This weekend marks a special occasion for me and my time involved in the publication of this newspaper. Exactly eight years ago, I was introduced to the staff at The Leader as the new owner and publisher. (The staff, I might add, all appeared to look for the closest exit, and who could blame them?)
Numerous parts of this job have proven gratifying. For starters, I have never worked at a single place for eight consecutive years in my professional life – such is the journey of a journalist. I also have no children who are eight years old, which means I’ve cared for The Leader longer than any of the minions mumbling around my house.
From a professional standpoint, this position has introduced me to some wonderful friends and colleagues, and I’m obviously proud of the work we’ve done in this community – especially when our reporting has led to improvements in the neighborhoods we serve.
All those things have been wonderful, but the personal reward I’ve received from my role at this paper exceeds anything I ever imagined. In September 2013, I penned a column about the birth of my first-born son, Hank, and I honestly couldn’t tell who enjoyed the piece more: my family or the multitude of readers who sent notes and laughs and encouragement for more.
Hank turns seven this September, and over the past seven years, I’ve written a column every couple of months about the travails of parenting. From sleepless nights to lizard hunts to analyzing the aqua-dynamics of dress shoes when diving in a frigid pool to rescue my middle child, Cal, after he steered his Cozy Coup into the deep end.
As most of our loyal readers know, The Leader recently held its annual Voluntary Pay Program, where we ask readers to consider supporting local journalism. And more than any year before this, I received countless letters from readers asking for more family stories. Here’s a sampling of those letters:
“I do have a couple of comments on content: 1) More Hank stories! We need more ‘Hanksploits,’” wrote one man.
“I must let Jonathan know that the pieces he writes about his children are absolutely hilarious… Please continue to take those of us with grown children back to those fun, but frustrating, days.”
And the last one I’ll share came from an elderly gentleman who, it turns out, is the impetus for today’s column:
“…An occasional bit of your humor also helps during these difficult times we face,” he wrote in a page-long letter.
I don’t share those letters for their narcissistic value, but to make a larger point. Long before I ever knew I’d travel down this path of reporting, writing and, ultimately, publishing, I grew up reading folks like Lewis Grizzard and Dave Barry. In college, I couldn’t wait for the Monday edition of our newspaper because Dave Barry would provide a respite from the drivel emanating from my professor’s tweed jacket.
Today, when you look around the media landscape – print in particular – the days of humor and escape have all but disappeared. As I’ve mentioned in previous columns, the news today feels so heavy, and we never open a newspaper or a news website for a chance to forget about trouble and laugh for a few minutes.
So for the next month, I’m going to do something different with this column, and I thought it best to tell our readers first-hand. In this space, through the month of July, I’m going to do my best to make you laugh, which means I’m going to tell you semi-truths about raising children.
Here’s a precursor: My three children are still incapable of putting themselves to bed, which means my wife and I play the most acrimonious game of rock-paper-scissors you could ever imagine. Actually, we both store an impenetrable calendar in our heads with one simple appointment: Who put the children to bed last night?
The reason we keep this calendar is because we treasure the night off nearly as much as breathing oxygen. Meghan and I both work hard and that 45 minutes of complete quiet probably equates to a week-long beach trip for people with no children.
And the reason putting our children to bed is so taxing is we’re required by the Code of Being Decent Parents to read to our children, lest they become useless blobs of chicken nuggets.
And the reason reading to our children is so taxing is because they want to read the same forsaken book every night.
For those who don’t know about Greg Pizzoli’s classic tale, “Templeton Gets His Wish,” the storyline can drive a parent mad – I’d know because it was requested by my sons three nights in a row. Templeton is a cat that wishes his entire family away because he doesn’t like being bossed around. He steals his brothers’ piggy bank, buys a wishing diamond (whatever that is) and, viola, his family disappears. Sounds like a whale of a fellow.
Over the next few days, Templeton wreaks all sorts of holy havoc on his home. Crayons on the wall, cereal boxes and train tracks strewn about, and zero concern for personal hygiene.
Then, wouldn’t you know it, Templeton gets lonely and wishes his family back. His brothers and parents all reappear on the next page and they share a group hug.
If you haven’t noticed, this is a common theme in children’s material. Case in point: Hollywood’s “Home Alone” trilogy. Even the classic Margaret Wise Brown book, “The Runaway Bunny,” talks of a child who constantly wants to break free from his parents.
Did we adults miss something in psychology class? Are my sons trying to make a point? Because for as much as I love those boogers, Meghan and I can’t wait for the day they ransack the house while we sit on a beach.