Dear Holly: The Giant Rat Who Came to Breakfast (and the Return of the Ewok)

10 months.

Dear Holly,

Sunday morning, with Nonna and Papa in town, Mommy had made breakfast for us all. I immediately noticed that you and I had matching “bedhead” hair. The conversation topic was the fact we heard coyotes howling during the night.

Somehow, that discussion inspired me to run in my closet and pull out my “rat pack” puppet. I had bought it right before you were born, as I had planned to use it as a character on one of my children’s programs on my YouTube Channel. But I haven’t had the time to dedicate to making new episodes since you were born.

I got the hunch you would find an appreciation for who I call Magellan the Mouse.

And I was right.

At first, of course, you were skeptical of the giant rat who was apparently trying to share your Cheerios with you. You weren’t afraid of him, you just didn’t know if you were in the mood to share your food with a non-human.

You eventually warmed up to him, though. Then you weren’t so much annoyed with him, as you were just confused on his origin story.

How had you never met this friendly rodent before? After having lived on this planet for nearly a whole year now, and in our house, how does a giant rat just show up?

Why did everyone else just instantly welcome him, like we’d always known him?

But that’s how it is for you. Being the baby of the family, you’ve just learned to roll it, whatever it is… including a giant rat who wants to help you eat your cereal.

A few hours later after lunch, you were winding down, getting ready for your nap. I have no idea how my Ewok action figure from 1983 showed up with your toys, but you chose to clench it in your little hand as Mommy wrapped you up in a blanket to feed you your bottle and then to rock you to sleep.

But before you actually fell asleep, Magellan the Mouse made one more appearance. I have a feeling he’ll be sticking around.

Love,

Daddy

Dear Jack: Our “Skate-and-Shoot” Game in the Cul-de-Sac/Leaving for Spring Break

6 years, 4 months.

Dear Jack,

This past weekend while Nonna and Papa were staying with us, they were able to catch a glimpse of a game we recently invented, where I ride my skateboard down the cul-de-sac and you shoot me from our driveway, using your Nerf dart gun. I call our game “shoot-and-skate”.

The chamber of your Nerf gun holds 3 darts at a time. You’re such a good shot that normally, I feel about 2 stings every time I skate past you. I am very impressed with your shooting skills.

I love the challenge of having to not only skate downhill, but also avoid very fast travelling Nerf darts… without crashing.

Afterwards, you and Papa went hunting for arrowheads in the woods, as Nonna carried your sister. She loved the hike as much as you did. However, no American Indian artifacts were found this time around.

When we got back inside, you decided to demonstrate your creative artistic skills by creating a mask of a Siberian Tiger. Your sister amazingly wasn’t afraid of you when you wore it.

Nonna and Papa took you back to Alabama with them when they left on Sunday, as this week is your Spring Break.

I know you’re having so much fun right now, but Mommy and I definitely miss you. It is noticeably much quieter without you in the house. And of course, your sister misses you too.

Yesterday I watched her crawl up to the bottom of the refrigerator where your picture is hanging, and she tried to grab you out of it.

Yeah, she misses you.

Nonna is doing a great job of sending me pictures from her phone, showing all the fun you’re having on Spring Break in Alabama.

I want you to keep having fun, enjoying your time off from school.

But we will be really happy to have you back at our house, even if the noise level increases greatly.

Love,

Daddy

35 Year-Old Husband and Father Learns to Skateboard, Embraces Metallica

I know it sounds like a concept for an article for a satirical website like The Babylon Bee or The Onion, but no, this is my real life story.

Yes, there’s something instantly ironic about a conservative 35 year-old husband and father of 2 who lives in a cul-de-sac who decides to teach himself to skateboard and finally fully embraces his hidden fascination with the legendary metal band Metallica.

One might even suppose I could be going through some sort of mid-life crisis, though I’m not sure if I’m quite old enough to qualify for that yet.

Maybe it’s my way of subconsciously proving to myself that I am not content with being a predictable suburban dad.

I wouldn’t deny that theory. I am aware that it’s fundamentally important to me to remain young in spirit, even as I mature as an adult. So that theory totally makes sense.

What officially started it all was back in November for my son’s 6 year-old birthday, when my wife and I decided to buy him a skateboard, on account of several of the other kids in our neighborhood having them. But how could I teach him to skate if I didn’t know how to myself?

So my wife ordered a skateboard online for me as well. After watching just 2 or 3 YouTube videos, and dedicating many of lunch breaks at work to practicing over the past several months, I have been effectively skateboarding.

It has served as a liberating yet legitimate work-out. It has not only exercised my body, but also my mind, as I have constantly had to balance in order to keep from awkwardly falling off.

Fate would have it that back in January, just 2 months after his birthday, my son had to be rushed to Vanderbilt’s Children’s Hospital after a random case of strep throat turned into a parapharyngeal abscess on his neck. As I stayed overnight with him a couple of nights, I spent some time watching videos on YouTube on my phone after he fell asleep.

It was then that I stumbled upon some Metallica music videos, and for the first time, I really connected with their music.

I realized that their complicated sound, vulnerably honest lyrics, and dark themes which are focused on human nature as well as injustice in the world, are in accordance with the emotional maturity I have gained over the past few years as I’ve evolved from Luke Skywalker into Han Solo.

In particular, I most relate to songs like “Sad But True” which explores the selfish side of human nature that we tend to forget or deny is there:

“I’m your hate when you want love… I’m your life, I’m the one who took who there…

I’m your truth, telling lies

I’m your reason, alibis

I’m inside, open your eyes

I’m you

Sad but true”

And from Metallica’s latest album is a song called “Am I Savage?” in which the video portrays a man around my age (who happens to look a bit like me) as he journeys through his average day with his loving wife and two lovely children; as well as time in the office.

The dichotomy of his actual presentation to the world is contrasted to the inner impulses he successfully manages on a daily basis, as the idea is expressed, “beauty and the beast are colliding.”

I also appreciate the Libertarian concepts found in songs like “Nothing Else Matters”.

So what may appear as a random phase in my life is actually a crucial chapter to the character arc of Nick Shell, the 35 year-old daddy blogger.

For now, my son is taking a slower pace on the skateboard, as he is starting out by just sitting on it and he scoots down the sidewalk. Plus, he enjoys chasing me around with a Nerf gun while I skate past him.

He and I are both growing up; despite the 29 and a half year difference and despite being in much different stages in life.

There’s a paradox in there somewhere… how we need to remain forever young inside yet we also have to embrace the responsibilities of adulthood in an imperfect world.

I’m right there in the midst of sorting that out.

As for my son, he’s perfectly happy with Power Rangers and Pokemon. Lucky place to be.

Dear Holly: Having a Much Older Brother Makes Your Life More Interesting

10 months.

Dear Holly,

I had never considered, until this past weekend, how dramatically different your life would be if you had an older sister, instead of an older brother; an one who is significantly older: Jack is nearly 5 and half years older than you.

When he is a senior in high school, you’ll be in 8th grade. Not only is he a different gender, but he’ll also always be in a different stage of childhood.

And I really like it that way.

I like how he naturally takes care of you, even if I’m understandably a little nervous…

Saturday morning as Jack was getting excited about me taking him to go see Kong: Skull Island, he chose to take on the persona of King Kong.

He built a mountain out of his stuffed animals and our living room sofa.

You were just watching in curiosity, from the kitchen floor as you meticulously dissected a patch of tissue paper.

“Grrrr! Roowwwrrr! Woohrrr!” Jack beat his chest as he gave you a scary look as he tossed debris at you, including a sock and a small stuffed animal.

You weren’t too impressed, but you were paying attention.

Then on Sunday evening, as Mommy was preparing dinner, Jack decided to give you free wrestling lessons.

There shouldn’t have been a big smile on your face the whole time, but there definitely was. You loved it!

I think one of the many advantages of having a much older brother is that, by default, you have no fear.

Not only are you used to the likes of a Kindergartner who pretends to be an angry roaring ape, and who wrestles you on the carpet, but you instinctively know that he’s also quick to protect you with that same strength.

Yeah, things would be much different if you had an older sister instead.

Love,

Daddy

Dear Jack: You and Your Sister Can Entertain Yourselves Now, Sort of…

6 years, 4 months.

Dear Jack,

The only thing Mommy and I are used to you spending your own money on is stuffed animals. You’ve got a bedroom full of them; literally hundreds now.

So you can imagine how surprised I was when you decided to spend your last $6 on a coloring activity kit.

And then the following weekend, after Mommy revealed there was still a $25 Target card left over from your birthday, you spent it on two packs of Pokemon cards.

I think it’s so cool that you’re at the stage now where you and your friends take your Pokemon cards to school and trade them. You are serious about stuff.

When we got home from Target, you immediately set out all your new cards, along with the ones you already had in your collection.

Very carefully, you began placing the cards into their holders. You spent a solid hour doing this.

Never once did you smile, nor did you talk. But you were in your glory.

Meanwhile, your sister was being quiet and sneaky.

She had discovered both her diaper bag and Mommy’s purse there on the floor. Holly took it upon herself to unpack them both.

Applying Mommy’s Chap Stick wasn’t as easy as she thought. She didn’t realize the cap had to come off first. Yet still, Holly felt like a big girl at least trying to put it on.

Mommy and I have noticed that the chaos is becoming a little more organized these days.

Sometimes the two of you can entertain yourselves, other times you can entertain each other.

Either way, it’s freeing up your parents to be able to get more housework done, while you do.

This past Sunday, we even had enough time to lounge on the couch as a family, just playing and talking. Mommy smiled in amazement, “Man, we never get to do this as a family.”

Things are getting a little bit more relaxed and balanced now. The chaos is a little bit more organized these days.

Love,

Daddy

I’ve Got Walls Up, because I’m a Guy

Welcome to the deep, mysterious, likely un-relatable, rarely revealed cavern of the emotionally intelligent male mind.

Back in 2010, when my wife was pregnant with our son, my blog was featured in American Baby magazine; which eventually led to me becoming the official daddy blogger of their sister magazine, Parents; from May 2011 to June 2014.

In the initial write-up in American Baby, they pitched my blog to their readers with this invitation: “Wondering what your hubby’s really thinking?…”

At the time, I remember reading that and thinking, “Yeah, but I’m not that kind of guy. That’s not me. I don’t keep things to myself. My thoughts are no mystery to anyone…”

That was in 2010, before I actually had kids. Plus, I had only been married about 2 years at that point.

One of the great advantages of being married now for 8 and a half years and having 2 kids is that, by default, I have gained emotional intelligence. I grew up on in the inside. I got toughened up.

I became the husband and father I needed to be. The sensitive, and therefore “offendable”, guy I was before wasn’t enough to get the job done.

Essentially, to the outside world, I transcended from “optimistic nice person who everybody likes” to “hopeful yet realistic personable man who doesn’t necessarily measure up to everyone’s expectations anymore.”

Nostalgically put, I evolved from Luke Skywalker into Han Solo.

It was a necessary transformation for me. Perhaps one of the major milestones of this journey was when I published a blog post (and accompanying video) inviting the free world to attempt to offend me.

I had discovered that the only person who has power and authority over my emotions is me. In other words, no one in this entire world can “offend” me or “hurt my feelings” if I don’t first give them permission.

So I simply stopped giving anyone permission to offend me. And up came the walls…

I now live in a reality where I am unoffendable. Since making this conscious decision, the quality of my life has undeniably…

Improved.

Things in life just don’t bother me as much. Life is smoother now.

I am now in control of my emotions instead of them controlling me. For example, I have no shame in admitting I allow myself to cry every time I watch Disney Pixar’s Inside Out. I am in touch with, and in control of, my emotions to the point where the cartoonish yet realistic presentation of a parent’s love for their child gets to me.

Needless to say, on the other hand, other people’s Facebook comments claim no effect on my day.

I have simplified my life so that I can enjoy and appreciate it that much more.

Granted, there’s a perceived downside to the lifestyle of male emotional intelligence.

I’ve got those walls up now. I’m more detached from the popular distractions of the world- and I know this.

But this, for me, is safe- and it’s efficient; less complicated.

In other words, I’ve become that guy I couldn’t relate to back in 2010:

I keep a lot of things to myself. Most of my thoughts are now a mystery to everyone.

I’ve adopted a Libertarian approach to the opinions and lifestyles of other people. What they do doesn’t bother me and I don’t bother them. I don’t try to change them. I don’t need to change them.

Because now, I am truly confident in myself and my beliefs, despite being completely aware of my unending faults.

This is not a classic case of bottling up my emotions, only to erupt later on. To me, that would be weak.

Instead, it’s a matter of consciously deciding not to let people or things bother me anymore.

In turn, I have noticed that I am that much more focused on my own family and close friends, in real life. Not on Facebook.

The 2010 version of me simply wouldn’t function in my life today in 2017. I have evolved out of necessity.

I now see life for the tragicomedy it is. Life is both sad and funny. It’s both inspiring and depressing.

By evolving to my emotionally intelligent state, I have made it possible to recognize when to express my emotions, accordingly.

Ultimately, I choose joy. I choose hope.

My hope today is that others can relate to my transformation.

You are no longer dealing with the young and naïve Luke Skywalker.

For better or worse, you’ve got Han Solo now.

Dear Jack: The Cowboy T-Rex, Because… ‘Merica

6 years, 3 months.

Dear Jack,

Like me, you may never really dedicate yourself to team sports. Sure, you may play soccer a year here and there, but really I predict your extracurricular activities will be in the field of art; as was the case for me.

I come home from work each day to see such masterpieces, which are just casual drawings from school. But they are full of thought, detail, and character.

This painting of a sheep impressed Mommy and me so much we have decided to keep it aside so that you can enter it into the Williamson County Fair.

And this amazing painting of a fish is proudly hanging on our fridge.

You particularly delight in drawing dinosaurs. It’s so impressive the way you can just draw these different types just from memory, in addition to being able to immediately tell me the correct names of each one.

But I must say, my favorite recent drawing of yours features two personified dinosaurs. On that fateful Saturday morning at the kitchen table, you asked me, “Daddy, which kind of hat should this T-Rex wear?”

I effortlessly suggested a cowboy hat, which you immediately agreed to.

You then decided that the country T-Rex should be wearing overalls and holding an American flag. I love how you automatically knew how to make that connection from just a cowboy hat.

Next came another T-Rex. In contrast, you drew him wearing a pair of shorts, a baseball cap and a waving a Digimon flag.

There are two ways of interpreting this piece of art.

Either the two dinosaurs are about to engage in a duel, using their flags as symbolic weapons…

Or, they have decided to become friends, despite their cultural differences. And that likely is the case, as you created speech bubbles for each of them, so they could say “hello” to each other.

You finished off the drawing by turning those speech bubbles into smaller versions of the dinosaurs, which wore hats just like the actual dinosaurs wore.

Yeah, you’re going to be an artist.

Love,

Daddy