FatherSon Ventures

Building a Relationship through Adventure

Temperamental Bias

Written By: Scot Butwell - Feb• 04•18

In Your Life Story, Tristin Rainer writes:

You have the power in the present to affect the past by how you remember it. This doesn’t mean you seek to distort the past. It means that you can more accurately recall it if you examine your temperamental bias and try to correct your lens. If you tend toward the bright memory cliches of a Pollyanna, it means going deeper and being more honest about negative feelings. If you tend towards melancholia, it means looking for pleasant memories to mix with the dark.”

I confess to having a temperamental bias: mine is to see everything with rose-colored glasses. L once told me the truth could be staring me in the face, and I wouldn’t see it. I have a glass half-full demeanor, and it is difficult to change my temperamental bias, just as it would be to change the color of my skin.

So I am not going to skip over D and my last visit to McDonald’s. It was a day I should have known wasn’t a good day to go. The lack of an empty seat, plus the high-pitched squeals and screams were louder than usual; these should have been warning signs, alerting me to leave.

I briefly thought about making up a phony excuse to tell D why we had to leave, but when he disappeared into the play structure, I chose to ignore the voice inside me saying, this is not a good day to come to McDonald’s.

I knew the shrieks might tip his senses overboard, and I would be responsible for whatever happened, because I know he has difficulty regulating his body in extra loud environments.

And then I heard it. A long wailing cry coming from inside a yellow octagon. I followed the sound of the crying to the octagon, but a mother beat me there. She was holding her daughter. The girl was small and frail. Three years old. I asked the mom what happened, and the few details she gave me confirmed my suspicion: D was responsible

“It was a boy.”

“Do you know which one?”

“The one with the hood.”

My son. He had been on top of her daughter, and when I found D in a tunnel, he admitted to the mom’s details. So we left, and I seriously pondered this question, should I keep bringing my son to McDonald’s?

There was an incident at an indoor playground when D pushed a boy into a wall, leaving a huge bump on his forehead and two pissed off parents, when he was on sensory overload.

We immediately left, and due to his habit of pushing down younger kids on playgrounds, I considered taking him to the police station to have an officer explain that when he gets older he can go to jail for hitting a person.

There have been a few other “close calls.” And many good days. This means that my discretion is absolutely critical to determine when is a good or bad time to take D to McDonald’s.

Thus, when I saw there were few seats in the dining area and heard the ear-piercing shrieks, I should have listened to the voice in me saying, this is not a good day to come to McDonald’s.

I knew it was more noise than his sensory system could handle. And so I was responsible—just as much as D—but I rationalized D needs practice regulating his body in loud environments, so he will be able to handle a noisy classroom or playground in a school setting.

I finally concluded after deliberating for five minutes that D deserves to keep coming to McDonald’s. He is learning to regulate his body—just as all kids are learning different things.

And I am learning too. I am learning the importance of understanding my son’s body and being willing to explain to him when—and why—it’s not a good time for us to come to Mcdonald’s.

To the mother of the three-year-old girl in the yellow octagon, I wish I could explain to her how D’s sensory system is different, and it doesn’t work in the same way as most other kids.

But how do you explain this to an angry parent of a neuro-typical kid, who probably doesn’t understand there is even such a thing as a child with a different sensory system?

How do you explain tiny canals in our ears integrate external information from our senses, and if the circuitry is impaired, this causes kids like D to not be able to feel their own body in space?

This is what D’s OT told me.

She explained to me about the proprioceptive, vestibular and a third part of his sensory system, but don’t ask me to be able to explain it. I just know his sensory system works differently than most other kids.

So, I guess, it goes back to me learning to recognize D’s sensory limits for his body and being willing to tell D when it’s a good and not-so-good time for us to come to McDonald’s Play Place.

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Captain Underpants

Written By: Scot Butwell - Jan• 16•18

A month ago, D and I came home from Barnes & Noble with a book called The Adventures of Super Diaper Baby, and L’s response to me was: “Why would you let him buy that book?!”

Now, if you’ve never heard of Super Diaper Baby or his enemy Deputy Doo Doo, the more famous character of children’s author Dav Pilkey is a pudgy, bald superhero in a red cape and tidy whitties: Captain Underpants.

The twelve books in the Captain Underpants series, and its follow-up series Dog Man (about a half dog-half man police officer), have sold over 80 million copies over the past 20 years.

They are popular with second through gift-graders, and yesterday, L and D returned home with three books in The Adventures of Captain Underpants seriesYep, she did (after ripping me for buying Super Diaper Baby).

I think something has happened to L.

She bought a book with villains with names like Professor Diarrheastein Poopypants, The Turbo Toilet 2000, Wedgie Woman, Sir Stinks-a-Lot, and my favorite, the Bionic Booger Boy.

It’s like her brain has been kidnapped by the zombie cafeteria ladies at George and Harold’s school, and she has suddenly been given the brain of a more accepting and tolerant mother.

How else do I explain this?

The other night, D chose Captain Underpants for a bedtime story with his mom. Normally, she would have told him to pick another book, but I heard her say, “Ok, we can read one chapter from Captain Underpants and then a chapter from your devotional.”

And they read the whole book. All eighty-four pagrs, and she didn’t flinch reading lines with references to gas, poop, wedgies and barf. D looked at her as she read “fake doo doo,” and I swear I saw him pinching himself.

To make sure this wasn’t a dream.

I remember D singing “We will, we will, fart you” to Queen’s song “We Will Rock You” this past summer. And L would constantly telling him to stop. He picked it up from his friend C, and D only stopped singing it when she quit making such a big deal of it.

Indeed, something has happened to L.

The next night, L and D watched a Captain Underpants video, and I joined them as Captain Underpants jerked his pelvis in and out in an innocent manner to a theme song whilr standing on the top of a building in his tiddy whitties and red cape.

”I like Melvin Sneedly,” L said to me, referring to an antagonist of George and Harold and sidekick to Professor Poooy Pants. “I think Melvin is a good guy who is misperceivrd as a bad guy. ”

”Melvin Sneedly is a bad guy,” I shot back. “He is an accomplice to Mr. Krupp and Professor Poopy Pants.”

”Professor Poopypants knows he is evil,” she responded. “Melvin helps Professor Poopypants, but he believes what he is doing is actually good.”

I couldn’t believe we were analyzing Melvin Smeedly’s behavior to determine if he was a good or bad guy. The zombie ladies must have replaced L’s brain with a different brain.

Jokes aside, I’m not saying L has converted to “bathroom” humor, but she seems to have accepted that boys think words like poop and diarrhea are hilarious, and the Captain Underpants series is a funny, entertaining book.

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The Sunday Paper

Written By: Scot Butwell - Jan• 02•18

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We are both reading our favorite sections of grandma’s newspaper, me the Arts & Books section and D the comics. D thinks the price of tomatoes is too high, pineapples just right, and gourds too low.

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Move Over, Monopoly

Written By: Scot Butwell - Jan• 02•18

IMG-1547Move over, Monopoly, Clue, Apples to Apples. There is a new, a-hem, board game in town in time for Christmas.

It has a red and green playing board with colorful lollipops, mounds of chocolate cherries and gingerbread cottages surrounded by cotton candy mountains that is best played with a cup of hot chocolate and cookies.

Playing this game, your game piece will travel through Kooky Cotton Blvd., Heavenly Chocolate Ave., and Lolipop Lane, all names created by the nine-year-old game designer, moving forward or backwards if you answer a holiday-themed question correctly .

Beware, if your Christmas knowledge is sub par, your may find your game piece remaining near the starting line, but there is hope for you, thanks to a rule created by the game designer—one he came up with as he and his dad dove to their weekly den meeting

The player in last gets first crack at answering any question missed by the other players, so there is always a ray of hope for the player in last place to make comeback of epic propord gameLet’s see how you would fare with a few questions: Can you name name seven toys on the Island of Misfit toys in Rudolph  the Red-nosed Reindeer…

How about this one: Can you name all nine of Santa’s Reindeer?

But can you do it under pressure with thirty seconds ticking down, and with the other players staring at you, waiting for you to get flustered? Or to kindly give you—in the spirit of the Christmas season—a clue or two?

This game will create loads of fun and laughter among family and friends as you answer questions from Christmas movies we’ve all seen year after year and gradually move to the finish line.

The game was tested by five weblos, and in the hour they played the game passed like a train in the night. It was six and then…seven o’clock, and there was lots if excitement in the interval.

The game designer’s mom had this to say before the launch day of the Game Test, “These are too hard questions. No one will know the answers.”

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She also criticized the game designer’s dad on how much he contributed to the game design. A series of mostly one-way texts between mom and dad:

“Where are the answers to the questions???”

“It’s too bad you didn’t allow him to create a game he’d like.”

“D told me you created it and he helped only a little by gluing things on the board.”

“Try not to ask D leading questions.”

“I just asked him did you create the game.”

“The main point is, he needs to be allowed to try even if it’s not good.”

“Even if is not not perfect, it’s about teaching D to take responsibility.”

“He’s the one earning the badge.”

“You’re not helping him to be a future responsible adult by doing the thing for him.”

“You did the same with my school paper, so I think you have a hard time guiding D without taking over.”

”When you’re in a time crunch, it’s not easy to help a nine year-old design a playable game.”

“With parental guidance it could’ve been done.”

“First, sit down with pen and paper, asking him what ideas he has for a game.”

“Second, decide on the idea or theme. It could’ve been done. Trust your son with your guidance.”

”Guidance is coming alongside him to help. Like you trained the volunteers on hotline.”

“I’m not criticizing. I’m more wanting to see D grow. Does that make sense?”

“I’m sorry if i didn’t come off in the right way.”

The game designer’s Mom is a witty, generous, sophisticated and democratic observer. Her modesty, kindly humor and her uncanny gift of catching people at good moments make playing the game a real joy.

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Chill at the Queen Mary

Written By: Scot Butwell - Dec• 29•17

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When L told D he could only go to “Chill” if he finished cleaning his room, he got very upset, and this was his endorsement of the Queen Mary’s annual Christmas extravaganza.

“Chill” is open daily from 4:30 until 11:00 until Jan. 7, and in the next two weeks, it is a wonderful way to extend Christmas with the family, if everyone is in the mood.

As we waited  in line to see a 4-D version of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, L said, “We could have stayed at home to watch Rudolph. D has seen it five times this Christmas.”

But Rudolph in 4-D turned out to be her favorite part of “Chill,” and it helped us overcome a mild case of Grinchiness—so don’t miss it in favor of glitzier options like the 300-foot zip line or ice bumper cars.

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“Do you know what 4-D is?” I asked a man standing behind us in line to see Rudolph.

“4-D is one more than 3-D,” he said, and we both laughed.

“4-D is one level more advanced than 3-D,” his wife added. “I think that means it has more special effects.”

I must have still looked confused, so the man added, “I think there may be snow that comes out of the ceilings.”

Here’s what I remember: the seats shaking every time the Abominable Snow Monster stomped in pursuit of Rudolph, Hermey, and the Yukon Cornelius and, yes, snow blowing out from top corner of the front wall.

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“I liked it was edited to 15 to 20 minutes,” L commented the next day. “The special effects made the story come alive.”

D stood up to grab snow flakes and animated snowballs–which thanks to the 3-D glasses–came right into his excited hand, and he liked the black smoke from a exploding TNT box, and we were now in the right frame of mind to enjoy “Chill.”

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We went next to the ice-skating rink, and this was the highlight of our trip for me. D and I skated together several times around an ice track filled with skaters of all ages and ability levels.

Originally, D wanted a plastic penguin to help him stay upright, but he exceeded the 48-inch height limit to get a support device while skating.

So we tandem skated by holding hands, and whenever D fell down, he would say to me, “I said, left, right, left, right, and you went right, left, right, left…and you made me fall!”

We had a hilarious time skating. I think we both helped each other stay upight, and each time around the track, we became less wobbly, and it was an exercise in working together.

I am smiling as I write about our experience, recalling how D told a female employee, “It’s his fault. I said left, right, but he went right, left…and so it was his fault that I fell down.”

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The best experiences always teach you something about yourself, and about those whom you love, and I learned D is funny, courageous, adventuresome, cooperative, and skilled at ice skating.

He showed he could fall six times and get back up six times, and that is one of the lessons I hope he will remember from our tandem skating at “Chill.”

We passed by ice bicycling on the way to ice skating–but for some reason D didn’t want to give it a try. There was a wide array of three-wheeled bikes, and it looked like a fun.

To quote Mary Poppins, “We’re on the brink of an adventure. Don’t spoil it by asking questions.” This quote sums up our experience after we’d been at “Chill” for about an hour and a half

The questions came, and instead of being on the brink of a new adventure, we spoiled it with questions. Are  you getting hungry? Are you ready to leave? And there were a few more.

D asked the only good question to a female employee, “Do you know where Santa is?” There was a sign on the door to Santa’s headquarters. It said, “Santa is out feeding his reindeer right now.”

I prolonged our visit by convincing L to take a walk on the Queen Mary, but she didn’t have quite the same exploring spirit as D and I, and so our next adventure never materialized.

However, we learned a valuable family lesson: if we have difficulty traveling 15 miles to Long Beach—to spend a couple hours—then it will be hard taking a week-long California trip this summer.

This was the lesson taught us by “Chill” that we needed to learn while having fun ice-skating, ice-tubing, watching Rudolph in 4-D, and strolling around together as a family.

The latter is one of my favorite parts of “Chill:” Just walking around the Christmas decorations, with the Queen Mary as a back drop while strolling or careening down a 135-foot ice tubing slide.

Full Disclosure: thanks to the good folks at the Queen Mary for setting us up with complimentary tickets. This in no way influenced my opinions while writing this post of our visit there. We have been regular visitors to “Chill” for the past five years as part of our family tradition.

For more info on Chill, go to: www.queenmary.com

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The Really Awesome Improv Show

Written By: Scot Butwell - Nov• 23•17

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“Where are you?” L’s text says.

As I glance down at my phone screen, a girl in her early twenties clucked like a chicken as she officiated a wedding ceremony for Michael Jackson as part of a hilarious improv comedy scene.

I type the words “kids’ comedy show,” leaving out the location in Hollywood, and tap the “send” button as the bride and groom slide backwards on their toes moon-walk style across the stage.

“Where?” her text back says.

I watch as a smile spreads across D’s face and bursts into heartfelt laughter, and in that instant, I am reminded of what I’ve learned about D: he has an incredibly creative, imaginative mind.

“It’s in Hollywood,” I text back.

“Want to go to Hollywood?” I asked D, as he ate his usual Saturday breakfast of two eggs and two boxes of hash browns at Chic-Fil-A. I had googled “kids’ comedy show” and “Hollywood.”

There was a show in an hour at noon.

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“Yes,” he said.

“We are going to HOLLYWOOD,” I cheerily boomed as we turned on the freeway for the 30 to 45-minute ride. “Hollywood, here we come! Woo-hoo, we are going to…HOLLYWOOD!”

Okay, so. My enthusiasm was over the top, but it represented pent up frustration from adhering (mostly) to L’s five-mile radius for our father-son adventures for the past five years.

A week ago, after going to Chic-Fil-A, D asked to stop a baby store to see books, plush toys and, um, baby stuff. He asked an employee if she could help him find a Sesame Street book.

I listened as my nine-year-old son asked about a book for toddlers. On the one hand, he took initiative to ask for help. On the other hand, he wanted to see a book for much younger kids.

It felt weird. Maybe, he missed the characters from his early childhood. However, as the employee searched for the book, I pretended it was a birthday present for his brother–if she asked.

THE REALLY AWESOME IMPROV SHOW #5 photo by Joe Funk

So this is what prompted our trip to “The Really Awesome Improv Show,” voted the best kids’ comedy show by LA Magazine, at Second City theatre on the famed Hollywood Boulevard.

We parked and had ten minutes till showtime. D and I started running, and I pointed out the names of a few stars on the sidewalk, and we reached the theatre with one minute to spare.

The black box theatre had seats for 50 to 75 people. We sat in the front row, and our feet rested on the stage. It felt like the actors were performing in our living room since they were so close.

The actors played improv games, taking suggestions from the audience to create zany characters and scenes, and encouraged kids to participate. Wackiness ruled the one-hour show.

REALLY AWESOME IMPROV SHOW photo by Second CityI wanted to nudge D to be part of an improv game on stage, but I sensed he was not quite ready. I figured, this would be an intro to improv and one day he would be ready to go onstage.

I wish I could describe more of the scenes, but all I can remember is the they beautifully demonstrated the principles of improvisation theatre  Listening, responding, saying yes.

The biggest surprise, though, is: L was not upset with us going outside her five-mile radius without me discussing it with her in advance or, at least, she didn’t seem to be bothered about it.

She loosened her five-mile radius in the past year, allowing D and I to go to the Malibu Wine Safari and Griffith Observatory—both an hour from our home—but she vetoed some of my other ideas, so her five-mile radius seems to be arbitrary, depending on her mood or view of my parenting.

THE REALLY AWESOME IMPROV SHOW photo by Second CityShe suggested I take parenting classes during a recent heated argument; and whenever she walks in on D and me doing an “improv” scene, which are by nature ridiculous, she says, “do you guys ever have normal conversations?”

She apparently is not an improv fan; and I will be the first to admit our scenes are non-sensical and lack any logical progression, but they foster a social reciprocity like nothing else.

And that’s what’s important–especially for a kid on the spectrum—and they connect us in our hearts, unlike anything involving normal talk.

This is why I love our “creative” conversations. It’s the way D and I bond with one another, just as L connects with him in their deep conversations–though I am capable of having serious talks with D, too.

I wrote a year ago that I thought an improv class would improve D’s social skills, and I think it is time to test my theory and take D’s improv acting from the living room to the stage.

He came in the bedroom as I edited this with a towel around his body, no shirt, pretending to be a caveman, and I volleyed lines back and forth with Jack the Caveman for ten minutes.

So, yeah, I think Jack the Caveman is ready for an improv acting class.

The Really Awesome Improv Show is every Saturday at 12 pm for only $5.

This show has been running for eight years straight and is great for the whole family. No scene suggestions are accepted that are inappropriate for kids (my diarrhea idea was rejected), and because there is a rotating cast, you’ll see a different cast and games if you return a second or third time.

Second City’s is located at: 6560 Hollywood Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90028.

Phone: (323) 464-8542.

Visit their website for a wide range of acting classes: www.secondcity.com.

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Zombie Dad

Written By: Scot Butwell - Nov• 22•17

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I didn’t want to go trick-or-treating without a costume since Halloween has become an annual night of father-son bonding with D, and here it was four o’clock and I had no costume.

D was a scientist. He had a white lab coat, goggles, and boots, so I thought if there was any last-minute way to complement his costume—and then, I hit on it…I could be a Zombie Dad.

L allowed me to use her make-up, she rven dabbed black rings around my eyes, and I took over from there, adding splotches of red blood all over my face, thanks to her nail polish.

I shredded a dress shirt and 0ld pair of jeans, ransacked cabinets for accessories like a blood-splattered band-aid for my forehead, and wrote Zombie Dad on my teacher badge.

And an image from Plants vs. Zombies guided the last part of my costume: a clip-on tie from D’s closet, a tan suit jacket from mine, and I applied nail polish generously to my dress shirt.

“You are overdoing it,” L said of my increasingly gory appearance.

But D thought I looked good. So did D’s friend C, and when we rang the doorbell of my former high school Journalism-English teacher, she complimented me on my costume..

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“You are so creative! You are  a fun dad!” she texted me the next day. D and I also made it on her Facebook page with the title, “1987 South High grad trick-or-treating at my door.”

Halloween always makes me feel like Cinderella under ballroom lights, having a blast but knowing the clock is ticking on D and my running running through the neighborhood, both of us cherishing this chance to shed our everyday identities for a few hours.

“My dad is my creation,” D the Scientist told a few neighbors.

So I must have succeeded in my last-minute effort to complement his Scientist costume, and in my desire to bond with D, I had finished just in the nick of time to go trick-or -treating.

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We joined up with C and his dad, plus the addition of two middle-school girls and their mom (a softball teammate of C’s dad), and D’s pillow case became increased in weight and dimension until wore out, and it was another sweet Halloween in the memory bank.

What I learned is: it only takes a modicum of creativity to enter into my son’s creative world; a pair of scissors, an old shirt, jeans, a tan suit jacket I haven’t worn in ten years, make-up, red nail polish, a band-aid, and name of masking tape over a work iD badge.

And, viola, you have a Sweet Halloween night. Actually, this was was an old lesson, as a few years back, I remember making a homemade Tin Man costume with an oil funnel, silver make-up, a plastic ax, and a poster board with a Sharpee drawn red heart.

As soon as I walked into the living room on that Halloween, D began checking out my make-up, hat, and ax and jumping off the living room sofa and chopping down imaginary trees.

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He had a similar reaction last year when I stuffed pillows under my shirt and painted my face green to be the Incredible Hulk. He ran up and body slammed into me like in a mosh pit.

This is why I love Halloween. With a   tiny flint of my imagination, D and I can become the Scarecrow and Tin Man, Captain America and Incredible Hulk, or a Scientist and his creation.

I am already looking forward to next Halloween, and those few precious hours to wander the streets with D, and to shed my Dad identity and assume the persona of my costume.

I saved my shirt and jeans–just in case my creativity wanes—and I need a last-minute costume; plus, I enjoyed my alter ego of being a Zombie Dad, and I could see bringing him back to life.

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The Great Pumpkin Hunt

Written By: Scot Butwell - Nov• 20•17

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D and I have driven past the South Coast Botanical Garden in Palos Verdes in several occasions without giving a a passing thought to what we might possibly be missing in the garden.

Now, we will think about the garden,

It is an the urban oasis: 87 acres of blooming trees, shrubs, flowers, meadows, winding trails, benches in shady garden niches, a nice place to come and read a book or to do some writing (if I had more time for these activities…but I digress), the friendly volunteers and cool autumn air.

I will think of these things and fondly remember our visit to the South Coast Botanical Garden, and it will be harder to pass by, knowing how much beauty lies within. Why  drive an hour away? When nature is fifteen minutes away?

D is a lover of treasure hunts (mostly the kind around the house involving clues leading to a candy bar), so we went to experience “The Great Pumpkin Hunt” in the Garden which involved locating clues in birdhouses to find a clandestine pumpkin patch.

However, since I’m not much of a map navigator, and more prone to wander and enjoy nature, we got lost on the Great Pumpkin Hunt, and that was just fine with me. I like wandering more than following the points on a map.

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We asked a few people if they knew the locations of varioyz birdhouses, and they were in wandering mode as well, so getting lost in nature seemed to be preferable to seeking for birdhouses.

The secret “patch” turned out to be behind one of the Garden’s Kid’s Adventure Club Stations where kids and their parents were digging for pseudo ancient marine fossils.

This sounded like fun, so D and I were handed plastic spoons for shovels, a plot of dirt bracketed by string, and a volunteer explained to D how the garden had been a marine environment thousands of years ago; in between , it had also served a landfill-dump.

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“Do you know what a person who digs for fossils is called?” she asked D.

“A paleotologist.”

“What do you expected to find since it used to be a marine environment?”

“Maybe some shark teeth.”

“Wow! You are a smart boy!”

We got so into digging for fossils that we I didn’t notice a pumpkin patch five feet away from us. The pumpkins looked like they had been ravaged by some hungry animals in the Garden.

One pumpkin resrmblec a flat basketball without air, and later in the day, when we still had not found the pumpkin patch, a volunteer told me it was next to the fossil digging station.

I had visualized a nigger pumpkin patch, but it turns out, the Garden held a contest a year ago to guess the weight of a giant pumpkin, but if had been eaten by the squirrels, rabbits, mice and raccoons in the garden.

Getting lost in the nature, or sitting on one of the Garden’s many benches, and just feeling the warmth of the sun, I concluded, is what I’ve missed driving by the South Coast Botanical Garden.

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“Climb the mountains, get their good tidings. Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their freshness into you…while cares will drop off like autumn leaves.”

John Muir’s words came to me while D and I sat on a bench after walking through the labyrinth of trails, and as I pondered Muir’s thoughts, I could sense nature’s peace flowing into me.

True, D asked to look at my phone as he leaned back into my chest. But I enjoyed the lush greenery and warmth of the sun on my face as I wondered about the people who walked by us.

I reminisced about the 17-mile drive in Carmel when a tram passed by us. Walking on the Garden’s scenic trails and roads brought back to mind L and my trip there on our honeymoon.

My mind wandered to the missed opportunity 18 years ago to ride a bike in a slight drizzle; in retrospect, it was the perfect condition–though I chose wisely to not abandon my new bride.

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This got me thinking if biking is permitted in the Garden–I didn’t see anyone riding a bike–but the program staff is always expanding new ways for visitors to experience the Garden.

In December, the Garden will pipe in Christmas music on selected roads/trails and host bands playing holiday music; in January, guests can listen to a pop music playlist while walking through Garden trails.

A sign outside the front gates also announced yoga will be coming soon to the Garden. In addition, the Garden hosts plays, concerts, and movie nights in its meadows–Mauna played in July.

D and I enjoyed acting out scenes from the Wizard of Oz in a small shaded amphitheatre with a canopy of trees. An acting class would make a great addition to the Garden, I thought.

We ran into a troop of girl scouts, and one girl ran over to D and said, “D, what are you doing here?” And then he was surrounded by a group of girls, who were all saying the same thing.

He hid behind a tree watching them before he was spotted. I gave him some space to interact with the girls, but he seemed overwhelmed, and we walked and ran on with the map in my pocket.

D liked the numerous opportunities to pick up dirt clods along the trails. He’s still a sensory kid at heart, and frankly, that may have been his favorite part.

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We appreciated the quiet solitude; sometimes, a father and son need to escape into nature–you know, to get away from family life stresses–and the Garden was a perfect nature getaway.

You enter through the gates, walk through an enchanted garden with small miniature houses, grazing cows and other ornaments, and you forget all about the various stressors in  life.

You walk along trails or a road, turn right or left down a myriad of trail/road options, and you will feel tempted to chuck the map, and you may decide getting lost in nature is preferable.

That’s what I felt like doing–and so we found only two of the six birdhouses with clues to the pumpkin patch. But time stopped, and that’s the best way I know to enjoy an afternoon with D.

The next time we drive by the Garden, I will assuredly give more than second thought to what I will be missing. And I am sure I will planning a return visit to the Garden in the next few weeks.

Full Disclosure: I received two tickets at my request in exchange for writing this blog post. However, all opinions in this post are mine, and I hope you enjoy the Garden as much as we did

The South Coast Botanical Gardens Hours are: 9 – 5 everyday (open 364 days a year). The address is: 263000 Crenshaw Blvd., Palos Verdes. You can learn more about the Garden by visiting their website:southcoastbotanicalgarden.org.

Tickeprices are: Adults $9, students $6, children (4 – 12) $4, and toddlers are free.

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Dance Party

Written By: Scot Butwell - Oct• 28•17

It had been a long day for all of us.A homework battle, a struggle for D to get started and to stay focused on his one page of math and grammar, plus a writing graphic organizer and three-sentence introduction paragraph.

Plus, thirty minutes of reading.

We were all tired. Ooops!! L doesn’t like me to use that word–tired–even though it is a normal description of my mental and physical state most days after teaching squirrelly 14-year-olds.

Some of my students don’t always want to learn, and it’s my job to help the focus on learning, and then I come home and encourage D to stay the course and to finish his homework.

It is not usually a straight line to the finish line—in my classroom or at home—so there apparently isn’t very much difference in the concentration spans of fort and ninth graders.

D whipped through the graphic organizer with his three reasons and three details for each reason, and he whizzed through writing the three-sentence introduction on his topic.

He likes to write–although it can often veer between real and imaginary–and his intro was about being kidnapped by an animatronic bear Nightmare from the Five Nights at Freddy’s.

This is his writing style–his voice–al though as a result he struggles with academic writing (topic sentence, supporting details) because of his preference for imaginary over real.

I like the writing homework. It is an chance to share what I’ve learned about writing with D, and the math (rounding to tens, hundreds, and thousands) is time to spend with D.

“You’re yelling at me like a Mad Man,” I overheard D say to L the other night when she was helping him with one part of his homework assignment.

She screams at me too if I interfere with him doing homework by himself, and his focus is like a bouy bobbing in the ocean, which is why I play with silly puddy while he does homework.

My approach is different than hers. I like to make it light and easy, to banter and, yes, to embrace the jagged process, to back off and stretch silly puddy to give him some independence.

I remind myself several times to be patient, and since I tell ninth-graders every day to stay on task in my day job, my preference would be to not have to do this again at home–thus, the constant reminder to be patient.

Be patient.

This is the “brand” I want to be remembered by D: a patient dad who isn’t prone to fits of rage if his attention happens to momentarily drift away from a math problem.

Which it will.

Being patient is what works with nine or 14-year-olds, both of whom I’ve come to realize share common traits, like losing focus and tearing off the eraser nubs off the top of pencils.

Impatience will only escalate a situation to a toxic level, and that’s why I sit next to D on the sofa, to let him know I am with him in this task. This is just how I choose to do it.

And being this close to him in proximity not only provides a sense of comraderie, but it also allows me to redirect him if his mind does happen–which it will–go down a rabbit hole.

Sometimes, to break up the monotony of the homework, I even go off the grid with him to spice up the daily grind of grammar, math problems and writing (which has become his favorite).

So after D finished his introduction paragraph, I tell him about Steve Pressfield (War of Art) and Shawn Coyne (The Story Grid), and how Steve is a writer and Shawn is his editor, and Shawn’s job is to improve  his friend Steve’s writing.

“You are the writer, and I am the editor,” I say to D. “You be Steve and I will be Shawn. My job is to look for how to make your writing better.”

And after he finishes, I explain to him how “everyday” words in conversation can be replaced with more precise action or descriptive words, and he receives my input like a real writer.

His assignment was to use “sound” and “motion” words, so he changed said to murmured, goes to speeded, and added caw-caw in on his own, and then we shared his writing with L.

L said she thought his teacher would think his paragraph was too polished, but I explained it was an opportunity to share my knowledge on writing and to teach D about the revision process.

His writing did sound professional–though his handwriting is still a work in progress–but his homework never returned in his backpack, so I guess you will have to take my word on it.

After his homework was completed–this story is really about this moment–D cued up a catchy song with a fast tempo and beat on my phone, and a dance party broke out right there in the living room to a song from Sing.

D kicked his feet left, right, forward, and backwards, he executed a 360-degree spin move a few times, he nearly completed a few handstands, and his arms and legs moved rapidly for the duration of the entire song.

I joined D in the Dance Party as L cheered him on (“Do it again…Woo-hoo”, she said after his spin moves.), mimicing his moves except for the head stands, and by the end of the 4-minute song, we were sucking in air.

This is how we capped a Tuesday evening, and the homework saga, his writing style, our collaborative effort and the dance party, I thought all added up to…the Fourth Grade D.

The dance party infused my body with newfound energy, and a new appreciation of my son, and his wonderful, spontaneous spirit.

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Culver City Steps

Written By: Scot Butwell - Oct• 16•17

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This was one of those ideas–hiking up 279 stairs at the Culver City steps–that sounded like a good idea at the time, but it didn’t feel so great once we were  on, say, step number 133 or 208.

At step number 279, I was more than grateful we’d made it to the top,  Some breaths felt much deeper than others, and I realized I can feel feel the effects of aging on my body more than ever.

I am two digits from 50, and the stairs reminded me of a stress test I recently took where they kept gradually speeding up the treadmill until I felt like I was about to have a heart attack.

I had to stop several times, my lungs becoming heavy and legs burning. I pretended to fiddle with my camera while staring up at the incline ahead. D  soldiered on without any complaint.

He was several steps ahead of me and would have been more if I didn’t tell him to stop three or four times. He paused only a few times, never fazed by the two-foot cylinder block stairs.

I looked forward to a father-son moment at the top, taking in a vista of Los Angeles, but when we reached the peak, D looked back for a split second and followed the trail around a curve.

Ho-hum, he must have thought.

I was thinking something along the lines of “hey, this isn’t everyday you see a panoramic view of Los Angeles, and I was really hoping to take a much longer break…to get a second wind.”

The way back down was much easier.

I realized as we neared the bottom of the hill I needed to find bathroom. The stairs on the way up and down must have moved my breakfast throughout my body at a faster rate than usual.

Plan A…was a nearby Dunkin Donuts which I remembered passing on the way to the steps, but there was a sign on the bathroom door: Out of Order.

Plan B..Smart and Final next door. I needed to make it in a hurry, but the stall was occupied, and there was no time to search for a nearby restroom.

Plan C…required expediency. I saw a trash can. And there was no time for Plan D, E or F—only immediate action.

D looked at me with a surprised look. He had never seen me poop in a trash can before—nor do I remember having ever done so—so I felt a need to elucidate a life lesson to what he saw.

“Sometimes, you have to do what you have to do in an emergency. This was an emergency and, maybe, you will be in an emergency like this one day.”

In such case: Go poop in a trash can!

That’s what I was trying to say. Yeah, I am not proud for what I did–and I only accidentally hit publish on this–but I think I would do the same thing if a similar situation happens again.

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