Monthly Archives: December 2011

It’s My Wonderful Life

It sounded like a good idea. Take a 23-month-old to a 2-hour-long, black-and-white, largely dialogue-driven movie right smack in the middle of dinner time.

On second thought, no it didn’t.

As part of our ongoing efforts to establish some Christmas traditions, Cassie and I took Boogieface and The Animal, to The Strand Theater for a matinee showing of one of my favorite movies, “It’s a Wonderful Life.” We knew my 4-year-old daughter would like the movie, because it features one of her favorite songs. As for my son, well, since television usually puts him into a calm, sedated, zombie-like state, we figured the large movie screen would only amplify the effect.

We strategically selected seats up in the balcony in order to distance ourselves from the crowd. But the theater soon filled up, and we found ourselves hemmed in on every side, with no easy escape route.

As the opening credits rolled on the screen, my kids’ eyes locked onto the bright rectangle before them, and I crossed my fingers.

For a while things were fine. Boogs sat quietly at my side, sipping on her Sierra Mist; The Animal too seemed content, resting in the warmth of a mother’s embrace. But then, just as George and Mary Charlestoned their way into the high school swimming pool, my son’s hound-dog-like olfactory system detected the scent of food.

“Want popcorn?!” he said loudly, in his typical request/demand style. Cassie and I exchanged glances, and I immediately understood my mission: Get popcorn—STAT! By the time Donna Reed was hiding within the hydrangeas, I was back with two bags, which I hoped would keep the little guy busy for a while.

But we both knew the time bomb was ticking.

Then, just as the “run” began on the Bailey Building and Loan, ironically, my son felt a sudden urge to run himself. Having devoured both bags of popcorn, he was now re-energized and restless. After squirming free of Cassie’s grasp, he tried to escape down her end of the aisle but was stopped by her leg. Without hesitation, he made a break for my side and met the same obstruction. He was trapped. Or so we thought.

Just as George and Mary shared an emotional embrace in their soggy honeymoon suite, my son barked something unintelligible, which echoed throughout the theater. It sounded like the noise that the raptors make in “Jurassic Park” when they’re calling the others to come in for the kill.

I could feel the vexation of my fellow moviegoers as they glared in our direction, so I scooped up my boy and made a beeline for the nearest exit. But soon, after chasing The Animal back and forth from the rear-exit stairway to the water fountains and back several times, I decided I had to find another way to wait out the movie.

So out into the blustery December night we went, my son in his cozy winter coat; me in my flimsy zip-up sweatshirt. My coat was in my car, and the keys, of course, were up in the balcony with my wife. And since there’s no way we could go back in – literally, the door locked behind us – I would have to just tough it out, which is something I’m not very good at.

For the next hour or so, The Animal happily hopped down Zelienople’s main thoroughfare peering in the windows of the town’s stores, which were all closed for the night. Meanwhile I played border collie, trying to keep him from darting out into the street. At one point, he climbed up onto a porch, stuck his head through the railing, and said to me, “Want ice cream?” I thought he was pretty darn cute, so I played along. “Sure!” I said. “I’ll take some.” Two seconds later he returned with my “ice cream”: a dirty ash tray.

After the movie, Cass and Boogs, warmed both inside and out from the holiday classic, found us across the street in an Italian restaurant, where I was attempting to defrost with a glass of cheap red wine. For the moment, my son was calm, his attention held by a Grover picture book he was reading on my iPhone, which, by the way, he was smearing with ketchup-covered, French-fry-greasy fingers.

But despite being cold and tired and frustrated, and besides having to woof down my dinner while defending myself and the other patrons from flying salt shakers and other toddler-powered projectiles, I have to admit, it really is a wonderful life.

Just next time I think we’ll rent the DVD.


Posted by on December 20, 2011 in Uncategorized


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It’s Official…I’m the Babble King! (Of course, we’ve always known that.)


Posted by on December 16, 2011 in Uncategorized


Wine Through a Straw — A New Christmas Tradition

Now that my kids are getting older, my wife and I are excited to share some Christmas traditions with them, like decorating the tree, driving around to see the lights, and watching “A Christmas Story” over and over again until you can recite the entire movie. Backwards.

This year we started a brand-new tradition by taking my daughter and my niece to see “The Nutcracker.”

The basic plot of “The Nutcracker” is a little hard to follow. I know that there’s this scary magician uncle guy who comes to a Christmas party bearing gifts, one of which is a nutcracker. Oh joy. But after that it all gets a little fuzzy. By the time the giant Nutcracker was dueling it out with the dreaded Mouse King, I wondered if the original author of the story might have been snacking on mushrooms while he wrote it.

During the intermission I got in line to buy a bottle of water for my wife and, inevitably, bought two glasses of wine as well. I had already paid when I realized that I wasn’t permitted to bring the drinks back to my seat. Apparently the Benedum Center is aware of my wine-spilling tendencies. For a moment I considered chugging both glasses rather than abandoning them. Classy. But then I saw a sign that said you were allowed to bring drinks into the show as long as you purchased a plastic sippy cup for $3 dollars. Crisis averted.

At one point during the second act, a merry-go-round-like contraption descended from the top of the stage and a bunch of kids came out riding what were supposed to be carousel horses. Magically, the toy horses and their riders glided around the stage in perfect unison. As I sat there, sipping cabernet through a plastic straw, I pondered this mystery. Maybe there were giant magnets under the stage pulling the horses along? Maybe they were remote controlled? It took a while, but I finally realized that the riders’ legs were actually inside the horses and not on the outside as they appeared to be.

Give me a break. It was dark in there.

Every once in a while during the show, I’d peer over at my daughter, who seemed happily entranced by the production. At one point, though, she asked if it was dark outside, concerned that her bedtime might be soon approaching. “Not in the movies,” she said. “I mean in the REAL outside?” I took another sip of wine, happy that I wasn’t the only confused member of my family.

I’m not sure why I enjoy “The Nutcracker” so, considering the many years agonized through my sisters’ ballet practices and recitals. But sitting there with three of my favorite girls at my side, listening to the soothing notes of the “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy”, I couldn’t help but feel totally at ease and filled with the Christmas spirit.

I also couldn’t help but think about Tetris.

Following the show we had dinner across the street at a popular Italian restaurant, which, according to the many photos on the wall, had been patronized by such luminaries as TV weatherman Kevin Benson, Barney the purple dinosaur, Robert Goulet, and amusement park tycoon Roy Walley. “Just think,” I said, enjoying a plate of bowties in meat sauce, “this very fork may have been inside Barney’s mouth!” It was a real possibility.

Watching my niece and daughter get lost in that magical tale of Christmases past reminded me of what the holiday season is really all about, and I’m hoping that “The Nutcracker” can be a cherished family tradition for us for years to come.

Of course, from now on, I’ll bring my own sippy cup.

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Posted by on December 16, 2011 in Uncategorized

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