Sunday, December 24, 2006

Happiness is an Electric Train

As most of you know, I have a three year old son. One of his favorite programs is Thomas the Tank Engine. We saw how much fun he had with the Thomas and Friends wooden trains so we purchased a table and many of engines, cars, and track feature. Note: Thomas paraphenalia is not for the financially challenged.

Our local hobby store sells Thomas at the back of the store. But to get there you have to travel through the electric train section. That's clever marketing on their part. As Zack progressed in age, the allure of Thomas begins to fade and the passion for trains that move themselves took over. For the last half year (from age 3.25) Zack spent less than five minutes in the Thomas area and the rest of the time looking at the electric train section dreaming of the day when he could have a 'real' train. To make matters worse, they now sell Thomas trains in HO scale.

So for Christmas this year, my wife and I decided to put together a train table for Zack. He's a little young (at 3.75) but we had our reasons for giving it to him this year.
1) he loves electric trains
2) Debbie has always wanted an electrain train set
3) I love electric trains.

Of course, a set of tracks nailed to a 4'x8' hunk of plywood wouldn't do. No, in typical fashion, we went overboard. Luckily for me, I'm not alone. I have a friend named Derek who, among other talents, is an incredible artist when it comes to all things miniature. This guy should have been one of the members of the Weta workgroup that created all those amazing scenes for Lord of the Rings.

So, I invited him to Texas from California for my birthday party and hijacked him for a few days of craft with plaster, styrofoam, and paint. He left within a few days with most of the tables form in place. Sad thing is, after two weeks of additional work, the thing still didn't get finished. Oh, don't get me wrong, its a three year old's dream but the product that was delivered Christmas day had a few spots the paint didn't fully cover and the turf had some thin spots. I didn't have a chance to finish putting the bushes, trees and shrubs in place. While it looks nice, it could have looked a lot nicer.

This was the year where Zack first realized the big guy in a red suit did more than just show up this time of year in malls. He brought things; really cool nice things. So, we took Zack to see Santa at church where he sat on the jolly old man's lap and told him he wanted trains and trucks. Santa asked if he wanted anything else but Zack assured him that was all. Apparently, even at three, Zack knows to ration requests to what you really, really want.

I have to say, to Zack, it doens't matter one bit. When he woke and walked into the living room he just stood there for a bit staring. Finally a big smile crossed his face and he yelled, "I GOT A TRAIN!"

It made all the hours of effort worth it and all those flaws I once saw went away. To my son it was the best train set ever. As I write this at 1:00 p.m. he hasn't left it since 6 a.m. this morning other than the occastional bath room break which occurs only after his bladder has reached bursting stage complete with the 'hold the pee pee dance'. As I was writing this I asked the wife if he had eaten today. The answer was 'no' so we provided a plate of food. Zack grabbed a bite without looking at the plate and shoved it into his mouth. After the frist swallow he relized he was, indeed hungry and devoured the rest of the food.

Sadly, Zack will never thank my friend or I for our creation. Santa did it all, you see. But still, after seeing the smile on my son's face I don't mind. Seeing him disappear into a world of trains and tunnels with a huge smile on himself if thanks enough.

Night Terrors

This is an old one from last year. I'm afraid its not very Christmas-ee

October 1st, 2005

Waking, Walking Night Terrors

The other night Zack woke up screaming in the middle of the night. Now I’ll confess that normally I let Debbie handle the Zack wakings. Its not that I’m lazy, well I am but that’s not the main reason, its that when I go to comfort Zack he demands that his mom rock him. There are time he points to the door and and commands me to ‘Go’. My role is reduced to fetching milk or whatever while Deb is rocking Zack trying to get him back to sleep.

This week he woke up every night between midnight and 2 a.m. We’re not sure why but every night he woke up asking for Deb in his sweet, sing-song voice. This changed on Friday night when he woke up screaming. It was obvious he woke up from a night mare. Problem was it turned out he hadn’t woke up at all.

He’s able to open doors now. A new trick that has Deb and I scared about what he might be able to get into or out of. On this night he opened the door and walked out of his room. Its not the first time he’s done this but normally he just says a few words like ‘milk’, ‘have you’ - which means he wants to be held, or ‘blanket and rock’ meaning he wants his white blanket to snuggle up with and he wants to be rocked.

This night was different, however. He looked at Deb and I and ran screaming the other way saying he was scared. We chased after him but he would have none of it. He ran all over the house asking for mom and dad. When we approached he ran off again, screaming. It was as if he didn’t recognize us as us but somehow saw us as something else.

I offered the usual cold milk and he just looked at me and screamed. He did the same to Deb. Any attempt to hold him or calm him down just made him scream more. Eventually he ran into the bath room nearest his room and slammed the door.

The whole event was horrible. Zack’s voice didn’t sound so much like Zack as something scared and feral. He ran from room to room desperately looking for someone he knew. Zachary was suffering and there was nothing Deb or I could do to make it better.

Deb’s family has experience this sort of behavior before. Both of Debbie and her daughters had walking night terrors as children. Kathryn once described to her mom what she saw during one of these episodes. She said her mom moved herky jerky being one place one second and then moving instantaneously somewhere else. Kathryn further said her dad was spinning rapidly in place as he talked to her. I can only guess at what Zack was seeing when he looked at Deb and I.

Secluded in the bathroom we could hear Zack sobbing for his parents. Debbie went in to calm him. He began screaming like before. She picked Zack up and he thrashed around until he saw himself in the mirror. Something about that brought him to full wakefulness. He stopped crying and calmed down. He began speaking like Zachary again and asked for some milk.

I have to say the whole episode scared me. My sci-fi/fantasy writer’s brain went to some sort of tormenting force that is somehow scared away by its own reflection. In truth, it was probably Zack seeing himself that snapped him out of whatever mental state was causing the hallucinations. Still, it seems odd that that one stimulus snapped Zack out of it.

The event forced me to read a bit on toddler sleeping patterns. It turns out this isn’t that rare an event. Still, as a parent you try to find the patterns that lead to this sort of problem.

In the end, I don’t know. It could have been food, a bad day at day care, or something he saw on TV. Still other explanations could be hereditary brain chemistry or environment factors such as pollens or mold. Who knows? I just know that I hope the episodes are rare. And if they aren’t, I hope we always have a mirror handy to drive away the demons.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Diabetes and Me

I'm not a diabetic... yet.

Thanks to my mother's fine southern cooking and an addiction to Dr. Pepper I'm sure this disease looms on the horizon and its not just my diet. Both my mother, older sister and brother have some form of blood sugar issue so the deck is stacked against me. My weight is another issue, while I'm losing the excess pounds now, its only a matter of time before genetics and a bad diet catch up with me.

I was therefor pleased to read the following article. It looks as though the disease might be related to bad nerve impulses being sent to the brain from the pancreas. Seems odd but the doctors in the article were amazed at the result of deadening those nerves in mice with diabetes.

What's more, they think asthma might have a similar cure. Truly good news from our neighbors to the north.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Shrek the Third

First off, let me state, I'm a Shrek fan. It is the DVD we watch most often as a family. The movies have things in them for everyone to enjoy. My three year old enjoys the cartoon and loves the cat, Puss. The girls enjoy the romantic story of true love. I love the action, music, and punny humor.

I also empathize with an ogre that sometimes, just wants to be left alone but is drawn into events based on need and a desire to do what's right. Also, I admire Shrek's loyalty to his family and friends even if he comes off as, well, an ogre from time to time.

Due to my and my family's love of the movie, I was extremely pleased to here Shrek 3 is in the works. We might even break the taboo of taking a three year old to a crowed movie theater.

Here's the web site for anyone interested in information about the movie.

Lessons from Greece

GDuring my two weeks in Athens, I've discovered the following things

• Uzo is the national drink of Greece and it is not your friend. Oh, it may start out as a polite conversation but towards the end of the night it turns into an argument and you will wake up the next morning regretting the conversation.
• If a man walks up to you on the street and starts polite conversation, he’s a pimp. I don't care what else he says he is, he's a pimp. The pimps in Greece are polite, friendly and do not take no for an answer. Distance is your only option since they don’t wander more than half a block from their corner.
• Good (kala) is used in some form in just about every sentence. This leads me to believe Greece is a good country.
• Greeks have great salads and serve mounds of meat at good prices.
• Parakalo (please, welcome, and about one hundred other meanings) is used at least once in each spoken paragraph.
• The Greeks speak at warp speed.
• You get free drinks when you ask the bar tender how to say something in Greek.
• The historical sites in Greece rock (pun intended)
• The Acropolis is much higher than it appeared in the Olympics. Bring a bottle of water for the accent.
• But most importantly, Uzo is not your friend.

So endeth the lesson.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Scary Man

Last year, my son was 2 years old when Halloween rolled around. Here's a little something I wrote back then.

Scary Man:

As Halloween approaches, the ghosts and goblins of movies past begin to inhabit the malls. On this day there was a moving, talking Freddie Kruger doll outside Spencer’s Gifts. It had some sort of motion sensor that caused the animatron to activate when someone approached. Zack was very interested in the immobile robot calling it Scary Man.

You could tell his determination to get a close look because he completely forgot his obsession with mall the escalator. This event occurred after a disastrous ours trip to the shoe store. We decided Zack needed to wear something other than sandals. He had other ideas. But I digress.

As he approached the life-sized Freddie Kruger it activated. Zack instantly went into Ostrich mode covering his eyes so that he would disappear from the beast. After the thing spoke again ever after his clever cloaking tactic, he ran with eyes covered back toward the escalator.

The rest of the evening was spent going back to see the Scary Man as Zack dared himself to get closer and closer. Finally we left the mall with Zack looking backward saying ‘wanna see scary man’ over and over until we left the mall.

I wonder at our need to be scared. From an early age I would watch Dracula, Frankenstein and the Wolf man knowing I would have nightmares and wonder about the creature under the bed. But I would watch them over and over again all the same.

I see the same need in Zack and wonder if its genetics or simply a human need to push ourselves beyond our fear of the unknown. In some ways it is noble. In other ways its just plain nuts.

Tuesday, December 5, 2006

Live in the bowels of government

I'm nearing the end of another assignment. This one is interesting because its doing government work. I've been out of that line of business for a while and I forgot the bureaucratic nightmares involved in even the simplest task. Its as if people derive great pleasure in playing the 'you can't do that' trump card.

Luckily, I learned the game long ago. The government does actually need a way to get things done, you just have to probe and prod long enough to find it. If one person says 'no', you find another person at equal or higher level that will say yes.

Please note, only do this if you're on a short term assignment. If you have to deal with the 'no' person for an extended period of time, you don't want to make an enemy. In stead, make them the hero. Give the credit for anything good they accomplish. After that, human nature will kick in and they'll actually want to succeed. Then sit back and watch them get squashed.