Blog in Crisis

Recently, I found myself worrying about what would become of my blog. I had finally finished production on my web series pilot. I started working with a professional editor to make the first 2 episodes really pop. I finished a draft of the rest of the series – 21 episodes total with a length of around 5 minutes each. I even met some people who might consider buying the series. The BABY TIME website seemed like perfect synergy – fun comedy sketches about a guy who can’t seem to reach his wife before she gives birth, and a blog about my wife and I as we consider whether we should become parents ourselves – an exploration of real parenting issues with satire and a personal touch.

And, then this summer, my wife and I discovered that we aren’t really that interested in rushing into parenthood, and that we may be okay with not having children at all. We decided to join the cool Aunt and Uncle Affiliate Program instead for a while.

But, how could I possibly continue to generate content on a blog if we were no longer exploring the topic that fed the blog’s premise? I would only be able to see my nieces and nephew twice a year – not really the kind of in depth relationship that would generate good material. I began to consider the possibility that this blog no longer served any purpose.

One friend suggested that I make it up – not in a James Frey kind of way – but by telling a playful, pretend version of my experiences, and how my fake kid might magnify that already hilarious situation. And, while I haven’t ruled this option out, I’m not completely sold on the idea of committing to a pseudo-reality. Such story telling would require additional research and character development on top of the already exhaustive soul-searching that I pursue to produce the in-depth content that you have enjoyed in previous blog entries.

So, where does this leave the blog? Is it over? Do I put the first episode online when it’s done, and use it solely as a writer/director calling card? Do I just move on the next project, lessons learned? Do I go back to Chicago and get a job with my dad and brother-in-law at the utopia-like car leasing company Wheels, Inc? After all, they have decent benefits, and quite a family picnic every summer from what I hear.

Well…

Sometimes when you talk about a topic like parenting for months and months, research, brainstorm, and focus so much energy that your mind starts to see yourself as a parent, life has a way of delivering that energy right back to you. And in my case, it came via United Flight 129 at 10:35pm on Saturday, September 25, 2010.

LAX does not quite work as a hospital delivery room, although the stark bare walls may fool you. We paced in the arrival room for a few minutes, until we finally welcomed a brand new girl into our world – our teenaged niece. And, if we are lucky enough, she will stay with us until she graduates in 2013. Instant family, just like that.

Blog problem = solved.

THE SHARED EXPERIENCE

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As much as I would like to tour the country, reading minds and predicting the future from the back of a covered wagon, I have not developed the skills of mental telepathy – yet. I’ve heard estimates that we only use 5 – 10% of our brain’s capabilities, so it’s very likely that we may figure out some day how to intentionally send signals to each other from across the room, or even across the world (via some sort of brain wave satellite booster system, of course). In the mean time, I prefer to enjoy the instinctive signals that transmit via the shared experience.

Something occurs when we share an experience. It’s the reason we don’t enjoy a comedy by ourselves on an iPhone as powerfully as seeing it on the big screen with a room full of contagious laughter. It’s the reason we know when someone is intentionally following us, as opposed to coincidentally walking along the same path. And, it’s the way that couples all over the world fall in love – through a series of positive and negative experiences together.

The shared experience helps us connect to other human beings outside of the romantic sphere as well. Think about every time you meet someone from a school you attended, or a city you spent some time. You both instinctively want to figure out if you know the same person, or went to the same place. More specifically, you feel a stronger connection to that stranger if you both know Steven, as opposed to both having tried Lou Malnati’s Pizza. More, more specifically, you feel an even stronger connection if you both managed to pull Steven’s beard while eating a Lou Malnati’s sausage pizza. And, finally, if you both pulled Steven’s beard over a Lou Malnati’s Sausage Pizza, while Wynton Marsalis played “I’ve Got the World on a String” as an apology for breaking your yo-yo? Well, then you might want to consider moving into the romantic sphere, because destiny is sending you a definite a signal.

Jackie and I have amassed our own range of shared experiences through our 15 years together. From the challenges of moving to California and adjusting to the insanity of each others’ family, to the delights of courtship, home ownership, dog ownership, and our recent abduction by an alien mothership. In a way, our latest adventure with our visiting niece and nephew - a teen and a tween - feels a bit like spending time with alien life forms, with all the added benefits of an instant family (just add water, and microwave Taquitos).

Already, our shared experiences include July 4th Fireworks, Disneyland, Six Flags, and lots of swimming in the townhouse pool. I still can’t believe some of the roller coasters I endured, carrying the shared experience to the X-TREME! As my 11-year-old nephew reported with some authority and research on the matter, “Uncle Dan, everyone knows that the butterflies are very important in judging the roller coaster experience.”

At the same time, we do feel a little responsibility to leave them something more than a list of daytrips. We want to model a strong marriage and relationship. Which leads to some overcompensation. We feel our conversations a little more heavily weighted now. It’s like we’re putting on a show, and we feel extra pressure to portray our relationship a certain way. Whatever we say and however we interact is on display in a special after-school special shared experience. We must not disappoint. We have a value now these young people’s lives. A value that they will remember their whole life (if they knows what’s good for them)!

Meanwhile, I’m editing the pilot for Baby Time. I always reach a point in the process when I look at a rough cut of all the shots in chronological order, and I wonder, “What is this? Who made this? Why am I not laughing?” I have all the elements together with all the best performances – and something’s wrong. All my insecurities return for a moment. I become fearful of my investor until I realize that investor is I. Then I feel foolish. Then I feel angry. Then a little hungry (any Taquitos left?) Then finally I settle on cautiously optimistic. After all, I’m sure a professional editor can fix it.

Luckily, I had an opportunity to show it to a couple of people that I trust. Something really surreal develops when you watch a film you made with an audience. Sure, they react to things in way you don’t expect. Yes, they laugh, or don’t laugh, and you can see their faces. However, a more important phenomena develops instantly due to the magic of the shared experience. As a filmmaker, I feel the experience myself differently when sitting with other people. It’s difficult to explain, but the presence of others creates a collective consciousness that changes my own perspective. It’s the shared experience that shows me flaws and miracles suddenly that I never noticed.

And hope returns. The pilot is not ready for general consumption yet. But, the butterflies are returning. And, as anyone knows, the butterflies are very important in judging the experience.

Parenthood International

It always starts the same way. You spend several years bonding with your friends. Maybe it starts in high school, where you steal the principal’s car and return it painted pink. Or, you pull all-nighters in college cramming with your dorm buddies, battling the confusion you created yourself with the mix of caffeine, nicotine and alcohol in your blood. Or, in my case, you join a big band, and you find yourself naked in a hot tub with dudes showcasing their goods like it’s no big deal. Through common experience and struggles, you build deep friendships.

Then, they start a family, and something changes. They smile like they slipped out of a giant pod in their basement – they joined the “program.” As more kids start showing up in photos, they begin to wonder why you haven’t joined the program. My friend Vince loves to taunt me every chance he gets to give up my efforts in Hollywood, as he attempts to lure me with the “excitement” of starting a family and getting a regular job back in Chicago. These family advocates seem to have a quota for how many friends they can get to become parents. I’ve finally realized why they are so persistent. The Parenthood Program is a pyramid scheme.

Think about it. Once they join, they have nothing but amazing success stories to share about the rewards of the Parenthood Program. They do touch on the hard work, but it’s downplayed to be sure. It’s a solid sell. As they show you the tee-ball and beach trip photos, you genuinely look at each one carefully. You think to yourself, “boy, they all sure seem happy.” You begin to share the excitement of their lives, and it almost seems like a reasonable way of life. Then you try it out. You baby-sit. It’s the same reason you buy Amway cleaning spray from your brother-in-law — you want to be supportive. But, over time, they increase the pressure to become more involved. They want you to sell the spray yourself. They want you to join the Parenthood Program.

Meanwhile, I’m not really in a place to start a family. Although I’m afraid the limited window of opportunity for the Parenthood Program could be closing soon, I also recognize that switching gears right now is not realistic. My wife will be traveling this summer for training, and then starts a new job in the fall. I’m focusing all my efforts on making something valuable out of the web series and other comedy projects in my developing arsenal. We’re just too into our own, happily self-centered paths right now. So, we decided this week to commit to a different plan for now – the cool Aunt and Uncle affiliate program.

The beauty of this opportunity contains all the bonuses of the Parenthood Program with none of the hassle: fun outings to the amusement park or museum with nieces and nephews, 3D movie afternoons, or evening fireworks shows, and drop them off any time. And, as a bonus for joining at this special time, we will be able to take advantage of Jackie’s new job as a high school choir director. We will have plenty of opportunities to chaperone a whole class of kids on trips across the state for choir competitions. Again, we gain the advantages of the Parenthood Program, but retain the option to leave any time.

Please consider joining our new Aunt and Uncle affiliate program: it’s like a vacation time-share in parenting. Or, at least come next weekend for my presentation at the airport Hilton.

PARENTING LESSONS FROM CHICAGO

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Last week, I traveled to Chicago to do some research for the Baby Time project by visiting with friends and family. I enjoyed the trip immensely, but my only regret was not stopping at Oberweiss for the best ice cream in the country, but unfortunately my dad thinks Oberweiss should be called Oberpreissed.

Here’s a summary of my findings:

- Raising children is difficult / a struggle / a challenge - Life as you know it is changed - You will make many sacrifices - The joy far outweighs any frustration - Life is way better seen through the eyes of your children

Not exactly a mind-blowing revelation. But, within these talking points that all the parents must get on their faxes every morning, I hear the difference in the details from one parent to the next. And, those differences in experience appear to be a direct result of their approach and philosophy.

Overprotective – Results in a constant stressful and helpless existence, following your child around every turn with the loving family mantra of “Watch out!” (No one claims to be this parent, but everyone knows one.)

Free and Easy – Results in a flexible lifestyle, with the freedom to eat out and socialize at will, with the children following you around. Children are rewarded for good behavior, instead of to shut them up. The plus with this approach is a well-socialized infant, but the negative is that if they act up, the outing is over immediately.

Well-Balanced – Results in a sometimes-stressful experience of watching your children screw up, followed by an opportunity to learn from the mistake. You experience the joy of living life almost entirely through their eyes, and then your reward is the anguish of letting them go off to college without you.

Overscheduled – Results in a well-balanced child with lots of extra life experience in sports, music, and other activities. You have the excitement of carting your children around like they are the rich teen celebrity that employs you.

Obviously there are many other approaches, but I had to go to the Cubs game on Saturday.

Through all my discussions, everyone agreed that Jackie and Dan would make great parents. I thank you all for your vote of confidence. On paper, I whole-heartedly agree! Jackie and I are educated and compassionate people. With my abstract sense of humor, and Jackie’s music teacher knowledge, we’d have a very stable and unique spawn. My fear is that if I don’t fully understand the weight of the stress and sacrifice that parenting requires, I might be sorely disappointed when the experience reigns down on me.

Maybe caring for dogs will help. I’ve learned compassion from Sensation, my chow. He’s got a medical problem. Any time his body is stressed, he can have seizures. And the seizures cluster, meaning he’ll have 2 seizures a day for 7 days. For the last year and a half, this happens every 3 – 4 weeks. Unpredictable, varying in intensity, the seizures cause his body to convulse, followed by chaotic confusion, and the need to run outside like a mo-fo to relieve himself (the dogs don’t like to go inside the house, luckily). The drugs calm him (like valium and chlorazopate), and he can sleep for 8 – 20 hours. That is, until the next seizure, which seems to gravitate towards 2am when I return home after an exhausting party at the theatre, or at 5am, or 7am, or 3am, or the middle of dinner. I can’t help but look at him with compassion and ask “Can I kill him now? How about now?”

I know it’s horrible. It shows that I am truly a monster. After all, if he didn’t have a high quality of life, killing him would be the compassionate thing to do. But, when he’s seizing, he’s unconscious, and if this happens 6 times, and then he has 3 weeks of normal living, that seems like he still has an ultimately quality life, right?

I think the key is to be aware of those thoughts. And hopefully, I would never have those thoughts with my own children. Besides, I think it’s better to be conscious of those dark thoughts, than to hide it deep in the subconscious and wake up one day with your car and kids in the lake.

And, a reminder of the biggest lesson from Chicago: how you look at the experience changes the nature of the experience. Parents who decide to enjoy the ups and downs show less stress. Sure, they feel pain, but when they appreciate the mistakes for their lessons as much as the successes, then they appreciate every moment of their lives, and that’s living!

GOALS OF THE BABY TIME! PROJECT

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Welcome to the Baby Time blog! The goal of the blog is to:

1) Develop a comic web series.

2) Explore the topic of rearing children to inspire episodes.

3) Decide once and for all if Jackie and Dan should have children.

We love our 2 dogs. They are chow chows. They are very independent. We can leave them for 12 hours without worrying about accidents. They only like a certain amount of attention, so we don’t feel guilty about not playing with them when we are tired.

They are gorgeous animals that get praise on every walk. They don’t bark - unless there is real danger (like a stranger in the house - the only time you really want a bark). They are loyal. They have unique personalities.

They basically have all the benefits of children without the hassle of worrying about a kid choking on a toy or growing up to murder a town.

And yet, I can’t help but take all my friends and family seriously when they say “having children will change your life — for the better.” Usually this comes right before they initiate some life-scarring trauma upon their innocent child.

When I was growing up, my main focus in life was to have a family. It’s what my parents did. My good friends were family members. And our lives revolved around the family. So, naturally having children was a foregone conclusion. Even into my twenties, my goal in life was to have a family.

Then I got out of the house and met some other people. Some happy people. What kind of happiness is this? It’s not forced. It’s not pretend. It’s not fleeting.

And something else changed. I started to explore my love of creativity. My desire to tell stories. My inner dream to make films. It’s a dream that has never gone away. So, as I started listening to my inner desires, my need to create a family faded.

I also met the love of my life: Jackie. She was not interested in having children. She got all the contact with little ones that she needed as a music teacher. She could enjoy the magic and wonder of children creating music. And then at the end of the day, she could go home and not worry about the other responsibilities of raising children. Plus, we discovered that we were having a lot of fun as a couple. We actually have a great marriage. So, it would seem that since she is the female, she has the last word on the question of bearing children.

However, as we approach an age where we either have children now, I still find myself needing to explore the topic in a more intentional way. A decision must be made. And the biological sands of time are running out of grains. And she agrees that a detailed study needs to be made before we can confidently be happy to spend the rest of our life as just the cool aunt and uncle, or if we join the rest of our family and friends in the glorious struggle of child rearing.

So, I will be exploring topics of raising children with pros and cons. I will be rambling on about the potential joys and devastations of generating humans of my own. And, I will be using that discussion to generate comic material for a web series.

I welcome all input, and hopefully by the end, I will know for sure whether or not I want children. And even more importantly, hopefully Jackie will agree.