(This completes the three part remembrance of Vacation Guy from the archives. The original of Part III is from March 11, 2012. In terms of a Vacation Guy update today, 10 years after the posting below, he happily lives with Ella in her Seattle apartment. –Andy)
I’ll finish my Vacation Guy trilogy with today’s post, including a photo I just took of the esteemed stuffed toy, taken nearly 15 years after he entered Ella’s life. As you can tell, he has been fully loved by her, so much so that in true Velveteen Rabbit terms, he is undoubtedly real (and has been for years).
Ella would gently rub his face while falling off to sleep each night, the loving he received there being obvious. Several years ago, my mother sewed on “gloves,” replacing the originals that had been worn through. I remember how nervous Ella was when Vacation Guy went in for glove surgery, and how excited she was when he emerged looking so good.
A similar experience was had each time Vacation Guy went for a bath (the washing machine). That form of bath was a little too hard on him so next he got the Woolite treatment in the sink. Ultimately, though, the concern of hurting him was too great and the baths ceased.
Vacation Guy no longer sleeps with Ella but is kept on her nightstand, right next to her bed.
(Here’s today’s post from the archives about Ella’s most important toy, Vacation Guy. Yesterday, I posted Part I and tomorrow I’ll post Part III. The original of Part II is from March 10, 2012. –Andy)
So I gave Ella this advice when she was little, thinking she might be dumb like I was when I got to be 12 or 13. You see, I had an important soft toy when I was little. In fact, I had several of them. Bunny, Pooh Bear, Kanga, Eeyore and others. And when I got to be a certain age, 12 or 13, when these important toys had all been packed away into a box and put in the garage, I thought I was too big for them. Truth be told, I was kind of embarrassed by them.
I’m sad to say, I gave them away.
So the I gave advice I gave Ella was … “When you think you’ve outgrown Vacation Guy, when you get to the point that you think you really don’t need him anymore, when you go crazy ’cause you’re a teenager … Just give Vacation Guy to me for safe keeping.”
“When you come to your senses, I’ll give him back to you.”
That’s what I told Ella.
Today’s Prompt:What’s something *crazy* you did as a teen?
(I’m digging into the archival history of the 10+ years of postings I’ve made here and found three consecutive stories about Vacation Guy, Ella’s most important childhood toy. I’m reposting them over the next three days, starting with today. The original is from March 9, 2012. –Andy)
In Ella’s hands here is Vacation Guy, so named because she got him in 1997 while we were on a vacation. The four of us were in Sun River, Oregon and we found a little toy store in town. There on the shelves was the cute, soft, cuddly doll, perfect for 8 month old Ella. It became THE soft toy, the one that stayed with her wherever she went, including to bed in her arms each night. I believe in psychology they call such a thing the “transitional object.”
Over the years, Vacation Guy’s family grew. I found his “female” (pink) compatriot on, of all things, eBay and “won” her for Ella. This doll became Vacation Girl. Then there was Vacation Kid and Vacation Joey. Each of these had their own song, part of Ella’s bedtime ritual.
Stay tuned for Part II tomorrow when I tell about some sound advice I gave to Ella about Vacation Guy.
Today’s Prompt:Share a story about your most important soft toy, pillow or blanket.
The date on this photo is May, 1994 which means two specific things. One, it means Chloe, my daughter, wasn’t really a baby. She was 15 months old. And two, given the jackets and such, it must have been chilly in Seattle.
Anyway, the charter members of this exclusive club were Tammy and Stephanie (two of Chloe’s cousins, pushing the stroller), as well as Granny (Chloe’s paternal grandmother — my mom, hey!). The club held its first meeting in March of 1993 at the home of my parents, specifically on their living room floor where Melinda had placed a two-week old Chloe in front of her cousins and doting grandmother.
I’m not sure when the fan club last met. But if I can be so bold and include myself as a member of the club, I’m pleased to report to the members that Chloe is doing quite well in life. Engaged to be married this summer, gainfully employed as a school counselor, proud puppy mama to Tino, she’s made this parent proud.
In the book “The Power of Kindness,” author Piero Ferrucci talks about how human beings are able to “resonate” with other human beings.
I love this concept.
He tells us that the ability is with us from birth, but if it doesn’t develop sufficiently we are in trouble. Me, I think the ability can be cultivated at any time in our lives. It’s certainly easier when we are younger, before we’ve had years of not resonating or not resonating well. But the ability is always there inside us, waiting to be tapped. I think the means is through storytelling.
In other words, if you’re ever feeling out of sorts, alone, or untouched, try telling the story of something that has touched you.
A few years back, I developed a class for teenagers on the subject of empathy. I wasn’t at all sure how many students would be interested. And since the classes that get scheduled at Puget Sound Community School are determined by student interest, I honestly wasn’t sure if this class would make the cut. Typically, more than 75 classes are offered to the students for each of the school’s main three terms, and the maximum any student can attend is around 20.
When I pitched the empathy class, I told the story of visiting my newborn daughter Ella in Children’s Hospital one Saturday morning in early 1997, she having been admitted (along with my wife, Melinda) because of a possible case of meningitis.
Ella was only 2 weeks old.
The day before, we had taken her to the doctor because of a high fever and the doctor ordered us to the emergency room. There, Ella experienced a spinal tap, during which the nurse’s assistant passed out and Melinda had to step in and hold still the crying/screaming baby Ella while the doctor inserted a needle into her spinal cord to get a fluid sample. Fearing meningitis, the doctors hospitalized Ella and treated her as if she had the illness while the fluid was tested over a period of three days. Melinda stayed with Ella while I was at home with her older sister, Chloe, not quite 4 years-old.
So early that Saturday, with my mom having come to watch Chloe, I arrived at Children’s Hospital to be with Ella and Melinda. At that time of day, they have a special entrance for parents. I entered there and took the elevator to the Intensive Care Unit, where Ella was being watched.
Exiting the elevator, I encountered one of the most moving scenes of my life – a young boy playing with a remote control car. 8 o’clock, Saturday morning, playing like little boys all over the world, down the hospital hall came this pajama-clad boy directing his car, remote control in hand. Keeping up next to him was his father, pushing the IV cart, making sure it stayed attached to his little boy’s arm. It was so poignant that it took my breath away. A little boy just being a little boy on a Saturday morning. And a dad just being a dad, doing what he needed to do so his boy could play.
I told those stories to the students during my class pitch. Lots of students prioritized the class after that. It made it on the schedule.
I’m not sure if the class ever matched the stories that I think sold it, but it was a great class. The second week I brought in photographer Lynette Johnson as a guest speaker. Several years previously, when I first heard of her, she was trying to start a nonprofit organization.
To provide professional photographs to parents of their terminally ill children before they died. Yeah. Kind of hits you right there, doesn’t it?
Lynette succeeded in starting her nonprofit and has since been featured in People Magazine and on the TV show “Today.” She calls her nonprofit Soulumination and they’ve since expanded their services. They now take professional portraits, at no charge, of terminally ill parents so their children will have photos to help remember them.
Lynette told the students why she started the nonprofit, tearing up each time she told the story of one of the children she has photographed.
Two weeks after introducing the students to Lynette, I took them off campus to meet a couple in their 90’s who were living in the same retirement community as my parents. Both had lost their spouses and finding the other, they thought it made sense to share an apartment rather than pay for two. But the conservative retirement home wouldn’t allow this unless they married. So they got married. As it turns out, we learned the woman was at Pearl Harbor in 1941 when it was bombed.
What stories these two people had to tell a group of teenagers!
Feel the resonance? If so, did experiencing this resonance change how you were feeling? Pay attention to this.
As I’ve written before, when I was a little boy I experienced significant night terrors for about two years.
My parents took me to a child psychiatrist who recommended family counseling so we tried that. A behavior modification program was created. Still, the terrors got so bad that I was hospitalized for a week when I was in 4th grade, studied by doctors and nurses to try to determine the root of the problem. One memorable experience in the hospital was when electrodes were attached to my head to study my brainwaves. Nothing significantly wrong was determined and I returned home.
Ultimately, I grew out of the night terrors, but the experience cast a dark shadow on me for years. For instance, I was horribly shamed by it, even into my young adulthood, and never talked about it.
It was my deepest and darkest secret.
But during college I started to make peace with it and even started to appreciate how the experience helped make me who I am. I believe the empathy and compassion I have for children is a direct result of my experience with night terrors, of undergoing counseling as a child, and from the experience of spending that week in the hospital.
These days, I use my childhood experience with night terrors on a nearly daily basis as I mentor children and coach parents. The Haiku I wrote and to which I added one of Fish Astronaut’s drawings above demonstrates that the experience is deeply embedded in me.
I was facilitating a class earlier today on Outschool, an online platform on which I’ve taught well over 500 classes to over 2000 young people since the beginning of the pandemic. I call the class “Friendship & Social Skills” and, put simply, it’s 45 minutes each week in which a group of 10-14-year-olds come together to connect with others under my gentle guidance.
Given it’s Christmas Eve, I asked how many of the four students present today celebrate Christmas. It turns out, all of them do so I asked about their family traditions. Sensing they weren’t sure what I was asking, I explained what a tradition was and gave some examples. From there, they really warmed up. We talked about giving & receiving presents, playing games, eating treats, and decorating a tree. We even took time to talk about Santa Claus, always an interesting topic with kids this age.
I explained how Santa Claus is a big part of my family tradition, both as a child and as a parent. I acknowledged that earlier today I had even checked in on the “Norad Tracks Santa” website to see where he was. Perhaps the students thought it was a bit strange to have a 58-year-old adult talking about Santa. I tapped my heart and told them, “Santa is true to me right here.”
About that, last year, I posted a lengthy story about my personal belief in Santa Claus, along with some photos of my family around the holidays.
Another tradition my family has began when we were in France 11 years ago. It was there that we learned about raclette. If you aren’t familiar, raclette refers to a type of Swiss cheese that you melt in individual slices and serve atop potatoes and other yummy foods.
Our tradition really took hold once we were back in Seattle in 2011. We shared the concept with Melinda’s extended family who we see on Christmas Eve for dinner and gift exchange. It took off after Melinda found a “raclette grill” on CraigsList. Basically, the grill consists of individual paddles in which you place a slice of cheese and then put on a heating element, the grill, in the center of the table. Each person melts their own cheese and puts it on top of their chosen food items.
We’ll be heading over to Melinda’s sister’s house in a couple of hours to be joined by Ella, Chloe & her fiancé, Alex, Michele (Melinda’s mom), and Brenda’s family – Brenda, Greg & Perrin. Greg has been cooking a ham, which happens to be really delicious with melted raclette cheese on top. Chloe and Alex have stopped at a French bakery to pick up a couple of baguettes, also delicious with melted cheese. Melinda & I are on potato detail, along with the raclette that I had to track down last weekend.
Given Michele will be taking the entire family to France next summer and we’re having a France-inspired meal tonight, perhaps we should limit our conversation to being in French. That could be a fun, new tradition, right?
As many of you know, from July 2010 through July 2011, 13 months, Melinda, Chloe, Ella, and I lived in France. As the founders of the Puget Sound Community School (PSCS) in 1994, Melinda and I were ready for a little break and the school was ready to spread its wings without the safety net of its founders. Chloe had just graduated from PSCS and Ella was a year removed from starting high school.
In other words, it was the perfect time for us to spend some time together as a family away from the 24–7 demands of the school.
We settled in the city of Nantes where Melinda’s family had some friends. Freed to do something I enjoy doing (write), I decided I would keep a daily blog of our goings-on for our friends and family back in Seattle. Little did I know that the blog would take on a life of its own.
Little did Melinda know that sometimes I would get a bit silly with my daily entries.
For instance, less than two weeks after we arrived in France we had already gotten into the routine of visiting a bakery to pick up fresh pastries for breakfast. One morning I went on my own to the bakery we had begun frequenting and was charmed by the sweetness of the young woman at the counter.
I requested four pain au chocolat, a delicious flaky pastry with pieces of dark chocolate inside, one for each member of the family. As I was paying, the young woman cautioned me to be careful because the pastries had just come out of the oven and were hot. In fact, she said, all in French, the chocolate might burn my mouth if I wasn’t careful.
I was completely smitten. I asked if I could take her picture for my blog post that day and she complied, although given the quality of my French for all I know I may have asked her what was on TV that night.
Yes, it’s true, you and I will always have France. But, you, you have your red wine and your cheeses. Me, I have our baker and her breads.
She tells me to be careful when buying pain au chocolat, that the chocolate is still hot and may burn my tongue. And she tells me this in French. After this morning’s visit, when she let me take her picture, I can hide my feelings no more.
Perhaps it’s rude to announce this like this, but I can’t help myself.
I’m already counting down the hours until tomorrow morning. Will it be a chausson pommes, pain aux raisins, or pain au chocolat?
That’s Ella, Melinda’s and my youngest daughter, on the right. Posing with her is her cousin, Olivia. When Ella was little, she always wanted to dance.
To nurture her desire, Melinda, signed her up for a class called “Creative Dance” when she was 4 or 5 years old.
At the first session, Melinda and I tried to spy on her without being seen (to see if she was having fun) by peeking through a tiny window in the door. We watched her spin and twirl and move, all with a smile on her face.
Confident that she had had a great time, when class ended we asked her, “Did you have fun?” Her sweet and profound answer was as prompt as it was telling:
“I don’t see how they can call it CREATIVE dance when they tell you what to do!”
Since then she continued to dance, but on her terms. As a teen, she’d close her bedroom door and dance to her favorite music. At parties, she was always found on the dance floor.
She’ll be 25 in December and lives on her own in Seattle. But I can easily imagine her dancing in her apartment or while making macarons at work.
Most readers of my blog are aware that Melinda, my wife, and I took our daughters, Chloe & Ella, to live in France for a year back in 2010-11. We had been granted a sabbatical from the school we had founded and used the opportunity to provide our family some wonderful experiences in a different country.
Among the things we got to do was travel. In the spring of 2011, we went to southern France and stayed in the city of Nice. Although it’s pronounced like the English word “niece,” this didn’t stop me from telling my family, and on multiple occasions, how nice I found Nice, purposely mispronouncing the words.
Near the end of our year in France, we traveled to Normandy in northern France at the invitation of the Bertail family, people who lived around the corner from us and had become great friends. Melinda and I rented a car for this trip and for the first time in our lives experienced a vehicle with GPS.
Let me just tell you how infatuated Melinda and I became with this nifty little tool. It’s like driving and playing a video game at the same time, which, incidentally, I’m not advocating anyone do on a literal basis…
So, anyway, there we were, driving in Normandy to our destination and up on the video game, err, GPS screen came the word “Angerville,” which turns out to be a small town in Normandy (click on the photo here to see it better).
Chloe piped up from the backseat, “We spent some time in Nice, why not Angerville?”
Good one, Chloe! A real chip off the old block!
Turns out, though, that it never really worked into our plans to make a stop in Angerville. We were overdue and it was getting dark. Still, I kept picturing the four of us next to a sign of the town name, each of us with an angry scowl on our faces.
So, yeah, it’s probably best we didn’t go to Angerville back then. I mean, we probably go there metaphorically often enough, right? Think about it. Wouldn’t YOU rather go around Angerville than making a stop there?