Answering Difficult Questions from Our Child

For several years now, part of my 7-year-old son’s bedtime ritual has been to mark off the day on a calendar that he keeps in the room.  The calendar lists many holidays and he often will ask my wife and me to explain what they are.  I am writing this post on September 12, 2011 and last night he asked us to explain what "Patriot Day" was.

My wife and I had both paid attention to our share of remembrances, but we hadn’t openly discussed the anniversary around our son.  We also hadn’t had the TV or commercial radio on all day (which is actually pretty normal for a weekend day), so he hadn’t heard or seen any of the coverage either.  The events of September 11, 2001 aren’t currently covered in school for his age group and we hadn’t had previous occasion to discuss them with him, so this was the first time we needed to address the issue. 

I know that we probably could have largely avoided the issue by giving a simplistic answer, such as "It is a day where we recognize American heroes" or something similar to that.  That type of evasive answer somehow felt dishonest, though, so we instead did our best to provide a child-friendly explanation of events that still feel almost entirely inexplicable even to my grown-up mind.  During the conversation, he frequently asked us variations on the question "why?"  We did our best to explain that there really isn’t a good answer to that question.

We weren’t blindsided by the need to address the issue.  It was obviously a possibility that he would see or here some reference to 9/11 around the 10th anniversary and ask us about it.  In fact, it wasn’t really a surprise that his calendar commemorated the day and that was what triggered the question.  For that reason, my wife and I did already have ideas in mind for how to address the subject, although it wasn’t easy to actually express the right words when the time actually came.

We started off by first asking him if he had heard anything about the events, either at school, from friends, or from some other source.  When he said he hadn’t, we then explained that some very bad people had attacked buildings in New York City and Washington D.C., causing many people to get killed.  One thing we avoided was telling him the specifics of how the attacks were carried out, mainly because we do fly somewhat frequently and we feared that part of it would be too much for him to handle.  I’m sure we would have answered direct questions, but he didn’t ask for more details of that type.

We tried to focus on the heroism of the firefighters, police officers, and even civilian bystanders that risked and, in too many cases, lost their lives trying to help get people to safety.  He specifically asked us where they took the people that they rescued and we told him that those who were injured were taken to hospitals, some were simply moved out of harm’s way, and that some of those rescued joined the effort to rescue others.  We tried really hard to convey that the attacks themselves represented the worst of what people can do, but that much of the immediate response brought out some of the very best of humanity and that those heroes are the focus of the recognition of the anniversary.

Read More »

Memories of My Son’s birthdays – Part 4 (Age 6)

Click here for Ages 1-3
Click here for Age 4
Click here for Age 5

Age 6

As I mentioned when I started this series of posts, my son turned 6 last week.  After the fairly big and elaborate celebration of last year, we decided to keep everything very low key this year.  We even decided to limit the birthday celebrations to just the immediate family, although that really had more to do with logistics and scheduling than anything  else.

CIMG0042

As our son’s main birthday treat, we decided to make a trip down to Disneyland on the Saturday before.  We have an ownership interest in the Disney’s Vacation Club timeshare and looked into the possibility of getting a reservation at the recently opened Villas at the Grand Californian, but there wasn’t any availability that night so we decided to simply make it a day trip.

We live only about an hour away from Disneyland and have passes for admission, so we do make reasonably frequent visits down there, although not nearly as often as my wife and I did when we were younger and childless.  Our last visit had been only about a month before, but was primarily for the celebration of an adult friend’s birthday.  Since that day had a bit more of a scheduled agenda, we decided to make this visit an “Andy’s choice” day, where he would pretty much get his pick of rides and activities.  For this reason, we also chose not to try and meet up with any other friends, but instead just make it a family day.

 IMG_2921IMG_2930

IMG_2955 IMG_2935-1

One special activity we included that day was lunch at Goofy’s Kitchen, the character dining location at the Disneyland Hotel.  Andy is still a huge fan of the Disney characters and gets a bit kick out of these meals where some of his favorites come around and visit the table.  During our meal, we had visits with Goofy, Chip & Dale, Mulan, Jasmine, Baloo (from The Jungle Book) and Brer Fox.  We also got to visit with Pluto for a couple photos before we went to our table.

IMG_2952 IMG_2944

The restaurant also has occasional kid participation activities and Andy had the chance to get up and do The Twist with the characters as well as to help Goofy with baking of a cake (which mostly involved kids playing noisemakers and pretending to help clean up). 

IMG_2938  IMG_2937

Toward the end of our visit to the restaurant, the waiter brought Andy a cupcake with a birthday candle on it and Chip plus a few of the restaurant staff members all gathered for a short birthday celebration.  It wasn’t anything overly fancy, but Andy definitely got a big kick out of it.

IMG_2965

After lunch, we headed back into the park to visit attractions.  This included a visit to see Mickey Mouse at his house in Toontown, where everyone did give Andy a bit of extra attention for his birthday.  The birthday visit was during the first weekend that Disneyland had all of their Christmas activities up and running, so we took that opportunity to see the Christmas parade and fireworks show.  Overall, it was a fun day and Andy seemed to really enjoy himself.

IMG_3040 IMG_3057

For the evening of Andy’s actual birthday, he picked pork chops and mashed potatoes for his birthday dinner, a bit of a surprise since we had never really thought that pork chops was one of his favorites.  We then had the traditional ice cream cake for dessert and then let him open presents.

IMG_3010 IMG_3013

While he got a lot of really nice gifts, it was kind of funny that possibly the biggest hit of the bunch was the birthday card that I had picked up for him the night before.  The card is the type that has a chip in it that plays sounds when the card is opened.  It features the characters from the Disney/Pixar movie Cars and plays the song “Life is a Highway” from the movie, which has been Andy’s favorite song for quite a while.  Even though my wife had already bought another card for him, I couldn’t resist buying this one when I spotted it while shopping for a couple other items at the local Walgreens store the night before.

IMG_2989 IMG_3023

The main gifts this year included a couple Thomas the Tank Engine toys from my wife and me and a shirt and Mickey Mouse wristwatch from one of his sets of grandparents.  The watch was a pretty exciting gift for him as it is his first and he was pretty proud about getting a big kid’s gift like that. 

IMG_3065 IMG_3088

Andy’s other set of grandparents were a bit late in shipping out his gift from them (a Mr. Potato Head and full set of parts), so he had a little extra gift opening event later in the week.  That turned out to be a bit of a nice opportunity to prolong his birthday celebration a bit longer.

There was also a little celebration of his birthday in his class at school, but I don’t have any photos as neither my wife nor I were there for it.  My wife brought along a couple packages of mini-cupcakes that were distributed around to the class and the teacher gave him a small gift as well.

While this was probably a much more low key birthday than many of his past ones (particularly the year before), it still was a fun time.  Happy birthday, Andy!

Memories of My Son’s Birthdays – Part 3 (Age 5)

Click here for Ages 1-3
Click here for Age 4

Age 5

5th Birthday Family Picture 

By Andy’s 5th birthday, he had completed his first full year of pre-school, as well as a couple years in a weekly Gymboree program.  Between the two, he had made a lot of friends and had also had the opportunity to attend quite a few of his friends’ birthday parties.  This led us to think that it was a good idea to celebrate his 5th birthday (something of a milestone) with his first real birthday party with other kids.

We live in a townhouse that doesn’t have a yard or an overall design that would really be suited to having a large group of kids over.  While there is a party room available for rent in our condominium complex, it isn’t really overly kid-friendly either.  We realized that we really needed to find a kid-appropriate venue for the party.

Our first thought (and Andy’s first suggestion) was Farrell’s, having spent his birthday there the two previous years.  We looked into it and found that the price wasn’t too out of line, but we had major reservations about whether or not it would really work all that well for a big group of pre-school aged kids.  Other than the little merry-go-round, Mountasia really doesn’t offer much for kids that age and we were picturing a party that was little more than the kids all sitting around a big table eating ice cream and pizza. 

Farrell's at Age 5 Farrell's at Age 5

Andy was still kind of pushing for having the party there, but we were able to placate him by promising a family visit there not too long after his birthday.  We ended up going up there the weekend after his birthday for dinner and ice cream, inviting a few of our adult friends to meet up with us there as well.  Of course, Andy again got in a bunch of rides on the little merry-go-round.

Andy's 5th Birthday Party at Gymboree Andy's 5th Birthday Party at Gymboree

Having recently been to another kid’s birthday party that was held at a local play gym, we realized that it would be vastly preferable to go somewhere that the kids could run around and play.  As I mentioned, we had been taking Andy to classes at a local Gymboree Play & Music location since he was really young. 

Andy's 5th Birthday Party at Gymboree Andy's 5th Birthday Party at Gymboree

We checked into it and found that their prices for birthday parties were within our budget and that they had availability on Andy’s actual birthday (which was on a Sunday that year).  During his weekly class, we mentioned that we were considering having his birthday party there to his teacher, who is an outstanding teacher that Andy, and we, adored.  The teacher responded by offering to host and run the party if we booked it, which pretty much instantly sealed the deal for us.

Read More »

Memories of My Son’s Birthdays – Part 2 (Age 4)

Click here for Part 1 (Ages 1-3)

Continuing my look back at my son’s previous birthdays in celebration of him turning 6 this week, here are my memories of his 4th birthday.  As he has gotten older, I have found that I had a tendency to take more photos, so the remaining posts will cover just one year at a time.

Age 4 (2007)

Andy's 4th Birthday Andy's 4th Birthday

Opening presents at Farrell's Opening presents at Farrell's

Andy’s 3rd birthday was the first that he still remembered pretty well a year later.  Because of that, he decided that he wanted to do pretty much the same thing as the year before, returning once again to Farrell’s.  This time, we decided to forgo the formal birthday package and instead just let everyone order whatever they wanted off of the menu.

Bite your nose! Shark attack! 

Opening presents at Farrell's Opening presents at Farrell's 

As with the previous year’s visit, we included some play time in the game area at Mountasia.  Once again, Andy used the majority of the game/ride credits that we got for him to ride on the little merry-go-round.  During this visit, he did also give skee-ball a try for the first time, although I really was doing most of the work.

Farrell's Merry-go-round Skee-Ball with Daddy

A couple months before his 4th birthday, Andy started his first year of pre-school.  For birthday kids, the teacher had a short celebration where the child was given a birthday crown and allowed to put candles onto a felt birthday cake. 

Andy's 4th Birthday at Pre-school Andy's 4th Birthday at Pre-school

Finally, we did also do the now-traditional cake and gift-opening at home on his actual birthday.  Once again, the cake was an ice cream cake.

4th Birthday Cake 4th Birthday Cake

Eating Cake Eating Cake

He had received most of his major gifts during the party at Farrell’s, but we gave him a toy fire truck that I had found at a really good sale price between the two parties and he also had gifts from his grandparents to open.

 Toy fire truck Toy fire truck

Opening presents at home Opening presents at home

 

To Be Continued with Memories of Age 5.

Memories of My Son’s Birthdays – Part 1 (Ages 1-3)

Today is my son’s 6th birthday!  As a celebration of that big event, I thought I’d share some memories of his past birthday celebrations in posts over the next few days.

Age 1 (2004)

Disneyland Plaza Inn Birthday PartyAndy's First Birthday Party at Plaza Inn

To celebrate his first birthday, we attended the Disneyland Birthday Celebration that they offer a couple times a day at the Plaza Inn restaurant on Main Street.  At this event, everyone gets an undecorated cupcake along with small cups containing frosting and sprinkles to use to decorate them.  A character named Pat E. Cake hosts the event and Mickey and Minnie Mouse also pay a visit.  Quite a few of our friends were able to join us at the park for the party as well.

Family with Mickey and Minnie at Disneyland Plaza Inn Birthday Party Andy's First Birthday Party at Plaza Inn

The first birthday also started our now usual tradition of going out somewhere for a bigger party, but also having a little family-only party at home with cake and the opening of his presents from us and various relatives.

Andy's First Birthday Party Andy's First Birthday Party 

Andy's First Birthday Party Andy's First Birthday Party

This was also the one time that we attempted to make his birthday cake instead of buying one from the store, but we found that we generally lacked much cake decorating talent.

Andy's First Birthday CakeAndy's First Birthday Cake 

Read More »

First Week of Kindergarten

Our son started Kindergarten this week, officially starting his journey through the public school system.  This is definitely one of the most prominent of the well-known moments of mixed emotions experienced by parents.  I am immensely proud of the smart and very personable kid and thoroughly enjoy the experience of seeing him grow and mature. At the same time, I miss the baby that he was and the ability for my wife and/or me to be there for every part of his life.  Even as I write this, I know that this whole dilemma sounds kind of clichéd, but it also is unquestionably real.

I’m sure it is normal for us as parents to have quite a bit of apprehension and uncertainty as our son starts school.  We have a lot of awareness of both his strengths and weaknesses and can’t help but wonder how each will affect his experience.  We do know that our son is quite smart, even already having some pretty decent reading skills.  He has known basics like his alphabet and counting since not too long after he learned to talk and he has even learned some simple math.

On the other hand, he also has some definite problems with listening and following directions, which are going to take some work to overcome.  After his very first day of school, the teacher already noted that he wasn’t listening as well as he should and moved him to a desk closer to the front of the room.  We’ve also recently learned that his eyesight is not very good.  While he got his first set of eyeglasses yesterday, he is still nearly blind in one eye even with the lenses.  Obviously, that is going to be a bit of a challenge to overcome and probably also explains why his motor skills haven’t been as strong as his intellectual talents.

Our son has been through 2 years of pre-school as well as a few months at a drop-off school-skills class, so we didn’t experience as much separation anxiety as some families do.  Even when he first started pre-school, there really wasn’t any major problem when my wife left him for the first time, something that surprised us a bit since he had always had a really difficult time with babysitters.  My wife, who is a stay-at-home mom, has probably had more of a difficult time with the adjustment than my son has.

The shift from pre-school to Kindergarten is still a big adjustment.  His pre-school was only 4 days a week, 3-hours per day.  The elementary school he is going to has a full day Kindergarten, which means 5 days a week, 6 1/2 hours per day.  This includes lunch at school, which is also a pretty big change.  The pre-school was a cooperative type, which meant that my wife stayed to assist with the class one day a week.  It also had pretty much an open-door policy where parents were pretty free to stick around if there was something going on that they wanted to observe.  Not surprisingly, Kindergarten has much more of a closed atmosphere.

We definitely do still intend to be very involved in our son’s school experience wherever we can.  My wife has already made certain that the teacher and the parent’s organization are aware that she is available to volunteer as needed and we expect that there will be many opportunities.  The class has 24 students and there are no teaching assistants, so the teacher did indicate that parents should have opportunities to stick around and assist in the classroom periodically.

While my work schedule limits my availability, I certainly hope to be able to take part whenever I can as well.  I did take the day off of work this week so that I could go along to the parent orientation on Tuesday, which gave me the opportunity to meet his teacher and see the classroom.  I expect to attend parent activities and meetings whenever my schedule allows.  I also definitely plan to continue to spend lots of time working with my son directly to help reinforce and practice the lessons he is learning in school.

I was impressed by the teacher and the classroom during the orientation on Tuesday.  The classroom immediately made a very good first impression due to the teacher’s decision to heavily feature “The Cat in the Hat” as a central theme to the decoration.  That was one of the very first books that we bought for my son and we have read it (and its sequels) together numerous times over the years.  My son’s reading skills have been improving rapidly and, just last weekend, I helped to guide my son through his first time reading “The Cat in the Hat” himself. 

The teacher herself definitely seemed very kind and skilled to me, based on my first impression.  She has quite a bit of teaching experience and seemed to have a good handle on how to work with kids this age.  After the first 2 days, my son’s impression of her is very positive and he still seems excited about going back again tomorrow.

While it is not always easy to watch my child gain independence and move forward, he is also my greatest pride and the most important part of my wife’s and my lives.  I look forward to continuing to share this adventure with my family!

CompuServe Memories

On June 30th, America Online finally shut down the original CompuServe Information Service, which they had purchased in 1997.  While I haven’t really used the service for several years, this is still bittersweet news to me due to strong personal connections.  CompuServe was my first exposure to the concept of online computing back in the 1980s and my first professional job in the early 1990s.

My first computer experience was with a Radio Shack TRS-80 Model III that my father purchased in 1980 (when I was 10 years old).  Around that same time, Radio Shack made a deal with CompuServe to package and promote their service.  Under branding that Radio Shack called “Videotex”, they packaged CompuServe either with a dumb terminal or with terminal software sold for the TRS-80s.  My father bought a 300-baud modem and the Videotex package for the Model III, giving us our first look at connected computing.

My exposure to the features of CompuServe during this time was really just a taste as the service came with a pretty high hourly fee for use.  I mainly recall spending a little time watching over my father’s shoulder as he used it to access various news, weather, and information like that, although I recall that he generally preferred a competing service called The Source, which CompuServe eventually bought out and absorbed.  I also recall having a couple rare opportunities to spend an hour playing some of CompuServe’s primitive early online games.

Due to the hourly fees, I never spent any time in discussion boards or chat, instead getting early exposure to these via privately-run Bulletin Board Systems (BBSs) and, a few years later, with General Electric’s GEnie service, which was one of the first to offer discussion boards and a few other services at a fixed monthly fee instead of charging by the hour.  CompuServe was actually one of the last services to drop the hourly charges, which probably played a big role in their eventual decline.

After I graduated from college in 1991 with a degree in Computer Science and Engineering, CompuServe was one of the many technology companies to which I applied.  I ended up accepting a job with them as a junior engineer in their Entertainment Technology group, which focused on game products and the CB Simulator, which was their name for online chat.  I worked there for around 4 1/2 years, before I decided to move to California to pursue other opportunities in mid-1996.

The CompuServe headquarters was a campus in an industrial park located in the Columbus, Ohio suburb of Upper Arlington.  It consisted of two major buildings, the larger one (where I worked) housing the corporate business offices and the operations managing the consumer service.  The other building mainly housed their very lucrative network services division.  There was a nice employee cafeteria (The Oak Room), which was run by Marriot and an employee fitness center.
View Larger Map

The Oak Room had pretty decent food and I generally ate there a couple times a week.  They had a selection of standard grill items (burgers, chicken strips, etc.) that were available every day as well as a featured entree.  They would occasionally do prepared to order stir-fry or pasta that were immensely popular and would result in long lines during lunch hour.  I’d typically eat there on days that the entree sounded particularly good or when my schedule made it tough to leave the office for lunch.  When I did leave, there was a Wendy’s, a Pizza Hut, and a sandwich place across the street as well as numerous other restaurants that were a fairly easy drive.  The Oak Room also served as a location for larger meetings and employee gatherings.  I even remember just about everyone in the building gathering in there to watch the OJ Simpson verdict on a big-screen TV.

Read More »