Commercial Free, Please!

I sometimes feel queasy in malls. It could be the stale conditioned air, or the odor from the fake plants, or the mess of smells that emanate from the food court. Or maybe it is the massive amount of commercialism and the constant thought that runs through my head when I find myself in such a place – “Why the hell does anyone need this stuff?”

I’ll get back to that. My boys and I are all off from school this week. My wife decided to take the week off as well, so we could enjoy some family time together. After some debate, we ended up going to the Adventure Aquarium in Camden, NJ. Located on the waterfront across the river from downtown Philadelphia, the aquarium had ample parking with a fish motif throughout the lot and entrance area. There was a line to get in, but it moved quickly. The entrance fee was somewhat steep – they were not open to negotiations – but I was convinced the large aquarium surely would have much to offer.

It feels good to say told you so. There were numerous displays in the aquarium including some where you could touch the fish. I actually petted a shark and a stingray. I was trying to be a good parent – definitely would not have bothered if I was there childless – and inspire my children to take chances and get out of their comfort zone. Nothing doing. Oh well. There was one room that was more like a tunnel through an aquarium with sharks all about. Another area included a spot where children could put their heads into an inverted fish bowl and look out and see the fish up close and personal. Photo op! Anyway, we also wandered outside where they have Penguin Island. My children, who are more into “hands-on” than “eyes-on” displays, enjoyed themselves at a breakneck pace, rarely slowing down to stare at the fish.

So, as you can tell from this description, a good time was had by all. However, there was something about the aquarium that bothered me. It seemed as if everywhere you turned, there was something for sale. Firstly, the food court was massive and was a throughway that we seemed to have to use perpetually. Then, there was the gift shop. It was large and filled with so many useless items. They also had face painting, an area to have your child pose on a surfboard, and other cash guzzlers located throughout the aquarium.  None of this is outrageous and is almost standard these days at attractions. Probably just my craziness. Yet, it felt as though the commercialism was everywhere. We were in the aquarium 10 minutes before we actually saw fish, though we had passed half a dozen stands selling all types of unnecessary items. Aquarium? Mall? I don’t think it was the smell of fish making me queasy!

For the Love of Reading

I love reading.  This love was surely passed down as my mother also loves reading. However, when I was growing up, I dreaded when my mom was engaged with a book..  No, I did not begrudge her having some me time.  However, my mother had a hard time saying no to books.  Dinner would be late, homework help not forthcoming, clothes not laundered and the bathroom door was locked for long periods when my mother absorbed her latest read..  Yes, she loved to escape into a book.

My wife started reading to our children when they were only weeks old, and both our children love reading as well.  My older son, in particular, is an avid reader. It is a pleasure to hear him read as he reads with great expression.  My wife will read with him before bed and when she leaves, he will continue on his own.  While he and I are pals, he doesn’t like to have me put him to bed. “He always falls asleep,’ he complains.  I’d like to argue with him, but he is correct. I rarely finish even one book or chapter before falling asleep. So, when I put him to bed, he gets cheated out of his reading time.
I recently took my children to the library.  The local libraries are very good and often serve as a destination for my family and I. They have toys for the children to play with and of course, they fit into the budget.  Anyway, on this recent trip while the boys were playing at a train table, I picked out books for them. Between my love of reading and being an English teacher, I put a lot into the selection process.  I want the books to be challenging, fun, and include lessons or morals.  I know that is a lot to ask for, but I am talking about an ideal. Generally, I flip through the books read a couple of pages and if they seem good, I will pick them out. Ultimately, I want the children to enjoy the books in order to enhance their love of reading. I look at this process as an investment in their future – reading will help them in so many ways as they get older.  Anyway, while scanning the shelves, I came across an author, Matt Christopher.  
I think I was one of the few third graders who actually had a favorite author and that author was Matt Christopher.  Truth be told, he may have been the only author whose name I knew, but that is besides the point. His books were simple: boys and sports and a moral makes three. I loved reading his books!  So, when I saw a stack of Mr. Chrisopher’s books on the shelf, I had to get one. I ended up getting his first kids book – The Lucky Baseball Bat which came out in 1954.  After two readings my son and I are up to chapter 10.  I have not fallen asleep while reading – yes, I am proud. 
It is already clear that my sons have the love of reading.  The fact that we are reading a book that I read as a child – well, that makes me smile. Now, I just have to make sure I still get dinner ready on time.

Be Free

It’s getting closer.  I can feel it.  The countdown will soon reach 0.  Very soon, it will be ‘Houston, We have blast-off.’ In fact, by the time you read this, I might be on another planet.
Well, not quite another planet.  However, I will be on a vacation (a stay-cation technically, but that’s not the point).  As I write this, I can envision my mother’s finger wagging, “Don’t rush the time away.”  She has lectured me on this a time or fifty, and it is truly good advice, but I don’t want to hear it now.  I am sooo looking forward to my vacation. I’ll turn off the alarm clock (and be awoken by my children earlier than I would like but that’s a story I’ve told) and be lying in bed during rush hour.
However, the reason I am particularly excited is that the vacation is to celebrate a holiday, Passover.  It is an all-encompassing holiday that requires a ton of work to prepare for. In all honesty, my wife does the majority of it.  You know how sometimes you prepare for things and ultimately wonder, “Why did I bother?” This holiday is one where all the preparations are necessary and useful.
The theme of the holiday appropriately enough is independence. G-d, through Moses, led the Jews out of Egypt and slavery. The underdog goes free, the bad guys get punished. Pretty great story – almost Disneyish.  Anyway, with independence everything is possible.  The question is how do you use this newfound independence and freedom. It’s like graduating into adulthood. Many possibilities and challenges – up to each person to make the most of their chance.  So, the holiday provides a reminder to appreciate your independence, recognize your freedoms and utilize these gifts to make the most of what you have been given. Pretty great lesson, I would say.

All Day Person

When the alarm clock went off this morning, I groaned.  It was not a practice for the upcoming holiday, ‘Let My People Go’ sort of groan. It was the groan of someone awakening too darn early.
You see I am not a morning person, at least not naturally. My mom went back to work when I was in kindergarten, and she left very early, and my father set his own hours and those did not include early ones. So, waking up in the morning was my responsibility. I did what I had to do but certainly could not have been described as a “morning person.”  My preference was for silence, and I cursed perky people. I promised myself that when I went to college I would not take early classes. Soon enough I will have to get up early for work, I reasoned, so why get up early now?
On the other hand, I am not a “night person” – never have been.  I would think twice before going to a party or a bar with friends if it meant getting home too late.   I was always one of the first to leave the social event and did not mind the title party pooper.  I always reasoned that I had responsibilities to handle the next day, and I wanted to be sharp.
So, what am I then?  Where do I fit in? I would have to say I’m a “mid-morning person.” I hit my peak productivity, happiness, pleasantness level at around 10:00 am.  I’m feeling good.  I have had my breakfast, adjusted to whatever my responsibilities are for the day and am in my groove.  Yup, I am practically a whirling dervish at that hour. If you would see me you would point to my productivity in wonderment. It’s a bit crazy.
Things have changed.  I want to blame my children.  I remember a neighbor of mine telling me when my wife was pregnant to “Sleep now.”  What do you mean, “Sleep now”?  You can’t store sleep away like a bear stores nuts and berries or like a camel stores water. I don’t have a hump. He just smiled a “trust-me” smile.  Once the child is born, others advised, “Sleep when the baby is sleeping.” It sounded reasonable. This way you can maximize time spent with the child. However, a question quickly arises: When the hell are you supposed to get anything done?  Well, my children are not babies anymore – 5 & 8 (it’s my older boy’s birthday today – happy birthday buddy – love you).
So, shouldn’t things be different now?  Shouldn’t my sleep patterns be my own now and not theirs? You might think so, but you would be wrong. I am now a night person, day person, and a middle of the morning person. I guess that is why I am also a tired person.