Lovin' our Big Boy!

Lovin' our Big Boy!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Wipeout - Behind the Scenes and Through the Eyes of a 6 yr old

What an amazing trip we had!!! An experience of a lifetime, for sure! It has taken me a while to post about it, because I wanted to give it the time and attention it deserved. And then my friends starting asking when it was going to be on the blog...so here it is! Better late than never, right?

The week before we left for California we were ALL sick. It was rough around the Halbert house. Jack missed an entire week of school for sickness before we took him out for 3 days for our trip! Good thing it's just Kindergarten, right? Luckily everyone at school was so supportive of this once in a lifetime experience. We flew out on Saturday morning and spent the day flying (both kids did amazing!), car rental, grocery shopping at Whole Foods, and then the hunt for our hotel. Much to our relief, the hotel was quite nice. We had 2 adjoining rooms with a kitchen. Jack enjoyed playing the onboard trivia game on the plane. He thought that was fabulous and was quite disappointed when the return flight did not have the same individual screens.

Sunday we went to Disneyland, courtesy of abc. It was disorienting to feel like you generally know the concept (since we live and breathe Disneyworld) but have no clue where anything is, having never been there before. Jack enjoyed the "new" rides but quickly decided that he likes Disneyworld better (and mentioned this loudly often while walking through the park.) We stayed until dark and then headed back to get a good night's sleep before heading North to Canyon Country.

We drove north of LA and found the set location with ease. No traffic either! We arrived just before 11a to an inconspicuous set.

Corbin, the Executive Producer's Assistant, met us and introduced us to Matt Kunitz, Executive Producer and man that made it all happen and Scott Larsen, Co-Executive producer. (They worked on Fear Factor together.)

The qualifier was already in progress, so we were immediately taken over to the set. To be honest, I expected a decent greeting and then some sort of "Sit here, enjoy yourselves and try to be quiet" kind of experience. Instead, the guys introduced Jack to everyone, showed him the qualifier and explained the obstacles, and then grabbed his hand and took off! Tommy, head of Safety, had Jack running all over the set, following the contestants as they completed the course, explaining as he went. He was amazing and kind and Jack warmed up to him, and the rest of the crew, easily.

We watched about 10 contestants complete the qualifier. Most did fairly well, but one had to be pulled out of the water on a backboard (as a precaution) after he complained of pain after falling off the big balls! Here's Jack watching a contestant...he just loved every minute of it and laughed loudly when anyone fell (as did the rest of the crew!)

We walked over to meet Jill Wagner. She was very nice. She was sweet to Jack and really paid him a lot of attention. She had him pose like he had just completed the qualifier. He loved that!

Jack handed out these cards to each of the people he met, as his way of saying Thanks. Everyone really liked the little postcard.

Jill said she was going to put hers up on her refrigerator. Way to go, Jack!

Tommy and Scott Larsen took Jack up to the ramp that each contestant stands on at the start of the qualifier. That was super cool! Doesn't he look adorable? He was having such a great time!

Here are the boys hanging out "wipeout" style. Pretty cool day for us all!

Then we went in the production trailer. That was really cool. Rupert had Jack sit beside him and let him talk into the production mike (I don't know what that thing was called, but they could hear him out there on a loudspeaker.) He counted down the contestants from 5 - 1 and then "go" as each one started the course. Jill was talking to Jack thru her mike into the trailer too. Jack acted like he'd been around this stuff his whole life!

Once all 24 contestants had completed the qualifier, they determined who were in the Top 12. Matt asked Jack to go with him to the contestants' trailer area where they were all waiting. Jack read each name of the Top 12 to the group. He did amazing! Everyone was impressed with this Kindergartener!!!

Then we had lunch, catered by Craft Services, in the wipeout trailer with Matt, Corbin and the Black & Blues. Who are the Black & Blues? They are a team of 2 guys and 2 girls who are crazy enough to try each stunt when it is created. Cousin Kenny, as he's called, was super cool and chatted with us throughout the day. It is rumored that there isn't a stunt that has been created yet that Kenny can't handle! Here's a couple of pics of Jack posing with the Black & Blues!

Scott and Jack got a tour of the Art Department, where every obstacle is made, and then we got a tour of the new Wipeout Zone from Matt. I'd show you this, but I think I'd get in trouble since the season hasn't started yet. Know that it's harder than last year, that's for sure! Matt says that they aim for a 90% fail rate for each obstacle. No wonder everyone falls! Before Jill left the set, we got some pictures with her. You'll see Scott's most prized possession of the trip as well...perhaps a 20 x 30 in his office for Christmas??

Matt took Jack to see the Dizzy Dummy 2.0, a new and improved Dizzy Dummy for Season 2. And, yes, Matt was still with us throughout most of our visit. Did I mention how nice everyone was?? He put Jack on the Dizzy Dummy and spun him, just a little. Jack posed for a few pictures and then went on the obstacle that the contestants are supposed to race through once significantly dizzy. Here's Jack diving through the lower hole. Later Matt and Scott were discussing a safety issue with this obstacle and Scott tried to go through the smaller hole on the bottom. Everyone was cracking up!

The contestants all came out for obstacle #2, which is called King of the Mountain. This replaced the former "Sweeper" obstacle. Here the Top 12 compete for 6 spots. Those 6 head on to the Dizzy Dummy 2.0. and from there the final 4 compete in the Wipeout Zone. The Dizzy Dummy and Wipeout Zone are taped on a second day of filming, so we didn't see those. The contestants were read the rules of King of the Mountain. We got to hang out. Isn't this cute?

They called Jack over after the rules were explained and Jack got to reach into a bag and pull out the contestants' names, one at a time and read them to determine their placement on the podiums of the obstacle. He did amazingly well again! He's a natural born assistant!

We sat at the edge of the obstacle's pool, beside the Black & Blues. The crew would laugh so hard (and so did we!) as the contestants were falling off of King of the Mountain! It took a long time to complete this obstacle...14 minutes or so. There's a lot of editing involved in television! I'd love to show you more, but again I'm not sure what we can show in advance of the airing of the episode next Summer! Finally, the top 6 made it to the top and it was complete! And that ended taping for the day.

We walked back to the executives' trailer and said goodbye to Matt and Scott and their staff. The day ended rather abruptly and we were having such an amazing day that ending it was a little difficult to swallow for Jack. He cried a bit and I think everyone felt bad for him. They said that they had one more place to show Jack and they took him into what was like a "war room" for Wipeout. All obstacles were drawn and hanging on the wall in order by episode. I'm sure a lot of show planning goes on in this room. Someone handed Jack a stack of Power Point style pages. Each bundle of pages is an episode and all the stunts that appear in that episode, in order. He got 4 episodes of these stunt sheets. Jack was told that this is "Top Secret", so we can't show them to you just yet. Man, are they cool, though! We sure do feel special after all of this!

So we headed back to Anaheim to the hotel and Jack reminisced about the amazing day he'd had. Later that evening he said to me, "Do you know what the worst part of the whole day was, Mommy?" When I said that I didn't know he said "the leaving." Such a sweet boy.

Jack's already asked when can we go back to California to go to another Wipeout. How exactly do you explain to a 6 year old that he just experienced a once in a lifetime event? And one that will be hard to top? I just smile and change the subject, usually.

People ask me all the time, "How was Wipeout?" My most common answer..."It was like Make A Wish without the terminal illness." It was exactly that amazing. We felt special, important, and cared for by people who don't know us from just about any other of the millions of viewers. They made a little boy so completely happy. And for that I am so grateful! Wipeout crew, you are good people in my book! We love you!

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Wipeout - from Summer to Halloween and beyond!

If you've seen Jack since June 24, you know that Wipeout was his favorite summer tv show. The network obstacle course competition aired weekly on Tuesday nights on ABC and September's final week brought the 11th and final episode, AKA "the Finale". Jack has been poised, pajama'd and still on the couch each Tuesday nite at 7pm, anxiously awaiting the next set of obstacles and contestants. To say he likes this show would be the understatement of the year. So, pretty quickly our DVR became filled with this season's shows.

And then one day, as I was up in Tyler's room, I heard a shrill scream of "MOMMY!!!" and I knew exactly what had happened. He had deleted one of the shows on accident. Call to Comcast, but no luck. DVR deleted shows cannot be retrieved (thus TiVo reigns supreme with their 'recently deleted' folder.) There was a lot of crying, but eventually he came to terms with his loss.

Then, not a week later, tragedy struck again as a family member, who will remain nameless but is a retired male figure in our family, deleted a 2nd episode by accident.

That night I went into Super Mommy mode. How can I get copies for him of these deleted shows? I googled folks at abc and came up with the email addresses of the President of Television and the Publicity Mgr. for Reality TV.

I shared, with them by email, my plight, hit "send" and prayed. Here's a little of what I shared:

* he knows every contestant, how far they proceded in the competition, and what episode they appeared on
* he reenacts competitions on our couch, nightly
* he has drawn the obstacle courses, in great detail
* we have created 4 qualifier obstacle courses, complete with contestants, out of Legos
* and he is devastated that he has lost 2 previously aired episodes

Not 24 hours later, Alex Wallau, Former President of Television for ABC, sends me a short, succinct email stating that the episodes will be sent to us and to take care. Success! And, not 12 hours after that, a second response is received, this time from ABC's Media Relations Publicity Director (who happens to have a son with autism, of course), who also graciously offers to send us copies of the shows! A day later, we have a set of the full 7 previously aired episodes on our doorstep via overnite delivery!!! Amazing!

Jack was beyond excited. That was a great day. We needed to express our gratitude to the folks at ABC! But how? Jack wasn't into drawing pictures or signing cards this summer, so we decided to make a video. We worked on it for a few days and, with the magic of my new mac, were able to put together a cute video to thank the network folks for their kindness to a little 6 year old boy in Tennessee! Here's the video, because I'm sure you are curious...and it's quite relevant to the rest of the story (and what a story it is!). Be sure to click 'watch in high quality':

I sent an email to the assistant that had mailed the episodes to us and to the Publicity Director, Virginia Mastroianni, and within a matter of hours there were close to 100 hits on our YouTube video! It was flying around ABC and they were loving it!

Next came an email and package from Wipeout's Executive Producer, Matt Kunitz, of Real World, Dog Eat Dog and Fear Factor fame! Matt emailed to say that he LOVED the Lego course and was sending a slew of Wipeout promo items for his new little friend to enjoy. Jack received Christmas in July with 2 Wipeout Hats, a poster signed by the 3 hosts, a t shirt (in Daddy's size!), and a few additional previously aired episodes. Matt included a personal note to Jack and an invitation to come to Los Angeles to visit the set of Wipeout during the second season's taping later this fall. How amazing!!! Virginia Mastroianni also called to see if Jack would be comfortable appearing on the Ellen DeGeneres show to promote Wipeout!!! This was getting crazy! We did say yes to the appearance, but the timing of her show production and the end of the Wipeout season did not meet up and the appearance never came to be.

School started and things were pretty busy around here for a while. We were still enjoying Tuesday nites as the final few episodes of Wipeout aired in September. We finally were all settled in to our new routine of Kindergarten with its early bedtime and homework, so we busted out the camera and made what we like to call "wipeout 2". Jack was really into making this movie, and couldn't wait for "Mr. Kunitz" to see it. Take a gander...

What do you think Jack chose as his costume for Halloween this year? If you guessed a wipeout contestant, you'd be right!!!

I also made him his very own Wipeout tshirt, which he loves.

He also received the remaining episodes from our new friend at ABC, Alaina Killoch, who was sweet enough to email us while on location in Ohio just to say she'd send them as soon as she returned to the studio. Again Jack was thrilled, as 2 of the final episodes were pre-empted for the Jeff Fisher/Titans show. Explain that to a young fan!

Now it is November. And, much to our own surprise, we are headed out to LA this month to be Matt Kunitz's guests on the set of Wipeout (Season 2, scheduled to air next summer). ABC has also been generous enough to offer us Park Hopper tickets to Disneyland and California Adventure during our stay as well. What amazing treatment we have received! We can't wait to go. I think Jack will be amazed, although he truly has no idea how rare this all is! I'll be sure to post an update upon our return...and if Scott gets to try out the course, you know I'll have pictures and video of that to share!

Friday, October 24, 2008

Why? Or really, why not?

Yesterday, Jack and I are riding to school. He's listening to an oldie but goodie "Peep's Animal Homes" story on CD. I had stumbled upon it in the car and popped it in to surprise him. He lost his love for Peep and the Big Wide World (from TLC and Discovery Kids) a year or two ago. But the old favs still warm his heart at times. And this is one of those times. Anyway, so we're riding along and he says, from the back seat, "Mommy, why does Quack wear the same hat all the time?" and I take pause. It feels so normal. It flowed so easily. We banter back and forth with ease. I say, "I guess it is because it is the only hat he has. Isn't it funny that a duck wears a hat?" "Yeah", he laughs, and then says "Why doesn't he have any other hats?" I say that I don't know. We giggle at the silliness of a duck wearing a hat and go back to the story.

But here's the thing. Sometimes you know that something normal is special because, when you experience it, you realize that you never experience that normal thing. It was so noticeable that Jack asked me a "why" question because he never does. Not never but not often. Maybe once every two weeks or so. And I just wonder why. Why does he do it in this moment with such ease and yet not inquire in such a (simple) way on a regular basis? I am baffled. Surely it is in there, or he wouldn't be able to spit it out in times like this. Why doesn't he ask more "why questions", I ask myself. Hopefully, as he continues to grow and heal he will continue to develop this skill. Why not, right?

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Jack's Dentist Visit is a Success!!! Way to go, Jack!

Today was Jack's official first dental appointment. Yes, he's 6 (and a half, he'll remind you) but this has been one of those forbidden tasks. We tried when he was 4 with our family dentist but it was a complete disaster, full of screaming, big eyes and clamped down jaw. A failure, to say the least. But we knew we couldn't avoid it forever, so we made an appointment with Dr. Tim McNutt, Pediatric and Special Needs Dentist. Mommy was very apprehensive as she broke the news to Jack in the car on Monday about his upcoming appointment. To my amazement, Jack said "Ok, but they can just count my teeth, ok? If they hurt my teeth, they will fall out and I will throw up." Alrighty then! So we planned a bit of a "look see", and prepared the staff accordingly. If we got through teeth counting, perhaps brushing, we'd call it a success and schedule a follow up. We considered sedation, but decided to just try it first to see where we stood with him and his dentist phobia.

All week he's reminded us that on Thursday he'd be going to school AFTER he met the dentist. Mommy and Grandpa drove Jack to the dentist and he seemed comfortable with the idea. He checked out the fish tank in the waiting room and talked calmly about other things. He was quickly called back and I went with him. I was expecting some panic, but he sat nicely in the chair (we never even got that far at 4!) and Miss Donna brought him a big stuffed alligator, complete with a set of human-like teeth, a giant alligator toothbrush and giant alligator mirror. Jack thought this was great! He showed Miss Donna how to brush and they counted the teeth. The rest of the appointment went just as smoothly! They eased him into the instruments, letting him hold them, use them on "Alli", and get comfortable before using them on his mouth. He was able to watch the Disney Channel above the chair, and the distraction was effective.

Dr. McNutt offered lots of praise to Jack from the sidelines. Miss Donna counted his teeth (20), checked for 6 yr molars (none), checked for loose teeth (none of those either), brushed and used a scaler. Then Dr. McNutt came over, "checked" Miss Donna's work, and used the scaler to further clean Jack's teeth til he had a beautiful pearly white smile!! The entire appointment was 30 minutes long, and Jack never got upset or anxious. They took a picture of Jack with Dr. McNutt and printed it so he could take it and show his class at school. He got to pick a few prizes from the treasure chest for his good behavior and Dr. McNutt told him to come back when he's 7 and to bring his little brother too. Jack said "ok!"

As we walked to the car, all 3 of us proudly grinning from ear to ear, Jack said "I wasn't scared at all!" No, he wasn't scared. He kept his emotions in check and found a way to rationalize what previously had been some irrational feelings about this experience. I am overcome with pride over such a seemingly average experience. But that's all we want...is to just allow him to be like everyone else. And he sure did that today! Yay, Jack!

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Time for Birthdays

September comes in the Halbert house with many birthdays to celebrate. Uncle David on the 23rd, Daddy and Uncle Mike on the 24th and Meemaw on the 28th. We had a celebration dinner for Daddy (just the 4 of us) after work. Mommy made a special dinner for Daddy and Jack helped wrap the presents. We officially had 1 gift for Daddy and Jack was unhappy with that. He insisted that we give Daddy more presents, so he gave Daddy one of his recent drawings and we threw together a few other trinkets for Jack to wrap. He really enjoyed preparing for the "party."

The gift was a black and white portrait of Jack for Daddy's office. We also gave him an IOU for a picture of Tyler. Here's Jack's picture. He looks so grown up now!

Then a few days later Meemaw came to visit and we celebrated her birthday too. Jack made a card to be given to her from "the boys" and wrote her name: Mimal He is very into phonetic spelling these days and insisted that this is the right way to spell Meemaw. We weren't about to correct him. It was so cute!

Jack is becoming very well connected with the calendar. He now has every student in his class along with his teacher and student teacher's birthdays memorized. Funny, since his birthday is still half a year away! He also enjoys talking about what his age will be when he is in "x" grade in school. He's so quick to figure out that type of math in his head!

On the evening of Daddy's birthday party, Daddy gave Jack a very special gift. It was a watch. It is the very watch that Daddy wore when he was a boy. Jack understood the concept and was so excited to have his own watch. He proudly wore it all evening and had me take pictures of it. The next day he wore it to school where the 35 year old watch band promptly broke. So it's back to the watch shop (where it spent all summer being restored!) Hopefully Jack will be back to telling time with it again soon. He really loves it!