Our second child is graduating pre-school. Next year, he’ll be entering Kindergarten. I know, I know. You’re thinking, “Your baby is growing up!” Most parents get all teary at this revelation. In fact, the teachers gave parents tissues at the gate before the ceremony… all the parents in my son’s class get glassy-eyed when we talk about “graduating.” Especially those, like us, whose youngest child is the upcoming pre-school graduate.
Last week, mom wrote the last check we’ll ever write for preschool. For the better part of the last eight years, we’ve have had a kid in daycare or “preschool”. We loved our boys’ schools. Everyone one of them. Their teachers, their email updates during the day with pictures of our children interacting and having fun with their friends.
In preschool, there are programs for every holiday. Sweet little songs and children dressed up in costumes. Handmade Christmas gifts with photos of our kids and Mother’s/Father’s Day poems and stories and some very sketchy art projects that often resembled those ink blots that you see psychologists use in movies.
The preschool teachers are family. They are more than one and done. They have watched Oliver grow from the time he was a few months old until now, in cap and gown accepting his preschool superlative Caring Classmate (I would have voted for Crazy Classmate).
Preschool graduation means no more hand-holding while walking into school. Oliver, our baby, will trade in the preschool drop-off, for the big, yellow school bus. His class size will double. We will say goodbye to the teachers who have known him since he was born. We will say goodbye to many of those hand made gifts. Kindergarten is the big time, but this time we’re ready. (Or at least we say we are). There is no doubt that Oliver is ready for the big time. He’s a leader, kind, helpful, FUNNY and his graduating class’ Caring Classmate.
Mom and I watched our baby on the preschool stage (wood chips) wearing a pint-size cap and gown, we sat through the slide show from the past five years, we saw pictures of our little boy across multiple rooms from his past five years, but the tears I anticipated didn’t come.
Instead this time, all I could do was smile and nod. This time, I was prepared, ready and confident that we did the best we could. I was confident that nothing can ever be totally planned and that the most important aspect in life is trusting that what got you to where are now will help you continue to succeed. So with that being said, Oliver keep being the caring, crazy classmate you are! Mom and I could not be anymore proud of the little boy you have become.
Oliver, you will be successful in whatever you do as long as you always put forth your best effort. Always be kind to others, treat those who need help with respect and kindness and never stop asking questions and learning from everyone you meet.
So with kindergarten on the horizon, I didn’t think I would be… but I’m ready this time. And, more importantly, so is our son.
Eight going on EIGHTEEN! Seriously, when I woke up this morning I feel like you had a full beard and were reading the Wall Street Journal. It’s insane to me how much you have grown. You are such an exceptionally hard worker, a fierce, fierce friend and most importantly a loving big brother.
Eight years after you were born and we (mom and I) are still amazed by you every single day. Yes, you drive us crazy, there is a lot more talking back and many, many more “No’s” than all those years ago, but we wouldn’t trade it for the world.
Covid has put a damper on so much of your childhood, but you continue to persist. Masks, virtual learning, vaccinations and social distancing are as much part of your birthday as cake and balloons. Yet, here you are… eight years old and still making the best of everything.
I’ve watched you pick up your brother when he falls, then push him back down five minutes later, then pick him back up again! I’ve watched Oliver have a meltdown and you try to calm him, then laugh. (Always with him, never at him… just like a big brother should do and I would know!)
You have become such a leader in your school and among your friends. You know right from wrong and always make sure to advocate for anyone that needs help.
Mom and I want nothing more than you to be happy, healthy and grow into a caring, kind and respectful young man… and if the past eight years are any indication… then you’re already there!
Happy Birthday, Jackson. We all love you very much!
“It matters not what someone is born, but what they grow to be.” -Albus Dumbledore
This past weekend the boys and I set out on an adventure… I’d like to tell you a bit about this adventure. However, be aware, this tale is not for the faint of heart.
It started out as any sunny and mild Sunday. A walk in the woods, a dad and his sons. No map, no backpack for of supplies, no survival kit. Just three dudes and the sun to help us navigate. (PS I don’t know how to use the sun to navigate. I can barely use the navigation system in my car to navigate).
However, it didn’t take long for things to go awry in the (labeled and trail-blazed) back woods of our town’s land trust –- known for both rock slides, quick sand, extreme temperatures and (multiple clear paths out to a main road).
With limited food and water, and no safety or camera crew, Les Stroud style (Survivorman: the single greatest show in the history of TV) we wondered down the slick, wet mountainside (more slight hills than mountainsides) in hopes of finding not only a way out, but someone who could lead us to the way out. The thing is, even with the proper gear, food and water… survival in the these uninhabited and rarely traveled (mapped out, totally accessible and used by hundreds of people a day) is nearly impossible.
Just like Survivorman, after nearly an hour of traveling with out the essentials… Nintendo Switch, an iPad, an iPad charger, pudding snack packs, Ellio’s Pizza or a microwave to heat said pizza in, we were left scavenging what he we could from the barren landscape.
We were lost… even though I denied that to the multiple people we ran into, even when both boys begged them to help us get out. We were exhausted and I was trying to draw on my years of survival experience (years of watching Survivorman reruns) and we kept moving forward to try survive and endure being lost 1/2 mile from our house.
Like Stroud, who’s survival show, easily the best Survival show ever, we needed to keep our wits about us and use what the land provided. In Survivorman, it wasn’t just crazy cliff jumps and bear attacks, he’ll often show the mistakes he made… such as lighting his shelter on fire or cutting himself after getting careless from mental fatigue. He never downplayed the mental aspect and how getting stressed or anxious in a situation like this could be fatal.
I won’t lie, we were in a life-or-death situation. The kids were freaking out and in dire need of an episode or two of Paw Patrol. With only my wits… one glove, two winter hats and a few random M&Ms found in Oliver’s sneakers to keep us alive, I drove us forward. I would not let the sound of cars on the adjacent road or the lady walking ahead of us with her dog keep us from getting home to a couple of cold ones (juice boxes).
Eventually, we realized we had walked in a large circle and my lack of navigation skills had led us back to where we began almost three hours earlier. We were finally safe, almost home and close to a warm meal, a cold drink and Netflix.
Along the way we faced challenges that would break most people, but not us. Not this dad and his sons and definitely not with this Survivor(dad) leading the way.
This blog entry will Chronicle (pun intended) a father and son’s continuation of the first time reading the Harry Potter series together. We finished Book One and Two and now will move onto Book Three: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (my personal favorite of the series). I’ll update it after each chapter so that I can capture the most memorable moments. Come back often and check in on our progress and leave us a note or some feedback!
I hope you enjoy the journey as much as I know Jax and I will.
Chapter 1: Owl Post
The excitement is building and we are officially at the point where the second one book ends Jax is ready for the next book. Ollie came along for the ride of chapter one tonight too, but only made a few pages deep before he was off with visions of Cornish Pixies dancing in his head!
A short chapter (for a late night before school after a long weekend is just what Madam Pomfrey ordered. Harry finally gets to enjoy a birthday as he gets some pretty cool gifts including what Jax would describe as, “the book that wants to eat Harry!” (Care of Hagrid). Jax brings up an interesting point… Hagrid has some really cool pets (Norbert, Fang, Fluffy, Aragog and now the Monster’s Book of Monsters).
…and the answer is no Jax, we can not get a three headed dog… and we can definitely not get a dragon 🙄
Chapter 2: Aunt Marge’s Big Mistake
About to get to a phenomenal part of the book (and one of the better done parts of the movies) and Oliver is already snoring next to us. I love that he is so interested in the books, or maybe it’s just soaking up special time with his big brother and dad? Either way, Aunt Marge is about to get blown up like a hot air balloon!
I love how this chapter plays out. Harry is starting to understand the line between the Muggle World and the Wizarding World. Jax loves that Harry says a curse word! Glad this book is playing out to our maturity levels!
Chapter 3: The Knight Bus
There’s a lot to digest in this chapter, but Jax focus is on a new way for wizards to coexist unnoticed with the Muggle world—the Knight Bus, a vehicle that seamlessly navigates through Muggle traffic undetected.
Instantaneously we are both transported back to the summer when Jax met Stan Shunpike and Dre (the shrunken head).
There’s many questions left unanswered in this chapter… why does Harry keep using magic when he doesn’t mean to? (Jax makes a connection to the glass at the zoo here too). How did Sirius Black escape? Why didn’t he get in trouble for doing more magic around muggles?
Chapter 4: The Leaky Cauldron
We met Crookshanks and now all Jax can think about is getting a cat.
Chapter 5: The Dementor
Dad was at a Board of Education meeting so we had a guest reader for Chapter 5! Mom and her “not so great, but tries really hard” Harry Potter voices!
Jax summary of this chapter… and I quote:
“The train stopped when it was pouring rain and then, we were like, ‘what is it?’ Then we flip the page we thought it was a dead Dumbledore with no head, but we figured out what it was. It was a Dementor; they are like a ghost. What they do to you Is they kill you by trying to get all the happy feelings out of you.”
“The Dementors are like, you know sometimes when you feel really, really sad and your heart hurts a little bit? That’s like with the Dementors make you feel like. “
“We also got a new person for the Defense of the Dark Arts: Professor Lupin!”
Chapter 6: Talons and Tea Leaves
Jax considers who this dog really is and why Harry keeps seeing it after in Divination class Professor Trelawney predicts Harry’s death from the Grim. It only took a few chapters before Jax has had enough of Malfoy again.
Chapter 7: The Boggart in the Wardrobe
Two things in this chapter caught my attention in terms of Jax’ reading comprehension and I was thoroughly impressed.
1. When Harry steps up to the Boggart and Lupin immediately jumps in front of him, Jax says, “Lupin must have thought the Boggart was going to turn into Voldemort! You can’t have Voldemort just sitting in your classroom one day!!!”
2. After Lupin jumps in front of the Boggart, Jax is quick to notice the vaguely described “ball of light” (orb) that the Boggart turns into. “That’s weird, what could that be that he’s afraid of?” He asks inquisitively.
There’s nothing better than turning slowly towards him with a sly smile and telling him that he might be on to something and that he’ll find out soon enough!!!
Chapter 8: Flight of the Fat Lady
This is a chapter that I know I’m going to regret reading. Jax knows we don’t call people names or make fun of people for any reason including looks. But of course we know have “The Fat Lady” starring in this chapter and he enjoys reading her name. 🙄
Overall though, the book begins to turn a bit dark here. Jax isn’t scared per say, but he does have a worried look on his face when he finds out Sirius Black attacked the Fat Lady!!!
Chapter 9: Grim Defeat
I always loved this chapter in both the book at the movie. The night after Black’s break-in, all the students sleep in the Great Hall, while the professors, led by Dumbledore, search the castle for Black. I always liked the closeness of the houses, being all together in the Great Hall… in the movie one of my favorite quotes:
Of course Jax focuses in on how funny Sir Cadogan is!
Chapter 10: The Marauder’s Map
This was a super confusing chapter for a young reader. There was a lot of backstory given in the present time with so many intricate details that intertwine the past and present.
It was fun to have a chapter that was a bit confusing to Jax for once. Readers need to struggle… they need to figure out how to grapple with text they don’t understand. This was one of the first times Jax was really confused and I loved listening to his questions to try to clarify his confusion! (Of course I left him hanging!!!)
Chapter 11: The Firebolt
It’s a bit early (I wish) for Jax to start considering the consequences of friendship. He’s so sharp… he is starting to consider the intricacies of the “Golden Trio’s” relationship.
Chapter 12: The Patronus
This is exactly what Jax and I picture Harry looked like in this chapter:
Chapter 13: Gryffindor versus Ravenclaw
Another complex chapter. Jax must have asked 437 questions this chapter.
Is Cho Harry’s girlfriend?
Why does Harry’s Patronus have antlers?
How did Sirius get into the Gryffindor Tower again?
Chapter 14: Snape’s Grudge
Jax is obsessed with the Marauder’s Map. He’s starting to understand how the Invisibility Cloak and the Map are quite the combination for a mischievous group of friends.
Chapter 15: The Quidditch Final
The face Jax makes when Hermione slaps Malfoy is a mixture of admiration, excitement and the knowledge that hitting someone in our household would lose you your iPad for at least two days!
Chapter 16: Professor Trelawney’s Prediction
“Dad, I’m telling you, something is up with this rat!!!!”
Chapter 17: Cat, Rat, and Dog
SPOILER ALERT… When you find out Scabbers has been Peter Pettigrew all along:
Chapter 18: Moony, Wormtail, Padfoot, and Prongs
Jax: “Wait a minute!!!! So Mooney?!?? You know who that must be… is it Lupin?!?? The moon? Mooney! It’s not an orb he’s scared of from the Boggart!!!! It’s the moon because he’s a werewolf?!!”
Chapter 19: The Servant of Lord Voldemort
“Wait… no way!!! Did Hermione just kill Snape!!! Well she definitely believes that Scabbers was really Peter Pettigrew.”
What a comment from Jax. For Hermione to perform a spell on a teacher is very, very out of character for her. It goes to show how Jax really gets her character arc.
Chapter 20: The Dementors’ Kiss
This is “low key” one of my favorite chapters in the book. So many things have to unfold just right and it’s incredible how carefully planned this book is compared to the first two of the series. So much had to be meticulously planned in order for the events of this chapter to make sense and for the big reveal of this book to work.
There’s a ton here to unpack… One of the most heart-wrenching moments is watching Jax think that Harry is going to get to live with his godfather and finally get away from those “jerks” the Dursleys. He was so excited (at one point jax even thinks it would be funny if Sirius bits Harry as a dog and they get to live as a dog family).
That’s what these books do to you though. As a reader who is really processing so much information (ie: character traits, and how other characters influence them and the world around them), he is beginning to make emotional connections to some of the characters in the story.
Chapter 21: Hermione’s Secret
From a teacher’s perspective this chapter looks at two main plot points that literally effect the entire series:
Snape’s existential crisis
Dumbledore’s rebellious streak
To Jax it was another HP/Tattoo Connection:
I loved this chapter for how well JK writes the time travel bit. Time Travel can be an albatross to a reader, both confusing and arduous to follow, because it’s one of the toughest literary techniques to pull off well. Time and time again (pun intended) it’s not done well, but she does just enough to help a young reader like Jax make connections to the foreshadowing that takes place throughout this book while keeping the time-space continuum (Back to the Future reference) stable enough for the readers to believe what is happening.
Jax finally realizes the Time Turner is how Hermione kept popping up in/ disappearing from random places and why she was always so tired. He also realizes who actually casts the Patronus Charm to save Harry and Sirius. There’s almost nothing better than how JK foreshadows in this series, the only thing better, watching Jackson figure it out!
Jax is also starting to see how powerful of a wizard Harry is becoming. We were impressed with how hard he worked with professor Lupin to learn the Patronus Charm and how most “fully grown” wizards can’t do it! (The movie does this scene PERFECTLY).
Chapter 22: Owl Post Again
Besides time traveling, freeing Sirius and Buckbeak, not getting caught, Harry getting back both the Maunders Map and his Invisibility Cloak this chapter was uneventful!
The questions begin pouring in… where is Sirius, is Lupin going to be OK? Can Harry use the Time Turner to go back and kill Voldemort before he kills his parents!!??
Then the question I’ve been waiting three books for: “Dad, do we have to wait until tomorrow to start the next book?!??!”
And just like his dad after reading the third book, Jax is absolutely hooked!
POSTSCRIPT: Also, click here for our other alouds:
We’re at the point in parenting children (in terms of a nighttime routine) where it’s not just dealing with diapers and trying to get them to sleep w out crying. Those infant stage all-nighters are expected when you have babies. They poop themselves and they want to eat that’s what babies do. But now we have older kids… no more babies. They are supposed to read a book and fall asleep peacefully.
Therefore, taking care of two children who are almost eight and five years old we expect nighttime cooperation. Unfortunately, these damn kids are at the age where they have learned that they have some power in the world, and they’ve decided to seize any opportunity to use it. We’re not surprised by our mini-negotiators saying anything to stall their bedtime—even if they’re about to fall asleep mid-sentence. That’s not an issue. I can deal with that.
But, this is different. This is every night at 1am… 2:30am… every night. They seek us out. They are just there. I don’t know how they get in our bed. I don’t understand the science behind being able to climb over us get under the blankets and not wake anyone up. They just do it. It’s magic, it’s sorcery. Somehow they just appear. Every. Goddamn. Night.
I wake up with either a foot jammed in my back, or with someone crying about a monster that might be in the closet, or bathroom, or on the roof. Listen, I respect that. I had my fair share of nightmares a kid. But, I’m starting to wonder if these stories are just made up. Legit, made up dreams to make mom and I just give in and let them stay in bed with us.
Case in point:
Last week… It was the middle of the night, and we were sound asleep (Steph had already abandoned ship after being up for hours trying to calm a miserable four year old who wanted to stay up and watch tv/ have a drink of water/ have a snack/ read one more book/ etc, etc, etc). I thought I had finally gotten a night of sleep only wake up at 3:30 to the sound of someone having a full on conversation in the bed. It took me a minute to realize it was Oliver talking to someone. I looked around to see who he was talking too. “Steph?,” I whispered. That’s when I realized we were alone.
I jumped out of bed and did whatever a guy needs to do when he believes his home is being invaded, (or his son is possessed), I screamed like a 14 year old seeing Harry Styles for the first time in concert. “Ok, everything is fine,” I said to myself. No one is here. No poltergeist or anything like that, right? But then I heard more mumbling… “Gyro [who is our neighbors’ dog] is barking! His face is right there, but it’s square?!!!”
My first thought: what the heck is he talking about?!? My second thought: Is my kid hallucinating?!!
That’s our life now… waking up to children in our bed at 2am talking about our neighbor’s dog. (And we thought the baby night time stage was hard). It’s exhausting, but the good news is I’ve read some advice from a parenting blog (clearly one that takes themselves way more serious than #ChroniclesOfANewDad. Their advise was:
“Carry your midnight wanderer back to their room every time they bust into yours. If you let them crash with you, you’re setting the stage for a never-ending bedtime battle. Consider hanging bells on your doorknob so you can hear your toddler coming; that way, you can walk them back to their room before they climb into your bed and make themselves comfy.”
“Walk them back, tell them to stay in their own rooms, carry them back yourself”… it’s not working here (there’s no way it’s happening anywhere). Everyone has advise, everyone has ideas until they wake up with child’s foot in their ear and a four year old talking to the next door neighbor’s dog!
About a month ago, it was a normal weekday afternoon as I walked down the driveway to the mailbox. Nothing pressing was on my mind other than how many Amazon Prime packages I might find. Today however, instead of finding boxes, bills or ads for extended car warrantees, I found a letter from almost 1,000 miles away (and no it wasn’t my acceptance letter from Hogwarts… although you have to admit that would be life changing too).
The envelopes were emblazoned with the Green Bay Packers logo stamped on both. I had tears in my eyes because I knew immediately what was inside, but would have to conceal both my excitement and the documents that were now in my hands.
People ask me all the time, (as I know they will both boys), how in the world did I become a Packers fan. Whenever I’m asked this question my head begins swimming with reasons…would it be Sterling Sharpe, who was Calvin Johnson before Calvin Johnson was even born and also happens to be the reason why I wore number 84 in my high school football days… Al Bundy reference). How about Brett Favre, the “Gunslinger of the North,” who kept us in every game? Or what about Charles Woodson, who displayed the heart of a lion and tried to play through a broken collarbone in order to bring the Lombardi Trophy home? Those are all obvious choices of why I became a packers fan. There are hundreds to choose from; I mean, come on! We’re the most legendary franchise in the NFL, right?
Then again, there is more to the Green Bay Packers than the legendary figures who once and still do roam The Frozen Tundra. To me, there is something else that makes our fan base a “real living, breathing thing.” Family… Vince Lombardi said it, my parents said it… heck, I’m saying it now… family is what makes being a Packers fan so special.
My boys were born seven and four years ago respectively and the joys of parenthood sometimes gets lost in dirty diapers, school events and sleepless nights… when the thoughts of Rodgers to Adams are far, far away. Yet, it’s that quick thought of ARod lofting a touchdown pass on a perfectly thrown back shoulder pass… even if for just a fleeting second, that gets me so excited. The thought of sharing the Green Bay Packers with my sons, the thought of Sundays with them in my lap, the thought of bringing them to Lambeau for the first time… that’s what it’s all about. It is the thought of something that is bigger than me, bigger than them… because the Packers make it about “US.”
Now that my family has grown, I have the opportunity to share something that is more than a game with my boys. And although there is no doubt there will be stories about that Gunslinger of the North, and the guy they called The Golden Boy, it will be more about the experiences father and sons share together. Besides, Coach Lombardi couldn’t have been wrong… he added it in his Top 3… God, FAMILY and THE GREEN BAY PACKERS
You see the Green Bay Packers are more than a team. These documents I was holding are about passing on a legacy. Now, both my boys can join me by saying they are more than fans… they are now the proud Owners of the Green Bay Packers.
‘Tis the season, and by that, I mean the season of terrible wrapping jobs to go appropriately with terrible presents.
It’s become a tradition to take the boys out and set them loose with no guidelines or structures. No rules, no regulations other than telling them no when they pick out a $2300 TV or Nintendo Switch.
Listen, when it comes to the worst possible gift wrapping attempts ever encountered, we’ve got the market cornered. This Christmas we’ve kept at least 30,000 small business in business (if those small businesses only make wrapping paper).
So knowing that we are settling down to wrap up Mardi-Gras beads and a 12 pack of paper towels for Mom… you too, can give you the best-terrible things this holiday season as long as you WRAP it with love!
This is a post I knew I’d have to write one day, but never wanted to actually have to write. I have no idea how I’m going to get through without completely breaking down. But having just been through this awful course of events, if I can spare a few lines of sorrow, yet in some way figure out how to break the news to my kids, this will have been worth it.
Our Buster was our first baby. Steph and I brought him home when we were newlyweds 15 years ago. We were broke college kids and we would go to eat at Olive Garden and then go play with the puppies who were in need of of a home. It was a fun way to spend a Friday date night. Buster was there for a while. A few weeks maybe and he grew on us. I decided to bring Buster home as a surprise for Steph the day after our wedding. It was the perfect gift for both of us.
Through the years he ate through a few jackets (he preferred the taste of Northface), he was the reason for the demise of no less than 578 chapsticks, ate multiple meatballs and once farted out biscuits after eating a bag of bisquick.
Buster enjoyed many wall rides with his bestie Sadie and drank his fair share of spilled beer, but he always preferred a glass of Chardonnay to wash down a steak he had pulled off the counter (sorry Vinny)
He tolerated ear tugs from his younger brother Max and rougher than necessary “love pats” from young toddlers who didn’t know better. He kissed them and snuggled them and enjoyed eating all the food they spilled on the floor.
Over the last few months, when I imagined the end of Buster’s life (I know, morbid thought), I always pictured the vet telling me that he had some incurable disease. We never wanted him to hurt and I assumed the decision would be clear cut and obvious. But it wasn’t. I assume now it never is.
Buster’s struggles the past few months, specifically this week, we’re tough to watch. But even to the end, he was sniffing around looking for some scraps of food one of the boys left behind, or something Max might not have finished.
Everything happened relatively quickly at the end. We tried to gently tell the boys how Buster was getting old and really needed to go see the doctor soon. You can never prepare anyone especially kids for something like this, but somehow I think Jackson knew.
As I was about to leave for the vet, I had each of the kids give Buster a kiss. They did, and then they saw that Steph was crying. Jax walked over and gave her a hug and kiss.
This morning, I chose to speak to each of them separately, Jax after breakfast and Oliver tonight (we didn’t want to ruin his thanksgiving party at school today 🙄.
There’s no need to go into details about the conversation. That’s between a dad and son. But Jax took it well. He said he was sad, but I could tell he already had known. Oliver is still too young to “get it”. But I’m sure he’ll have questions I’m not sure I’ll know how to answer. But that’s ok because I’ve learned sometimes it’s ok to not have an answer. Just to say I don’t know and then give a hug and a kiss and be there. We always will be, just like the memories of the last 15+ years we have of Buster. They will always be there.