after a single viewing and then spends the next four months singing them in an ongoing medley. 

His only exposure to Belle was a Disney book we bought him and the library’s copy of Beauty and the Beast.  We watched it once.  It was decided shortly thereafter that we would be having a Beauty and the Beast birthday party for Grandma B while she was in town.  He watched it again.
I’m sure you can see where this is going. 

 “We going to Book’n to Barky Center?” 

Yes, son.  We are.

On Tuesday evening, November 27, my son and I jumped on the train from Queens and trekked to the Barclay’s Center in Brooklyn.

It was my first time at that venue and it’s amazing.   A Nets practice court you can watch from the Starbucks?   Genius. 

Our hosts led us to a reception with other bloggers to meet the people behind the show, the Feld family.  The Felds, Kenneth Feld and his daughters Juliette and Nicole, produce Disney on Ice and were kind enough to spend time with us.  (More on this in a second.)

Skaters from the show came and talked to the kids and there was a special visit with Merida, star of the hit film, Brave. 

My kid is not shrinking violet and he has more girlfriends - actual beautiful adult female girlfriends - at our local coffee shop than I did all through college… and that’s quite a number. 

Merida was no exception.  Turtle was one of the youngest kids there and the line to meet her may have made him a little shy, but he found his way in.  He took the program for the show (which he’s slept with every night since and still carries with him everywhere) walked up to her, opened the page to her picture and sat on the floor in front of her.   Instead of a photo op, this turned into Turtle and Merida sitting on the floor, hanging out.

Yeah.  Hide your daughters. 

When it was time for the show, the wife and I strapped on our Mickey ears and the three of us head to our seats. 

Two observations:
  1. The Barclay’s Center is a great venue.  I can only imagine basketball games there… Or I can get tickets.  Which I will do right now.
  2.  Two, the food is great.  (Especially for a sports arena)  Get a burger.  Seriously. 
The show was great, a contrived talent show where each of the featured stories basically did a greatest hits from their films, only on ice.   The Little Mermaid, Tangled, Brave, and Beauty and the Beast were all well represented.

My son managed to sit, enthralled, well past his bedtime.

Therein lies my only critique:  the set pieces can seem long.    

But the show was great and Turtle has been singing the Gaston song and talking about his “friend Merida” non-stop. 

Fellow NYC Dad’s Group blogger, Adam Gertsacov, wrote a wonderfully thorough review of the show here.

What struck me most about this show was an announcement before the performances even started. 

Bruce Ratner, the Feld family, and Brooklyn Borough president Marti Markowitz (straight out of central casting) made a few announcements.  Much glad-handing ensued.

Then they dropped this bomb. 

The Feld Family donated ten thousand tickets to victims of Hurricane Sandy.

10,000 tickets.  Free. 

I have been trying to put together a post about my experiences heading out to Far Rockaway and Broad Channel after Hurricane Sandy.   I have some friends who deserve a shout out, Andrea Ciannavei, who helped coordinate much of the initial response through InterOccupy and Occupy Sandy, Ed Vassallo who has been on the ground since the first car could get out there (with the lovely Annabella Sciorra).

What is painfully clear is that so many of us don’t know what to do after a major catastrophe.  We want desperately to help and run headlong into the fray.  We want to do big things.

A good friend, actor Anson Mount, has been spending a good deal time out there ripping homes apart and doing yeoman’s work.  He initially thought giving away free gasoline out of a gigantic drum in the back of a truck was a brilliant idea until it turned into an episode of The Walking Dead.  (Ironically on the same network as his show.)   

The last thing I wanted was to look at my son and have him ask what I did and say, "Nothing." I spent time spreading information, sorting clothing, talking to victims, carrying the odd thing here or there.  These were all things assigned to us by some group or another.  

At one point I turned and found some guy trying to hack his fingers off while attempting to chase an onion around a cutting board with a knife.  I thought he worked for the food truck that was giving away free food but he was just a volunteer.  I walked up and said, “I’d love to help.  I’ve got mad knife skills.”  One of the guys handed me an F.Dick chef’s knife that had somehow lost its tip.  (Someone tried use it to open a can of beans.)

I worked my way through a bag of onions and carrots and celery and we fed people.. 

I ended up finding a place where my skills could be put to use.  Cutting vegetables, making a soup – these things still seemed too small.  I wanted a bigger task. 

So they sent me to pick up shells off a football field. 

I should have stayed with the soup.

The Felds had a show.  They had entertainment and a warm arena filled with laughter and cheers. 

For a family who has lost everything, this is a moment of joy that they will never forget.  A moment away from filling out FEMA forms, finding shelter, tracking any belongings that weren’t washed away with the storm. 

It’s a cup of warm soup in the cold when your power is off and the winter wind is picking up. 

That’s not so small a thing.

Disney on Ice at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn through December 2.

Tickets via the Barclays Center web page here.

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Friday, June 15, 2012

What I've learned since becoming a Stay At Home Dad.

THIS POST IS ALSO POSTED AT THE HUFFINGTON POST.  Yes, Ethel.  THE Huffington Post.  Feel free to read it there and comment on the bottom.  Let's have a discussion!

My wife and I entered parenthood later than most of our peers.  We married young, twenty-two and twenty-five respectively, but coming from Salt Lake City, Utah, that seemed perfectly normal. We chose not to start a family right away; it was just the two of us against the world, we were enough and, frankly, we had plans. 

Big plans.

My wife wanted to be working for the Secretary of Education by thirty and I vowed I’d have a mantle covered with TONYs, Oscars and Emmys by the time I was forty.

My wife has been successful in her career but, while creatively fulfilled, my mantle is surprisingly void of golden statuettes.  However, it is covered with Play-Doh dinosaurs and colorful finger paint landscapes… or maybe they’re elephants…  or cars.

And they’re the most important treasures I have.

Plans change.

When we found out we were expecting, we immediately began planning. My wife works at a university in New York and I was working at a cable network during the day and performing in the evenings.  We began pulling together as much paid leave as we could.  (A tragic reality for those of us living in one of three countries (of 178) without paid maternity leave... but that’s another post.)  We came up with twelve weeks for my wife and then I would stay at home and take over. 

There was no discussion.  It was decided.  She makes more money and, since insurance is tied to employment in this country (again, another post) we certainly couldn’t rely on the wing-and-a-prayer weeks-of-work system Actor’s Equity or the Screen Actors Guild provides.  Rather than keep my temporary day job to pay someone else to raise our child, I would stay home.  It has not only become my full time job, it is my calling.  I can’t imagine doing it any other way.  My only regret is that my wife can’t experience it. 

However, first big movie, we have a second child, we switch roles…  That’s the deal.

In the two years since our son, whom we have nicknamed Turtle and Mr. Man, came into our lives, I’ve learned much about children, parenting and myself.   I work hard NOT to be that parent who gives advice to other parents; I’m a firm believer that everyone has their own journey.  However, it’s Father’s Day and I get to do whatever I want.  (That’s the way it works, right?) 

Here are a few things I’ve learned. 


It's all about logistics and the big picture. 
I come from the world of the theatre. You have to be on spot X by line A or the big picture, the story, gets muddy.  As a parent, I find myself thinking about logistics all the time.  “I’m going into the city today.  Should I wear Turtle in his Mei Tai or should I lug the stroller around?  How hot will it be?  It’s 80 degrees now.  Short sleeves.  Might rain later?  Jacket and a stroller cover.  How much milk do we have?  Where can I stop and grab more?  Do I need to take some with me?  Should we just wing it?  Will I be near Shake Shack or Milk Bar?  How can I alter my route to ensure I am?”  (You don’t need to suffer, right?  This is supposed to be fun.)  This will take five minutes as you prepare yourself for your day, but it makes all the difference when you’re out on the road.

It’s not a contest.
So, your friend’s child is the same age as yours and can walk, talk and do quadratic equations at six months… Who cares?  Turtle was the last of his birth class buddies to crawl and walk.  He’s also four inches taller than most two year olds.  Big deal.  By the time he goes off to college he will be running, potty trained and able to put on his pants by himself.

This is also applicable to “stuff.”  You don’t need that $1000 stroller.  Sure, drool over the one your friend got from that rich uncle, but take that $1000 and put it into a college fund or something.  A fancy baby bag is nice and I have one that has literally come apart at the seams in just six months.  (The company has been kind enough to replace it.)  My army/navy store Alice pack?  Bulletproof.  Holds two baby bottles, a water bottle, diapers, pads, jackets, swaddles, toys, it’s cavernous, kind of ugly… and $20.  (It was also the perfect counterweight to Mr. Man snuggled into his Mei Tai.)

In parenting, gender doesn't matter, skill sets do.
There’s been a lot written about what Mothers and Fathers do better.  It’s all nonsense.  Skill sets are more important than gender.  I am a better cook than my wife, always have been.  I worked in kitchens from the time I could legally hold a job and I spent much time at my mother and grandmothers’ sides, learning.  That’s part of my skill set.  My wife is amazing when it comes to the evening routine: take a bath, comfy comfy, sing songs, story-time, sleepy sleepy.  She is quicker to get silly with him, tells better tales, nurtures differently – gentle, quiet.  It’s part of her skill set.  We are great at stepping in with little fanfare when our skill set is needed.  Perhaps it’s because we came to be parents after 15 years of figuring out how best we work together.

Think like a Marine (adapt, overcome, improvise).
No face wipes?  Do you have a handkerchief and a bottle of water?  Nothing is so dire that you need to freak out.  Take a breath, assess, you’ll be fine.  As my mother used to say, “Don’t sweat the small stuff…  P.S., it’s all small stuff.”  Breath.  Assess.  Find a solution.  Move on.

Forget pride and ask experts.
Dr. Sears, Dr. Harvey Karp, the ladies at Metro Minis in NYC, my mother and mother in-law.  These were some of my resources.  What are yours?

Love is limitless.
You will believe yourself incapable of loving someone as much as you love your child in this very moment - then you wake up the next morning, see your kid wake up, fuss, ask incessantly for a “bobble” and your love grows exponentially.  This happens every day.

Note to SAHM's:
"I am not a predator and I’m not invading your turf.  I'm just a dad.  Also, you are much sexier than that 25 year-old nanny.  Just ask your husband."

No, being an SAHD does not lead to weaker men.
There are people who contend that the increase in SAHDs is giving rise to men losing their rightful spot in the hierarchy of the workplace and that the role is emasculating.  This is utter hogwash.  These are also the same people who insist women are worth 25% less than men and are laboring to undermine the ability of American women to make autonomous health care decisions.  These people should be actively ignored.

Yes, being an SAHD does up your sexy factor.  
Not just to the flirty barista, but to your wife or partner.   Ask my wife.
You are raising a small adult.  Remember that.
They are learning from you every moment of every day.  They learn your habits, your most colorful language, how you hold your fork, the way you brush your teeth – and they emulate it all.  You are their master teacher, their Sifu.  This also means they are learning and emulating your biases, bigotry, ignorance and hatred.  These are taught.  Now is the time to address these things in yourself.

Taking care of yourself IS taking care of your child.  
I'm the 40 year-old father of a two year-old.  I'd like to see him graduate college, get married, and, someday, hold his children.  Take care of yourself.  Join a gym, start Crossfitting, ride your bike, pick up something heavy every day, stop eating meat, go paleo, whatever.  Do anything and everything to keep yourself alive.  Take your vitamins.  My vitamin and supplement regiment would make Robert Downey, Jr. smile.  Meditate, pray, or just find quiet time to read. You can find the time.  Trust me.  If you can’t or won’t take care of yourself, there’s no way you can take care of your child. 

What things have you discovered?  Let me know. 

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Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The Myth of the XBox Dad.

There is a grave misconception that a stay at home dad sits in front of the XBox all day playing video games and tossing the occasional scrap of meat to the child penned in the corner or climbing recklessly on the bookshelves.

This is wrong.

Just this morning we shopped for groceries, had breakfast out (Doughnuts... Don't judge...), dropped off the groceries, grabbed our laundry, did three loads, joined a rally for our local library, talked to our city councilman, got the kid a haircut, folded the laundry, and lugged it home like a Sherpa. All before 1.

This is my stroller, laden with bags, and sea bag full of laundry. It's the how of what we do. We don't have a car here in NYC, so these are our wheels.

So much for the XBox Dad...

Monday, May 28, 2012

Memorial Day and the Ghost of Crap Advice

Two things converged this weekend:  Memorial Day and streams of advice from questionable parents...

I know you want me to dish, but I'm going to make you wait... for a minute.

Memorial Day has always been the day when we break out the grill.  It's the first real day of summer.   It's that day we get off work so we can go fight the crowds at Coney Island or the street fair and we can drink way too much beer and get ourselves all worked in a dither about the best way to cook a four inch thick Rib Eye?

(Sear on both sides in a cast iron skillet the approximate temperature of the sun for about a minute on each side, then stick it in the oven until it's about a nice medium rare, then cover it in foil and let that sucker rest for a good ten minutes, maybe more.  This is the most important step.  While you wait, you can ponder the wisdom of buying those four inch thick rib eyes at Costco for $30 each when you had no clue how to cook them in the first place and thank whatever deity you worship for having me here to keep you from tossing them on a grill until they "looked ready" and end up with eating something akin to a size 13 work boot.)

There is something else about Memorial Day...

What was it?

Oh, right.  It's about honoring the dead.  Our dead.  The people who died while serving in the United States Armed Forces.

There are some who believe that it's an opportunity to honor all our passed relatives.  It's a lovely gesture.  We take one day to look back at those who came before, often doing things so well and effectively that we can’t help but choose to ignore their wisdom and completely screw things up because "we know better."

Memorial Day.

It is not a day to honor living service members.  That's what Veteran's Day is for.  I don't know when that also became part of Memorial Day.  I think sometime after 2002, as we increased the number of people honored on Memorial Day, honoring the living became a way to avoid confronting the truth about our increasing dead.  I completely understand that.

We honor the dead, those we know and those we don't, because it is the right thing to do, because we never want to forget sacrifices made and lives lost whether our cause be just or not.

I heard a saying the other day:
"Honor those who gave their lives by pestering your elected officials to ensure no more have to."
I like that.

Now, if you do want to thank a living service member, present and past, I'm sure that's fine.  (Some fine friends and fellow vets did that today and I thank you.  I feel honored.)  You can also thank them on Tuesday, and Wednesday, and Thursday, and especially on Voting Day.  Elect someone who might take that billion dollars for fighter plane we no longer use and gives our soldiers on the ground a raise.  No matter what your politics, I’m sure we can all agree that having service members on food stamps is unacceptable.  That may be the biggest thanks we can give them.

With all of these thoughts of Memorial Day swirling around in my head, my wife and I were flooded with really strange parenting advice.  It was strange because it came from other parents who seem to have done a really shitty job or just plain given up.

Just for fun, let's look at their advice and compare them to the things the United States Navy taught me.

(This is addressed to the givers of bad advice... Not you, gentle reader.  And this is not boy-centric.  "He" is also "she.")

YOU!  Yeah, YOU.  I saw you drop that box-  Nay, throw that box intentionally at a small tree on the sidewalk in front of your kids.  There is a trash can twenty feet away.  Pick it up.  Have pride in yourself and where you live.

Oh, you don't live here?  Then respect the people who do.

"Don't let him play with his tricycle.  He'll hate it.  My kid does."

This is not your child.  My kid loved it - the tricycle itself, just not so much the actual riding  of the tricycle.  Not quite old enough to master pedals that parents are unable to disengage...  (Not such smart engineering, there Go Green.)  He loved pushing it, steering it around, rolling it, talking to the handlebars like microphones.  Let your kid try - not the just way you think he's supposed to, but in the ways he thinks he's supposed to.  He might surprise you.

"You'll learn at some point, they’re just going to do what they want to do.  You just have to give up."

No.  Your oldest is always stoned, dropped out of school, hangs out in grandma's basement selling dope to other 17 year olds because you're of your inability to discipline.  Saying, “Hey, you know better,” and then throwing your hands up is not discipline.

If he's out of line, you send him to marching party, you send him to Captain's Mast and you drop his rank and paycheck.  There is no excuse.  You get your kid out of that basement, back in school or you come up with options that are acceptable to you.  He is the child, you are the parent.  Act like it.  The consequences for both of you are too dire.  The consequences for us as a nation are even worse.

"Your kid is smart.  He needs to be in school now, or he'll lose all of that."

He's 2.  He's smart because he is curious and this is the exact age for him to be exploring and learning from the world, not a book.  He doesn't need to be able to read Kierkegaard.  Basics.  Small steps.  Then expand!  (I promise the two of us will break out my dusty copy of Virgil and be translating the Latin soon enough.)

"He outside already.  It's too early.  My kid is still asleep.  He refused to go to bed last night.  I just let him sleep.  Kids need their sleep you know?"

It’s 11:00 A.M.  Your child may still be asleep because you keep him out while you partied.  He's running the hallway at midnight.  Yes, he does need sleep.  Maybe you could set up a routine.  Story, Bath, Brush, Kiss Daddy, Comfy Comfy (pj's), Sleepy Sleepy is a routine that works for us.  It's nightly.  We pay attention to the details of each element of the routine and therefore he pays attention to the details.  Does he stay awake sometimes?  Like now, as he's trying to climb into my lap to see what I'm typing?  Yes, he does.  (But it's only 7:30 P.M.)  Does the attention to detail pay off? Absolutely.  How do I know?  My kid was asleep at a decent hour and, to steal a line from the Army, did more by 10 A.M. than your kid did all day.

"He looks sunburnt!"  "Is he eating enough?" "Oh, he drinks milk?  Not chocolate milk?  You should give him chocolate milk...  or a juicy drink.  Or maybe a Gatorade. It'll keep him hydrated."

No.  Yes.  Are you high?
I interpret this one as simply knowing more than a toddler.  A toddler wouldn't think about sunscreen and a hat.  I do.  A toddler wouldn't pay attention to what or how much he ate.  I do.  A toddler wouldn't think twice about drinking liquid candy or some noxious neon colored sugar water.  I do.  I know better.  Because I'm squared away like that.

My advice to these nosey parents is this:  Teach your younger kids these things now or shove your 18 year old into a recruiter's office and sign him up.  I'm a big fan of the reserves or national guard if you can't make the commitment.  No, I'm not a war monger, nor am I an advocate for violence or armed conflict.  I am an advocate for the lessons the military can teach a young man or woman who has not been exposed to them by age 20.  I had excellent parents and most of these lessons I already knew, but in my need for college funds I joined the Navy Reserve and I found that I was lacking in the way I integrated those lessons into my life.  I think EVERY child, should be required to go through boot camp.  I think EVERY child should then give two years in service, be it in the military or peace corps or whatever.

Which brings me to my last lesson.

"You make Turtle clean up?"  "You make Turtle share?"

You're damn straight I do.  But most of the time, I don't have to.  Why?  My child sees us picking up random bits on the playground and keeping it clean for everyone, so he is in the habit of doing the same, doing his share.  This simple little lesson permeates everything he does:  he helps clean in his little group class; he shares; he helps around the house, trying his best to sort laundry - even the stuff that’s already been folded; he wants to be involved in the most mundane chores, often pulling his stool to the kitchen sink because dishes look like fun - and the sooner they’re finished, the sooner we all can enjoy story time.

He will become an adult who believes in the simple power of service.

That's advice everyone should take this Memorial Day.

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Christopher T. VanDijk is an actor, writer, and dad in the NYC enclave of Astoria.  He can be found in the local parks picking up random bits of debris, grumbling to himself about pride, respect, and service nearly every day.  The script for his film "Cowboys Versus Indians" is currently in pre-production and his latest play is nearly... nearly... nearly finished.  He is a proud member of Partial Comfort Productions and the NYC Dad's Group.