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Michael Picarella: Playtime bits from the ‘burbs

Picarella Family Report

Posted: January 8, 2010 9:39 p.m.
Updated: January 9, 2010 4:55 a.m.
It’s easy during tough times such as these to derail emotionally, to get depressed, to lose focus due to overwhelming despair, to miss the things in life that really count. The other day, while driving south on Interstate 5 into Orange County, I drove past Disneyland and forgot to point out to my family using my usual Disneyland Monorail announcer voice the site of the majestic Matterhorn Mountain. After we went by, my wife asked if I was OK, if I was working too hard, if I was working too much. This was a telling sign, indeed, that playtime is needed in my life — that or someone pulled a fast one on me and moved the mountain.

Spaced out
My 6-year-old son, a first-grader, is learning more in school than I remember learning at his age. Thanks to the California Distinguished School he attends, he knows all the continents on the planet, he produces art that’s suitable for framing and he can do math that I couldn’t do in high school.

Before winter break, he and his classmates each had to do an oral presentation in front of the class where they were graded on eye contact, hand gestures, the use of visual aids, and the memorization of at least four lines of dialogue. My son’s going to be smarter than me within the year, which is fine.

But I worry he doesn’t have a chance to be a kid, that academics are consuming his life. He assured me, however, that he gets plenty of time to play. A couple weeks ago while at recess, he said, he and some friends put a man into space.

Sick until Friday
My son and I were on a pedal boat. I felt motion sickness coming on. I told the kid we’d have to pedal back to shore, that I was feeling sick. The next day, my son said, like me, he got sick from the boat. He proved it with a few lung-shattering coughs and a sniffle. Then he told me he’d have to miss the first week back at school. He assured me, however, that he’d be better again on Friday afternoon — just in time, miraculously, to play on the weekend.

Roller coaster
As a young kid, I found riding roller coasters to be horrifying — the train could fly off the track; the seat harness could break loose and I could fall out; the stilts that hold the track a million feet in the air could collapse and send me to my death. But then I became a teenager — I became smarter than everyone else — and I realized people were getting on and off without dying.

I learned that roller coaster makers have safety codes and standards, and constant tests to ensure safety. And then I experienced enough life to realize that accidents do, in fact, happen. Procrastination and the lack of communication are the differences between “The track is fine” and “The track has a bloody gap in the middle!” And that’s why, at age 33, riding roller coasters is horrifying again.

Queue Pileup
A new study reveals that when waiting in line to go on a ride, stepping on the heels of the people in front of you and practically spooning them doesn’t make you get on any faster.

Race to get dressed
Getting a 6-year-old dressed in a hurry can be a challenge. Mine often gets distracted and can turn the task into an all-day event.

To avoid being late to a particular engagement, I made the chore of getting dressed into a game. “Whoever gets dressed first wins,” I said. And then came the rules: “OK, Daddy, if I get dressed first, then I’ll run into your room. If you get dressed first, then you run into my room. If I run into your room, I win. If you run into my room, you win. If we both win, we’ll crash into each other in the hallway ... ”

After his 15-minute breakdown of the rules, and after a few “pauses” in the game so I could help him turn his socks inside out and tie his shoes, we successfully became late.  

Michael Picarella is a Valencia resident and a proud husband and father. His column reflects his own opinion, not necessarily that of The Signal. To contact Picarella or to read more stories, go to


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