Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Smokestack lightning

After my niece Luna's first weekend here, we settled into our weekday routine, which has me leaving the house by 6.30. Yes, that's a.m.

Neither Luna nor anybody else wanted to wake up before I left--I didn't particularly want to either, but early to work, early to home--so she spent most of her days with Mama and the kids. That was good for everyone because we know that while Luna loves Mama and me, she didn't come to see our cute faces and amazing antics, and while 3B and Jewel love us, it only took a day before the first words out of Jewel's mouth in her crib every morning upon waking were, "Na Na? Na Na?"

I'm telling you, our kids are about as loyal as Barky ever was...What's that? You have food? You have a shiny thing? You're my new BFF!

To say that it was wash, rinse, repeat doesn't do the week justice, but it gives you an idea. Luna got to sleep in every day--something that it sounds like she doesn't get to do on any day back home, thanks to all of her activities--while Mama and the kids went to school, daycare and work. On some days, Luna did homework, which led me to believe that perhaps we're not as closely related as I previously thought.

I never knew it was legal to do homework during spring break.

On other days, Luna came into DC and either wandered through museums by herself or met up with me and walked through the Library of Congress, cherry blossoms or the Capitol. It was fun for me to see as much of her as I did, although it certainly wasn't as much as Mama and the kids got to see of her. Luna had plenty of time to see all of the kids' tricks, especially from her frequent perch shoehorned between their car seats as we drove around.

Just yesterday, Mama and I were trying to count Jewel's tricks after her 18-month checkup, during which they asked if she spoke 5-25 words. Mama instinctively answered yes, but then started wondering how many words Jewel really does say. With 3B, the question wasn't ever if he spoke enough.

Still isn't, come to think of it.

Before he was 18 months old, he had already said, "Fire engine down road," which we count as his first full sentence. (Yes, for all you Truman Capotes in the moose on the wall, he was missing a few articles and a verb, but cognitively he was putting sentences together.)

I started counting Jewel's words with "choo choo," which sound more like "coo coo," but which she had just showed off for the first time this weekend when we were taking a walk outside and she heard a distant train. She lifted up her head, turned toward the sound, looked back at me and said "coo coo." After I said, "Yes, it's a train. A choo choo." she went back to her work. Last night she showed it off for Mama by pointing to Thomas and saying it.

I'm pretty sure she also muttered "Smokestack lightning shining just like gold," but nobody else heard it.

We also counted
  • mama
  • dada
  • nana (which means either Luna or her babysitter)
  • bro bro
  • duck (which is a weird glottal sound, but perhaps that's Friesian for "duck")
  • moo moo
  • her horse sound (she actually does a pretty good whinny)
  • ba ba (at bedtime this means "bottle")
  • baa baa (at any other time means "sing me Baa Baa Black Sheep")
  • dis and dat (her first words, which always mean "what's dis?" or "what's dat?")
  • ...and so on
We got up to about 25 words, although most anyone else wouldn't understand them. We didn't count what's now her favorite gesture: holding her hand out, fingers cupped together, palm upward, extended toward whatever it is that she wants, meaning "I would like to have this right now." In a bonus move, she'll tip her head to her shoulder, believing that the cuter she is the more likely she is to get what she wants.

She's not too wrong about that. And if it doesn't work the first time, eventually it will. Wash, rinse, repeat.

Papa Bradstein, like an aging potbelly steam engine, will huff and puff and chuff 200 miles across Massachusetts in two days to help fight cancer. Please support his ride.

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Monday, March 28, 2011

Thanks for embarrassing me

I challenged you last week to embarrass me, and you came through in stunning fashion before the weekend started, guaranteeing my embarrassment by donating over $500 in just a few days to my ride to fight cancer.

As a result, I'll put this picture of myself on the jersey I'll wear on my many training rides and across the state of Massachusetts. Many thanks to you...and especially my brother for uncovering this photo.

I will sublimate my own embarrassment by sharing the pride I have in your generosity with everyone along the route--and thousands line the route and greet us at each rest stop. You'll be as well known across the state of Massachusetts as my Amish face.

Now that my Massachusetts mortification is guaranteed, you only have a few days left to put your own face or the face of a loved one on my jersey.
I'll place the photo of your choosing of anyone affected by cancer on my jersey if you donate $100 or more by March 30.

I'll send you a jersey of your own--if you're not a cyclist, you can give it to a friend or family's also suitable for framing--if you donate $250 or more by March 30.
Last year, photos included
  • cancer survivors
  • children, nieces and nephews of cancer survivors
  • parents
  • grandparents
  • beloved pets--Jewel loves to see the dogs on my sleeves
  • those lost to cancer the field is wide open for the photo you'll send me to wear across Massachusetts, bearing witness to your cancer story. But, as Ron Popeil says, time is running out, so donate today.

A set of knives doesn't come with this offer, but a cure for cancer might.

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Friday, March 25, 2011

Lamb, lamb, everywhere and not a drop of mint jelly

Since my niece is here for a week, I've decided she needs a blog name, and I'm christening her Luna. This works on many levels, including stories in which Jewel calls out for her, because based on Luna's real name, Jewel calls out "Na! Na! Na!" This could be short for Luna too.

(And don't you worry, you other "Na. Na. Na." in Jewel's life, it's a distinctly different sound from Jewel. She still knows who you are and loves you.)

OK, for the one of my loyal six readers who's still with me...on to the actual blog post.

After finding an unlikely tour guide at the National Cathedral, we went to Mount Vernon on Sunday. This was in part because I'd mentioned it in the list of places that would still be open in the event of a gummint shutdown while Luna was here and she said it would be cool to see.

Except she used whatever term the kids use these days rather than cool, which I can't remember. Yes, I'm an old man.

Added bonuses...for 3B: it's the home of George Washington and includes his tomb. During this Egypt phase that 3B is in, anywhere with a tomb is on the list. It being Washington's tomb is an added bonus carried forward from 3B's War of 1812 phase. Seriously, some days I feel like I'm raising a History Channel host.

Bonus for Jewel: it has sheep. Her favorite song, by far, is Baa Baa Black Sheep. She'll tolerate the variant that involve twinkling stars or letters, but when the chips are down--as in when she's cracked her noggin by falling off something that she shouldn't have been climbing/bouncing/dancing on in the first place and she's screaming bloody murder--singing Baa Baa, as she calls it, in her ear will settle her right down. She also needs to hear it at bedtime, while brushing her teeth and whenever she calls it out during the day. Yes, Mount Vernon does have black sheep. And, as an added bonus we were there during the season of, as our friend says, sheeplets, baby know...lambs.

For those wondering about the new visitor center and movie, we skipped all of that. Did I mention that we took the kids? Yeah, so no movie and boring displays of things and words and total lack of running around.

We headed straight through and outside to the tomb and the slave memorial, which Luna wanted to see. As we approached the tomb, I was talking to Luna, so 3B helpfully read the sign and yelled out the words to me: QUIET PLEASE!

Fortunately, we weren't the only ones who laughed.

Even before we got to the tomb, Jewel and 3B had seen their first sheepage. After the tomb and slave memorial, we went down to the wharf, where Jewel could see even more sheep while I took 3B to the bathroom. By then it was time for our tour, especially since we had to hoof all the way back up that hill to the mansion.

The tour was fantastic. It was as if they'd designed it specifically for either four-year-olds or the average American attention span for meaningful history. You walk through the house as fast as the shuffling masses before you will allow--it's like being in a slow stampede. In each room is a tour guide who talks nonstop about that room, and you hear what they say while you're in the room. Questions? Not so much. And if you want to hear more? Please keep moving.

Which was the perfect amount of knowledge to drop on the little heads we had with us.

After that, it was all running around, all the time, on the east lawn, which slopes down to the Potomac...and to even more sheepies in a field. There was running up and down the hill by 3B and Jewel, sheep watching by Jewel and Tut tomb exploring by Howard Carter, as played by 3B.

Everyone was happy about all of this until it got too cold for the adults and was time to go home, which we were also all happy about. Except maybe Luna, who's been politely wedging herself between the two car seats in the back while we drive anywhere and wrangling electronics for the kids.

I laugh every time I look back and see 3B with my or Mama's iPhone, Jewel with Luna's phone--it's a minor obsession...she even has a gesture that she uses to ask for it, and Luna with nothing.

But, of course the kids get the phones while the adults go wanting. Isn't that what parenting is about? It is for this old man, anyway.

Papa Bradstein will herd sheep 200 miles across Massachusetts in two days to help fight cancer. Please support his sheep drive.

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Thursday, March 24, 2011

An unlikely tour guide

It's travel season again, which means that I've gotten to see the inside of a hotel room outside of Boston, my childhood home for the last time, my siblings again--but hopefully not for the last time, and my niece, who's visiting us now.

It's all been good--OK, the trip to Boston for training wasn't that exciting, but a little job security goes a long way these days--but travel is both tiring and distracting, which means that I haven't had the energy or time to write much about it.

That doesn't mean that we haven't been busy, however. On Saturday we went to the National Cathedral where we thought we might take a tour, but were rebuffed by a tour guide who told us a concert was starting soon and that we had three minutes to look around and then had to leave.
"I looked on the website for the hours for today and didn't see any mention of the concert, so it's a bit disappointing."
"Well, sir, it's on the website. Touring conflicts are always listed on the site."
"I looked on the page that listed the hours for today."
"Sir, I know it's on the site. It's there somewhere."
Wow. With customer service skills like that, she's lucky to work at the National Cathedral, where visitors have no choice but to suffer along with her. If she worked for any business that had competition, she'd certainly drive them to it.

The last time Mama and I had been to the Cathedral was with Mom, when she came through DC after Mama and I returned from our honeymoon. The three of us spent all day there and had a wonderful time on the tour, going up the tower and wandering throughout the grounds. My memories of that visit are some of my most treasured recent ones of Mom, and that was why I suggested a visit there to my niece, who had flown across the country to be there.

As we suggested points of interest before she arrived my niece jumped on the possibility of going to the Cathedral. So, we'll probably go again someday, but I'll always have a bitter taste in my mouth about the place, simply because of one tour guide who couldn't find it in her heart to say, "I'm sorry you won't have more time today, but the Cathedral hours tomorrow are..."

Despite that guide, we did have a wonderful time outside looking at gargoyles and wandering, running, jumping and standing perilously close to the edge in the Bishop's Garden, where we even found a carving of thistles to tell Eeyore about when we got home. You can see it all happen.

The kids both love their cousin, even Jewel, who's skeptical of strangers--hell, Jewel is skeptical of me sometimes, but that's probably because she knows me so well. They spent much of our time in the garden playing with her or, in Jewel's case, chasing after her as fast as Jewel's little legs could go.

At the end, we found a French boy named Antoine, who was about Jewel's age. His mother speaks Ethiopian, Arabic, French and English, but apologized that her English wasn't that good. Yes, it was accented, but perfectly fluent and understandable. She asked about my older girl and I explained that despite the long hair and the pink shirt, 3B is a boy.

She apologized profusely and said that she had to endure the same questions because of her son's long hair, which was this beautiful curly cloud swaying around his face. And we chatted about what words Antoine and Jewel were learning to say and how shy they could be and so forth until it was time for us to go.

Walking away, I thought about that mother and all of the human potential that she embodied, particularly the ability to communicate across so much of the world. I thought of her son who had that as his inheritance. I thought of what I could do to bring similar gifts to my children.

And I thought that this trip to the Cathedral was a good one too.

Papa Bradstein will again be traveling--200 miles in 2 days on his bike--to fight cancer. Please support his ride.


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Our son, Max Headroom

Over the last few days, 3B has fallen back into his skipping record routine.

For those of my six loyal readers who are too young to know how a licorice pizza, LP, 45, or record skips...well, it's a bit like Max, Max, Max Headroom--the Max, Max, Max part.

Wow. Now I've dated myself twice and I haven't even started.

Anyway, he looks like he gets stuck on a word and repeats it a half dozen or even a dozen times before moving on. A phase like this passed before and we asked Mama's mom about it, since she just happens to be a speech therapist.

She explained that his brain and his mouth aren't synced up and that he's just in a holding pattern until they can resync, at which time he continues. Knowing that, when you watch him doing it, you can see it happening.

And, as we learned last night, he can feel it happening. He got stuck in the middle of a sentence and had this exchange with himself:

"Tonight we're going to read, read, read, read [smacks his own head]--oh, c'mon brain!"

See why I don't turn on the TV? I've got all the entertainment I need without it.

Papa Bradstein is going to ride 200 miles across Massachusetts in two days to help fight cancer. Please support his ride.

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Wednesday, March 23, 2011

I challenge you to embarrass me

That's me on the left below...and I will wear this picture of myself across Massachusetts and on my training rides...

...but only if I raise $500 in the next week.

And, if you contribute $250 or more, you can get your own jersey with that picture on it to forever mock me with. For only $100, you can put your face--or a loved one's--on my jersey.

It's a real win-win for you: embarrass me and fund a cure for cancer.

And, you know, many thanks to my brother for unearthing this image.

Papa Bradstein is going to ride 200 miles across Massachusetts in two days to help fight cancer. Please support his ride.

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The steps I take to fight cancer

National Cathedral

If Dad didn't die when I was 16, I wouldn't work a few flights of stairs below the man third in line to become President of the United States.

I would have never tried to work out my pain through poetry and playwriting. And so I never would thought myself a writer and taken a job writing computer manuals--lord knows I never thought myself geek enough for that task.

Nor would I have ever worked so hard at theater, which led me to Montana and meeting Mama. Montana led to Colorado, where it turned out I was geek enough to build websites, and Mama led to DC, where it turned out I was editor enough to write and edit on the web for teachers.

Without all of those steps, I never would have been able to come to work serving Congress, working for the Architect of the Capitol, both of which would have pleased the law student and engineer in Dad.

It would be too easy to say that I'd hand it all back in a heartbeat if I could only have Dad back. Would I really hand back Mama and our beautiful children? Because without his death, I'd never have met her.


Or perhaps I would have. There's no way for me to tell that. What I can tell you is that I would have liked to have the chance for Dad to meet my children or

  • to sing with 3B, who is a musician like Dad was
  • to read Ogden Nash to 3B, who loves a good rhyme scheme as much as Dad did
  • to see Jewel's curly hair and show her pictures in his baby book to see how his hair was the same when he was a baby
  • to assemble and disassemble everything with Jewel, who has Dad's methodical, mechanical mind
And I'll never have any of that, but the hope of that for anyone else is why I take the stairs.

Because perhaps another child will have a grandfather--if only we can cure his cancer. And I take the first step.

And perhaps that child will grow up to have a grandchild--if only we can cure his cancer. And I take another step.

And perhaps that grandchild will grow up and meet the love of her life--if only we can cure her cancer. And I take another step.

Because we can't recover those who we've lost, but we can protect those who are before us, ahead of us, and because we must keep moving forward and up. Forward and up. Out of the depths. Into the light.

Each step I take forward and up is a tactile, tangible reminder of who I'm riding for.

Please donate today.

Papa Bradstein is going to ride 200 miles across Massachusetts in two days to help fight cancer. Please support his ride.

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Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Can parents do such a thing?

While 3B is in preschool and Jewel is at her babysitter's, Mama goes to her office to work.

And by "her office," I mean "Panera."

It would take Mama too long to drive back to our house and then back again to the babysitter and school to pick up the kids, so after she drops them off, she parks at a nearby Panera until school's out.

She's had many adventures working from a public, and often noisy, place, and often gets glimpses into other parents' worlds that she shares with me. None have been quite as shocking to her at today's, however:

So - in front of me at a table is a mom and a 3 year old. The mom is reading a book. The 3 year old has been happily and silently eating a breakfast sandwich for the past 15 minutes.


The mom is READING A BOOK...the child is silent and content...

If I tried that, within a minute, the sandwich would be on the floor, at least one child would be on the table, and the other would be in the parking lot or in the kitchen of Panera looking for cookies.
As my sister once told me, that's what we get for raising independent and curious kids...which I'm grateful for, but I'm with Mama--reading a book? I didn't know parents did such a thing.

Papa Bradstein is going to ride 200 miles across Massachusetts in two days to help fight cancer. Please support his ride.

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Thursday, March 10, 2011

Food motivation--it's all in the wrist

Barky hated Ben Franklin.

Were he still with us, Barky would also be jealous of Jewel.

Before we got Barky, we read that beagles were food motivated, which means that they will do almost anything to get food. We thought we understood this, but the extent to which Barky was food motivated was shocking--first to us and then to Barky.

We had gotten a steel kitchen garbage can with a pedal-operated flip lid and were sure that there was no way Barky could open it. However, just to be sure that he couldn't, we wedged it under a kitchen counter that was too low to allow the lid to be opened without the can being pulled out. We then filled the remainder of the space under the counter so that the only way to pull the can out was to reach under, grab the can with a hand and slide the can straight out.

Or so we thought.

Then came the day that I arrived home to find not only the can pulled out from under the counter, opened and tipped over, but also Barky, having spread trash across the entire living room, burrowed into the can waist-deep. It was in that moment that I began to understand what food motivated meant.

After several failed attempts to keep Barky from the trash mechanically, we finally settled on an electric mat that, when stepped on, emitted a small static shock. It was irritating but harmless, as Mama and I repeatedly discovered when we forgot that the mat required us to work the pedal of the trash can without setting our heel down--easier said than done. Irritating, harmless, but effective as Barky proved when, years later, his cleverness still couldn't overcome the dreaded mat.

Now, years later, Barky were he still here, would have had an ally who was as food motivated as he was and whose cleverness surpasses even his. Her name is, of course, Jewel.

Her love of food is perhaps surpassed only by her love of dogs. Perhaps. Jewel has certainly bypassed me in the pursuit of both food and dogs, so I'm pretty sure I rank below both of them. I have no doubt that she would have teamed up with Barky in a tiny, adorable heartbeat to get food for them to share.

How clever is she?

Last night, we took Grammy to Pupatella, our favorite pizza place evah. It's about a twenty minute drive along the interstate and through surface streets to get there. As we made our final turn and were approaching Pupatella, Jewel started chanting, "Dinny. Dinny. Dinny."

Translation? "Dinner. Dinner. Dinner."

OK, but perhaps she'd just been hearing us talk about Pupatella and was getting hungry. But then we parked across the street and got out of the car. Jewel pointed her cute little finger straight at Pupatella, among the row of shops that it's in, from across the parking lot and four lanes of traffic, "Dinny. Dinny. Dinny."

Once we were inside, Jewel again devoured over half a margherita pizza while her brother, who's nearly twice her size, ate less than a quarter of a plain pizza crust. Grammy literally couldn't cut pieces as fast as Jewel could put them into her own mouth.

In the silence that came while we were all eating, I'm sure that I heard Barky whining from beyond the grave, complaining that he was cute, he was clever...why didn't we ever take him out for pizza?

It's all about the digits, dude. You've got to point and ask.

I told you he'd be jealous.

Papa Bradstein is going to ride 200 miles across Massachusetts in two days to help fight cancer. Please support his ride.

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Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Flaming shurikens

I just got home from a week in California and was tucking 3B into bed when we got to talking about his Curious George. 3B had just seen the picture of me as a boy with my Curious George.

3B: This is my Curious George. He doesn't have a red hat like your George, Daddy.
Curious George (what? your stuffed animals don't talk?): Why don't I have a hat?
3B: That's just the way life is. Life just isn't fair all the time.
Not even five and already jaded.

Later we were reading a wonderful book about knights in shining armor that my cousin gave 3B when 3B started asking if people still wore armor and fought with swords and jousted. I explained that we could go to the Renaissance Faire, where people do still do all of those things.
3B: Do they have swords?
Me: Yes.
3B: Do they fight for real with their swords?
Me: Yes.
3B: Do they have other weapons?
Me: Yes.
3B: Do they have flaming shurikens?
Me: Er...
Seriously, what does this say about us as parents?

Wait, wait, don't tell me.

Papa Bradstein is going to carry flaming shurikens 200 miles across Massachusetts in two days to help fight cancer. Please support his ride.

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Saturday, March 05, 2011

It was the best of times and a time when people wore plaid polyester bell bottoms

It was a time of long hair and long lines to get into gas stations. A time of inflation and resignation. A time of war and peace. A time of hatred and love.

It was the 1970s, and the occasion was my Grandfather's birthday. We lived 400 miles away, and corralling all six kids into a car to drive eight hours for a one hour birthday dinner--only to have to turn around and repeat the process for the return journey--was out of the question.

However, the Pacific Telephone Company, which Dad worked for, had developed something called a picturephone that allowed people to talk with each other at great distances via video. Not only that, but it had multiple microphones and cameras that were coordinated, so that when a person talked at a particular microphone, the system would cut to the camera that was focused on them.

So Dad booked us some time on it with Grandfather, Grandmother and other family on the other end of the line.

It even had a whiteboard with a separate camera focused on it, in case you wanted to do some brainstorming. Or a song and dance number, apparently.

After the call, we discussed the utility of such a system if it could be put into homes. Would people use such a thing? What if your phone rang and you were in your pajamas?

Never did we contemplate a whole cadre of workers laboring in their pajamas, slouching toward Bloggerhem. In those days, there only Hugh Hefner got to go to work in his pajamas, and even then everyone knew what he did wasn't really work. Which is totally different than what everyone thinks about bloggers.


The idea of putting it in everyone's home was, of course, an idea before its time. None of us ever even considered that it would be possible to put it in anyone's pocket. But the idea of businesses using such a system seemed logical, if expensive, at the time.

Good to see that 30 years later, someone else agrees.

And here's Dad, explaining how, 30 or so years from that day, Cisco will roll out this same system and call it "a new way of working."

Papa Bradstein is going to carry a CRT and vacuum tube video camera 200 miles across Massachusetts in two days to videochat via picturephone throughout his ride to fight cancer.

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Thursday, March 03, 2011

I'll never disinherit my kids...I'll overinherit them

I'm back in my hometown to continue the Herculean labor of cleaning out Mom's house--the house I was raised in until I bolted to college.

Mom was something of a collector and had a wide range of interests and once her nest was empty, she had seven bedrooms full of nothing but space to fill. That, combined with the fact that I have five siblings, any of whom may want any one of the iotas or items in the rooms, has led me to spend days over the past few years cataloging items in Mom's house.

Today I came across some medicine that I used in my eye--it's a long story involving scissors--when I was younger. The medicine expired in 1982.

Mom, I love you, but seriously, why were you saving this? It expired almost 30 years ago. The only thing it would be good for now would be to blind me. Unless perhaps you were saving it to remind yourself of how your son accidentally stuck scissors in his eye over 30 years ago, causing you to bolt from the grocery store, leaving a full cart in the middle of the aisle to race home and find fine, if wounded.

Pondering this, I decided that if I ever truly get upset with my kids, I won't disinherit them. I'll overinherit them.

I'll start saving every scrap of paper they touch now, ever old band-aid, every leaf or rock or rusty nail they pick up from the gutter, every program from every play they're in--in short, every reminder of everything they've ever done, and let them sift through it themselves after I'm gone.

On top of that, I'll add every ticket stub from every concert I've been to, every matchbook from every bar I've been too, every sad teenage poem I ever wrote, ever street sign I in a totally legal fashion--in short every reminder of everything I've ever done. All I need for this is for UPS to come pick up my room from this house and deliver it to my kids.

Papa Bradstein is going to ride 200 miles across Massachusetts in two days to help fight cancer. Please support his ride.

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Wednesday, March 02, 2011

I fall in love every day

Last night, I gave Jewel her bottle as I sang my favorite lullaby. She alternated between studying the flashing LED on the smoke detector above her and locking eyes with me until she was done, pulled out her bottle and plugged in her pacifier.

I pulled out her pacie, brushed her teeth and then let her steal the brush from me and make her escape rolling across the bed. We rolled around laughing until we ended up lying with our faces inches apart, smiling at each other.

Then Jewel reached out, softly rubbed the back of my shoulder and quietly said, "Daddy. Daddy."

Papa Bradstein is going to carry his children in his heart 200 miles across Massachusetts.

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