As dictated to his Daddy by Cash Michael Kennedy.
On this impending Mother’s Day, I’d like to take a moment to reflect on your efforts and thank you for watching me. Every. Single. Day. And putting me to bed. Every. Single. Night.
Thank you for playing with me everyday.
Your goofy games jibe with my goofy moods. I think I most prefer our chase games. Those never get old. I’m always surprised when you pop out around the corner. Cracks me up. Every. Time.
When I first wake in my shade-darkened room while my white noise machine hums (both of which you insisted on buying to help ensure I get sound sleep), you come rushing in to greet me with enthusiastic hugs, kisses and “I love yous.” (Sometimes, it’s daddy but he mainly grunts a “Hey buddy” and hugs me. Here and there, he’ll toss in a smooch on top of my head. Not a big kisser that guy. Not like you anyway.
Then you’re off to making me breakfast: working the blender, microwave and kitchen utensils, you whip me up a healthy, wholesome breakfast Every. Single. Day. Not to mention, lunch, snacks, and dinner!
I know it’s not easy being my daily guardian. I’m hard to keep up with as I’m getting quicker and quicker an climbing up on more and more furniture.
I’m constantly changing…and I’m not just referring to my diapers-which I applaud your cheerful disposition while doing-even singing songs about it,
“Stinky butt no more, stinky butt no more..!”
Pretty sure that’s an original and I’m proud to have provided the inspirational nuggets for that tune.
I appreciate your efforts to expose me to the world. Belting me into my car seat-the one you had daddy install, check, double-check, triple-check and take into the certification facility to officially check before I could ride in.
You’ve driven me to music class where I dance and play instruments. To my art class, where I scribble and mess around colors on paper.
To the Children’s Museum, where I engage with many exhibits-my favorites are the water room and my car on the second level. I sometimes let other kids come in and ride shotgun but I’m always at the wheel. And last but not least, visiting the chickens on the roof. And yes, I’m with you in trying to convince daddy we need a chicken.
I see all the pure love you put into your efforts to care for me, to raise me, to nurture me.
I know Daddy loves me too. I can tell he looks forward to playing with me and taking me on walks to the park after he gets home from work. But, he’s gone most of the day. (He sure is handsome though).
But, you’re beautiful, Momma.
I know I get my eyelashes, big eyes, and long arms from you…along with a lot of my dance moves. Dip it Low.
I know Motherhood is incredibly demanding and exhausting. But, you have never shown that to me or made me feel I’m any kind of a burden. You always make me feel like you’re so happy to have me around you all the time and there’s no place else you’d rather be. I feel the same.
So, in case you ever feel that being a Mom is a thankless job, it’s not with me.
THANK YOU, MOMMA.
Happy Mother’s Day!
I love you too,
Know thy Shadow
As I came home from work a couple weeks ago, I opened the door and Cash dashed right under my arm to head outside.
Now, that palatable weather as arrived in Wisconsin, Cash is taking full advantage for the first time in his life. He yearns to get outside as much as he can.
This picture of him seeing his shadow strikes me as his evolution of awareness of himself, of his body frame and of his movements gain ground.
Cash discovered this self recognition inside the house in front of a mirror and now, another perspective courtesy of Mother Nature, outside the house.
This brings up the point that all parents must face in teaching their kids self-awareness. As Shakespeare once wrote, “To thine own self be true.” Well, you can’t truly be true to thine self, if thine doesn’t truly know thine self. Regular self-reflection is important for all of us to engender understanding of ourselves. Knowing why we do what we do and why we like what we like are key factors in being a happy and satisfied person.
In this respect, making mistakes are not big deal. If you’re aware how the mistake happened, you can correct it and learn from it. Great. If you make mistakes and don’t understand them, you can misplace blame on others and perpetuate you making the same mistake over and over. We all know these people. In my less enlightened times, I am these people.
Like the sun on my son, the world outside you will give you a perspective on yourself from the environment, from those around you, that is not possible for you to have on your own. So, don’t fight it. Embrace it, observe it, learn what you can from it. The only way to avoid your own shadow is to stay inside. What kind of life is that?
I was once told, “You can do whatever you want in your own cave, live by your own rules or lack thereof. But if you want to get outside, you’ve got to adapt yourself to your new environment.”
Your understandings of yourself in the cave may get reconsidered when you step out of the cave. Be aware of it. Don’t fight it. Accept it. It’s part of growth and will get you closer to your true, complete self, than you could ever get on your own. Inside.
So, Cash, I hope you keep rushing outside for new experiences. You’re now part of the great big world. Observe it, embrace it, learn from it.
We, your parents, promise to help you find your place in it.
Clear and Consistent
I’ve learned the best coaches, teachers, and parents all share a common modus operandi–clear and consistent communication and consequences of their expectations.
I realized the importance of these two traits especially in my years as a teacher/coach observing others in my profession.
There were times when I, as an adult, was confused by another teacher’s directions so I can empathize with the students not being sure what was expected of them. Because the teacher wasn’t clear, the students, understandably, did not abide by what the teacher expected to happen…but didn’t communicate well. Teachers and coaches, being human, would grow frustrated by the students’ non-compliance and then grow frustrated and sometimes angry at the kids. You never want to be that teacher (or parent or coach) who is constantly chasing after and hollering at out-of-control students.
Whenever I had non-compliance from multiple students, I learned to ask myself before I scolded, “Was I clear in my instructions?” Or ask the students, “Do you understand what I asked you to do?”
Sometimes I hadn’t communicated what I intended. Other times, students understood but wanted to test me and my guidelines. At those times, it was important to follow through with the consequences I’d laid out-usually time out of the activity.
Years ago, I coached a group of Kindergartners and on our way to the field, we had to cross a small stretch of parking lot. There was a distinct line by the crosswalk where the kids could wait. On the first day of class, kids would always try to bolt across the lot ahead of me. (Oh, to have the energy of a 6 year old!) I loved the eagerness at participating and didn’t want to squash that by screaming at them to wait, to get back every day we had class. I learned the best tactic was to gather them all by the line that first day and explain that the parking lot could be dangerous because of moving cars and that the only way they were to cross, was at my direction. Failure to comply would result in a substantial “timeout” from class participation.
This was a valuable consequence because at that age, they all want to participate. I clearly pointed out the line where they had to wait. I even had them do a few practice runs by leaving the room and stopping at the line. If any kid took a step or even half a foot over the line, I would walk over and point to their foot. For the most part, that was all I needed to do to set the tone for the rest of the school year. I didn’t have to chase them down every day and they enjoyed having boundaries clearly laid out. It freed me up to be friendly and open rather than uptight and preoccupied with repeating myself over and over throughout the year.
It has to start with the coach, the teacher, the parent being clear on what you want and then communicating that clearly and following through on any discipline when necessary. The more clear I was with myself, the more clearly I could communicate it to them.
Meghan is very good about pulling me aside and ensuring we’re on the same page in what in our expectations and communication with Cash.
So when Cash tests us, we pass the parent test. Clearly. Consistently.
Step down to the Mat
“It will be several years before he can distinguish between dreams and reality.”
This statement is widely accepted as common for 15 month olds.
It really puts in perspective how traumatic a bad dream can be and why, at times, Cash can wake up screaming. Meghan and I are horrified to think what frightening image or scene played out in his little head.
I’ve never been an alarmist or someone who wants to micromanage every minute of my child’s life but this concept should remind parents what they should and shouldn’t expose their kids to.
Sometimes I turn on the morning news show-when Cash is in the living room with me-to get the weather and some “light” interest stories: an upcoming city festival, construction projects, sports stories. As it shifts to the background of my attention, the show cycles through the national news and images of terrorist attacks, explosions, and protests flash across the screen. I lunge for the remote worried what Cash may have seen. Even though he doesn’t really pay attention to it, it worries me that these human pains reach his little mind without us being able to filter it or explain it to him.
We’ve now made it a point to have the TV on much less in our household. Instead of slowly waking up, coffee in hand while Cash plays with his toys in front of me, I now get off my lazy butt and turn off the TV (I can get weather reports from my phone), get down the floor and play with him. Apparently, I grunt often when my tired body plops on the floor next to him because now whenever Cash bends down, he makes grunting and straining noises. Sounds like daddy needs to get in better shape.
Anyway, this is a win-win, he gets more exposure to daddy and less to the atrocities of the outside world that our news is all-too-happy to berate us with.
Cash is going to have night terrors but if we can minimize them, we will. When we cap the night with a “sweet dreams” wish, we mean it.
One of our most important jobs as parents is as primary protectors. We aren’t going to consume the sensationalized negativity from our media and neither is Cash.
Sometimes taking a stand, means getting down on the floor.
View of Vilas
Many Madisonians have visited the Henry Vilas Zoo since it’s opening in 1911.
I went as a kid and a few times this past summer and just this weekend, Meghan, Cash and I spend some there. This shot was taken there.
The Vilas zoo is a Madison staple, especially for local families and tourists alike. There are some nice exhibits with a wide variety of animals, a new polar bear exhibit and beautiful grounds nestled beside Lake Wingra, an expansive green lawn with play areas and the picturesque homes and streets of the Vilas neighborhood.
Even more impressive than the surroundings is the story of how the park and zoo came to be.
William Freeman Vilas was an accomplished, respected man. He has a building, a county and a neighborhood named after him for starters. Vilas was a University of Wisconsin-Madison graduate who went on to lead, as a lieutenant colonel his regiment in battle in the Civil War.
Following the Union victory, Vilas got his law degree and became a Law Professor at the UW.
Vilas was then elected as a Wisconsin state assemblyman until he was appointed the Postmaster General and then Secretary of Interior of the United States by then President Grover Cleveland. Vilas was renowned nationally as a good speaker and writer, valued by the president and the Democratic party. From 1891 until 1897, Wisconsin elected him to the United States’ Senate.
William married Anna Fox from Fitchburg and they went on to have four children making their residence on Wisconsin Ave (near the Edgewater Hotel) with views of Lake Mendota.
Sadly, their son, Henry, died at a young age from complications related to diabetes.
A few years later, the couple decided to donate 63 acres of valuable land to the city of Madison under the conditions “for the uses and purposes of a public park and pleasure ground.” The donation came with a mandate–that the park and zoo forever be admission-free.
A 28 acre portion of the land would be used for a zoo-the Henry Vilas Zoo-named in honor of their deceased son.
Today, the grounds are enjoyed by 3/4 of a million visitors per year–for free. Many of whom don’t know the past generosity that allows its existence. I didn’t know it until recently but for any of us who use the park and zoo for any times of recreation should learn about, empathize with and appreciate this Madison family’s legacy.
Though the Vilas’ worked with Presidents and other highly elected officials across the world, their donation to the city of Madison was a gift intended to be enjoyed by its citizens, regardless of their position in life. Citizens they would never meet and, like us, many who didn’t even know them or about them but benefit from their gift. I hope to change that a bit.
I don’t work for nor am I affiliated in any way with the Henry Vilas Zoo but I support it now more than ever and enjoy it and am impressed by its existence. I encourage you to throw in a few bucks next time you visit and/or become a member and/or donate online if you’d like. It’s good to pause for a good cause every once in a while.
On a typical summer day,
Wingra’s wind gently greets the green grass
where families picnic
and children jump, twirl, crawl and play,
one could imagine a young Henry Vilas
amongst them, enjoying the fray.
Maybe William and Anna and see him too.
Their vision is why all are here today.
My wife, Meghan, told me I needed to start writing again. And I’m practicing listening to my wife. Seems like an attribute that will serve me well in my married life. I need to practice because it doesn’t come naturally to me.
My excuse is I was unmarried for 42 and a half years…so the only person I’ve ever consistently listened to…is me. Listening to myself, “trusting my gut” is something I’ve probably done a little better than the average guy. It also struck me that listening to yourself means purposely not listening to what others say.
Coming out of my senior year in high school, no college recruiters thought I should be playing Division 1 football. Not even Division 2. But I wanted to play for my beloved Wisconsin Badgers football team. So, I walked on, tried out…and made the team.
Then, when I made the team, a coach told me I probably wouldn’t make the team the next year. I decided not to listen and worked out harder…and made the team the next year…and the following three years all the way until we won a Rose Bowl championship for the first time in school history.
So, I’m glad I listened to me and not to others.
If you want to read more about this experience, I wrote a book about it. No Bed of Roses. I’d give you the amazon link…but heck, I’d rather you just contact me and I’ll sell you a signed copy for half price. (Please! I have 3 boxes full in my basement!)
When I graduated with a Journalism degree from the University of Wisconsin and said I wanted to try to be an actor, I listened to myself. So did others. And many didn’t think what I was saying was very wise.
“That’s no way to make a living.” “What? Are you gonna be a waiter?” “Everybody wants to be an actor.” “That’s the most competitive field there is!”
With those sentiments echoing out my ears, I moved to Chicago anyway.
After a few months working at a newspaper, and as a waiter, I booked my first professional acting gig–a Hardees commercial. My girlfriend in the spot, Michelle Monaghan, was also making her TV debut. One of us went on to star opposite Tom Cruise in a couple Mission Impossible movies and headline several other major studio films including Made of Honor, The Heartbreak Kid, and Mr. & Mrs. Smith.
I will let you decide whose career was really launched that day.
While stardom may have eluded me, I was able to snag a film role and a TV show pilot while in Chicago and armed with a few lines on my acting resume decided I wanted to go to Los Angeles and try my way onto some more shows and sets out there.
My Chicago acting friends and even my agent told me I was making a mistake. “Too green, too soon.” “You’ll be swallowed up out there.” “You will be back here in 6 months, penniless and broke.” Not sure why she had to add the “…and broke” part…feel like that was covered with “penniless.”
I’m proud to say I didn’t listen and ended up on the set of the hit show, “Party of Five” within eight months of moving to LA.
And when I say “on the set” I mean, literally, I was knocked down on the set, shoved by lead actor, Matthew Fox’s character, Charlie, for making a pass at his girlfriend!
Welcome to Hollywood!
I picked myself up, dusted myself off and starred in quite a few commercials, films and shows over the next 9 years. The One with Joey’s Fridge is The One I Will Be Forever Known For amongst my ‘friends’, former classmates, and family, as I was cast as Patrick in the Friends’ episode as a potential date for Rachel (Jennifer Aniston).
While Rachel and Patrick didn’t make it as a couple, I could say I, Chris, had “made it” as an actor.
What I’d ‘made’ was my own path, without direction from anyone on how to do it. Not only did no one make it for me, “they” told me the path I imagined wouldn’t be possible.
Just like “they” said about me trying to play college football. Just like “they” said about my wanting to be an actor. Just like “they” said about me moving to Los Angeles.
When I first pitched my book, every agent I sent it to told me no. “There are too many college football books out there.” “Oh, that story has been told.” “If you played at USC or Notre Dame, that’s different. Nobody knows about Wisconsin.”
But, I found a publisher, without an agent, and…I had my book published.
So, listening to myself, and blocking out others, served me well and allowed me to accomplishments I’m still proud of to this day. Listening is a good practice.
In the past few years, I’ve neglected my writing. There are excuses, some I would consider great ones. My marriage and my son, Cash.
Some, like being too busy or my own general lethargy, not so great.
Other than be a great husband and father…when asked what I do, or what do I want to do, I say “write.” For awhile now, I haven’t been listening to what I keep saying. But someone has. Meghan has. And, now, she’s telling me to write.
After 43 years, it’s nice to know, there is one less person I have to block out.
And one more person, to practice listening to.