Saturday, July 25, 2015

And the Oscar Goes To...

Last week our family attended a free concert put on by the college a few block away from our house - my old place of paid employment.  During the summer, the college's Fine Arts Department hosts four outdoor concerts and we like to go because the girls like the music, and they are free, so it gives us some low investment entertainment.  The last concert of the series happened to be a dueling pianos outfit called Deuces Wild.  Having seen them before and being familiar with the dueling pianos concept, I figured it would be a good show, even if it was a PG rated version and the profanity and drinking would be virtually non-existent.

As is typical at these events, our girls wanted to sit as close to the stage as possible, and because variable weather had moved the event indoors, we found ourselves at the front of the auditorium.  We seemed to land right in the "kids area" (or we started it) and soon found ourselves surrounded by kids ranging from 2-12.  One of the pianists took notice of this and made reference to us being the von Trapp family as he segued into "Do Re Mi" - a hit with the under 5 crowd.  That was followed by the other pianist (it's dueling pianos, so there are two of them, get it?) pointing his "deer shiner" in my face and instructing me to get up on stage.  Whilst on stage I was given the opportunity to channel my best Michael Flatley, and Riverdance along to the Irish ditty they played.  I'll be a little critical and say it wasn't my best performance by any means, but there was a respectable round of applause from the crowd of 700+.  I actually learned today, that my PDD (public display of dancing) was the most embarrassing thing I could do as a dad.  Just another Thursday night with the Bruns Family.    

I never participated in organized dramatic endeavors during my school years.  I was too busy attempting to be cool by pretending I was a jock.  In retrospect this was theatrics in its own right, given my lack of any notable athletic skill.  As a parent these days, and especially as a stay-at-home parent, I seem to be getting my shot on the "big stage", even though there isn't really a physical stage (last Thursday notwithstanding).  At times, my life has the tendency to feel like one big movie, or daytime television series, or even an off-broadway (way off) show.  Usually it tends to be a Rom-Com, but sometimes it's an action-packed thriller (usually when we are late needing to get somewhere), a sci-fi horror flick (typically involving scenes in the bathroom), or even a musical (when I just decide to sing everything I say to my kids).  Of course I'm usually cast in the standard role of dad, but also have had significant experience playing some form of royalty - typically prince.  I've dabbled in other roles too - pirate, butler, unicorn owner, shopping patron #2, etc. - in effort to diversify my character portfolio.  I've even had the opportunity to portray a variety of species from the kingdom Animalia, and not just as a voice-over.      

When I'm "in character", anyone with a basic understanding of acceptable social behavior could arguably say that the way I interact with my kids would medically be defined as "bat-shit crazy".  But the kids don't get it, nor do they care.  If they understand what is going on, they think it's relatively hilarious, and though they can be a pretty tough crowd, they can also be pretty forgiving as long as you make a concerted effort.  They won't be overtly critical if my attempt at a British accent takes on more of an Aussie tone.  There is also no fear of flubbing your lines, as our life is essentially a non-rehearsed Saturday Night Live episode starring your's truly in every skit.  Taking a dramatic approach to the day can add an element of fun variety to the otherwise common drudgery of domestic life.  It can also serve as a strategy to try and stay sane in the throes of chaos.  Let's approach this bedwetting scene in a "good cop gone bad" character type.  I will do damn near anything to get my kids to laugh.

The girls haven't necessarily emulated my thespianism, as they've kept similar levels of drama over the years - absurdly high.  If anything, I'm just trying to keep up with their own theatrical displays.  Gus does some pretty emphatic facial expressions, but we usually chalk that up to gas.  It has been fun to watch the older ones assume different character roles while they are playing, as they've definitely started to understand that there is a level of creativity they need to employ to make those characters work.  I definitely hope that they are drawn to theater and performance as they get older, at least mildly, as I feel the skills you learn are essential tools to being a well adjusted person.  Putting yourself out there, especially on a stage, while terrifying, can also serve as an important life lesson in humility and be a huge boost of confidence.  It seems like it would also be really helpful when you need to "fake it to make it", a strategy I employ almost daily.

I think I've always been somewhat of a natural-born performer.  My mom likes to recount how my first public performance was at the ripe old age of 2, when I sang "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star" in front of a class of high-schoolers that her friend was substitute teaching (and we wonder why the education system has gotten so bleak).  I've never really been one to shy away from the limelight, especially if it ends in a few laughs, typically at my expense.  I recently read that the typical age at which men stop being embarrassed by their own actions, regardless of their buffoonery, is around 50.  These days, especially with three kids, not much fazes me when I'm out in public.  A few months ago, I actually added "audition for, and get a part in a live theatrical performance" to my list of 40 things to do before I'm 40.  I'm sure they'll turn out in droves if and when that finally happens.

At this point, I can definitely sense that we have some extroverts in our two girls, and I hope that they continue to grow as performers, enjoying the beauty and excitement of creative art.  My hope is that when the light shines on them, they'll have the confidence to assume the role they've been asked to play, even if that light is a "deer shiner".  If, as Shakespeare says, "All the world's a stage, and all men and women are merely players" they best learn how to own that stage.  Sure it will be scary, probably a little embarrassing, and definitely exciting, but that's character building at its best.  And I guess if they want to become famous actors or musicians and want to support their old man in his aging years, that would be alright too.

At times my character requires specific costume.
Other times, more extensive detail is paid to hair...

...and make-up.



Thursday, July 9, 2015

'Cause You Got To Have Friends

In Low Places

I celebrated my 10 year college reunion two weekends ago, which dates me, but also gave me an opportunity to reconnect with some good college friends, some who I hadn't seen in a number of years.  We waxed nostalgic, pretended that we could imbibe like we were 22 again, and paid the price for it once the weekend had concluded.  A good thing they only come around every five years.  I've always seen my four years in college as a pinnacle experience in my life (see earlier post for reference).  It was a time when I really "found" myself, and a big part of that was due to the great friendships I was able to make while in college.  Despite being kid-less for most of the weekend, there was still plenty of "parenting shoptalk" that occurred.  When your kids start to consume your life, they start to be your main points of conversation.  Especially with other parents.

When I came of traditional child-bearing age, one of the reasons/excuses I would sometimes use, both internally and externally, to downplay the thought of having kids was the demons of the modern world.  War, murder, crime, rape, drugs, bullying, high pollen levels.  You name it, it's a pretty nasty place out there.  I figured I would be doing any potential offspring a favor by not exposing them to society's various ills.  I also reflected on my own childhood, the drama of adolescence, and how I would never, personally, want to return to any age under 18 if given the chance.  Even considering how relatively mild the degradation was that I received in my preteen years from my peers, which I'm certain is now amplified with the advances of social media/technology.  I wouldn't wish that torment on anyone, especially my own children.  

One of the things I realized I was excited about after we found out we were expecting; along with having a newborn baby to love and cuddle, create memories with and mold into your own "mini-me", was the opportunity to have our kids get to know our friends, and have our friends be apart of our kids' lives.  This really dawned on me after they threw us an appropriately themed baby shower, replete with fajitas and Coronas (see earlier post for additional insight).  I was excited for my kids to meet my friends, because I thought (think) that my friends were (are) pretty f@#%ing awesome.  And to look at the things that they've accomplished, especially in the last 10 years, it's inspiring and humbling to associate with them.  They've started successful (and cool) businesses, held senior level positions at huge companies, worked internationally and traveled a ton, become decorated military veterans, volunteered in the Peace Corps, served in Teach for America, and gone to prestigious law/grad/med schools.  Beyond all those accomplishments, they've continued to be genuine, down-to-earth people who are great to be around and always up for adventure.  To quote one of them, a respected lawyer, they "bring something to the table."     

David Brooks, one of my favorite authors, suggests in his book, The Social Animal, that emotional ties and social interaction are essential for forming a decent life.  As the title connotes, we look to develop friendships and relationships and those connections have a huge impact on our happiness.  Or as the PBS Project, This Emotional Life more pointedly states, "we need close relationships to be happy."  When it comes to raising a family, I agree with the African proverb (and Former First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton) that "it takes a village to raise a child."  I feel fortunate that the people who make up "our village" are all loving, caring, and positive people.  Their presence in the world makes it a better place for those of us fortunate enough to know them.

I'm excited for our kids to get to know our friends for two main reasons, both selfish, one more narcissistic.  The first being that I want my friends to have an influence on my kids life, because as previously mentioned, they're f@#%ing awesome.  We're blessed to have tons of incredible mentors for our kids as they grow up, and a vast majority of these individuals are those we'd call friends.  I hope that our kids will see the success of those people around us as another prime example of what they can accomplish with their life, all while being humble and genuine.  We're also very fortunate that our close friends see their relationship with our children as an extension of their friendship with us.  Even the ones who don't have kids or a spouse, or haven't even given either of those concepts much of a passing thought, are eager to engage our kids whenever they are around, seeing their happiness as our happiness.  If my kids grow up to be like any of them, I will be extremely proud.  Even if they occasionally engage in some questionable behavior during their college years.

The second reason I'm excited for my kids to get to know our friends, is that their f@#%ing awesomeness can be an augmentation to our own f@#%ing awesomeness.  This will probably be more beneficial as the kids get older, and Jess and I (most certainly me) transition from the "coolest people in the world" to our kids, to the "lamest people on earth".  As the kids age, and develop an opinion on what they think constitutes "awesomeness" and have decided that their parents (especially their dad) are definitely not awesome, we can point to our friends and say; "Look at our friends that are awesome and have done all of these cool things!  Because their friendship is reciprocal, and they think we are cool, despite your own insistence that we suck, we must be awesome like our friends."  It's conditional probability.  Basic math, really.

Okay, maybe that is a more self-serving reason, and harder for a kid to understand, but it's definitely nice to have that validation, even if it isn't really needed.  If having meaningful relationships and connections is a surefire way to increase your happiness, having those relationships with people you think are awesome is likely a good way to go.  And hopefully that is the case.  Hopefully the people that make up your "village" are people you'd be excited to have in your kids' lives.  Both because they are/will be great role models for your kids and hopefully you can brag about them and their accomplishments to your kids when they reach their anti-adult stage.  It has also encouraged me to try and be that person for my friend's kids.  To be someone my friends would want their kids to look up to, or at least hang around occasionally.  "Oh, that's just Crazy Uncle Jon.  Don't worry, he's not really your uncle."

So, of course we need to thank our friends - you know who you are - for being (you get the idea) awesome.  Thank you for being a part of our lives, and more importantly our children's lives.  Thank you for supporting us as we have embarked upon our familial journey, as crazy as it has been.  Thanks for liking at least a few of the excessive number of photos of our kids that we post on Facebook.  Thanks for being a listening ear when we talk about our children's bowel movements.  Thanks for realizing and understanding that we can't always make happy hour, or dinner, or a movie, or most anything else for that matter, because we have three little humans that depend on us pretty much non-stop.  But thanks for inviting us anyway.  We'll hopefully be able to make someday.  Maybe in like 18 years.