Orange Parenting: Don't Fear the Orange

CLEVELAND, OH - MARCH 18: The Syracuse Orange mascot walks on the court during the game against the Indiana State Sycamores during the second round of the 2011 NCAA men's basketball tournament at Quicken Loans Arena on March 18, 2011 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

In the history of Santa's Lap pictures, there has never been a happy two-year-old documented. Oh, occasionally you'll get a Christmas card with a toddler looking festive and presentable, but what you don't see is the mother behind the camera, either holding a ridiculously large lollipop bribe or standing on her head. I mention this because of Otto. You'd think that we are lucky to have a fuzzy, smiley, and entertaining mascot, right? No fangs or swords in sight. But Otto's a mascot. He is not a person in everyday clothes, so he is scary. Ask any toddler.

I was a Little Orange during the Dome Ranger-Dome Eddie-Beast of the East debacle. Actually, I vaguely remember the Saltine Warrior, too, but it’s probably more family lore than actual memory. None of those characters were the types that you wanted to high five or be photographed with for posterity. By the time Otto became a regular, I was well beyond my mascot-chasing years, but I am determined that my children will love him.

I've worked out a six step plan to minimize tears and maximize Otto love. We're on step 4 right now. You'll know when we have finished this plan when I post a picture of my girls on each side of Otto, smooching his cheeks, er, peel.

Step 1 – The Otto Doll – In our stash of Syracuse paraphernalia, my husband and I have an Otto plush doll that waves his finger and plays "Down, Down the Field" when you press his hand. He was there in the delivery room with us. He quickly became a favorite toy in our house, and we had our younger daughter saying, "Otto" as one of her first ten words. I’m serious. And quite proud.

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Step 2 – The Sightings – At the Dome and Syracuse University's family events, we point out Otto excitedly and compliment exemplary behavior from other children. "Look! There’s the REAL Otto! Oh, he just did a somersault. He’s so funny! That little boy is standing right next to Otto. He’s so brave. Maybe you’ll do that someday."

Step 3 – The Mall - Each mall in the Syracuse area has store dedicated to Syracuse University licensed goods. A stay-at-home-mom like myself often needs an excuse just to get out of the house, so I play the "Let's go visit the Otto store" card about once a week. Shoppingtown is our closest mall, and we've become close enough with the weekday salesperson there that she actually gave us a floor model Otto doll when it was no longer on display. The girls pick out shirts with Otto on them, admire Otto ornaments, and each own a small plush doll. To repay the store for its entertainment and training value, we do purchase our Orange apparel there, but we don't make a purchase on every visit.

Step 4 - The High Five - When the children were very comfortable with the idea that Otto is a hero in this world, we ventured out of our seats at the Dome to go see him. I was a little cocky, thinking that my groundwork would lead us to an easy high five. Nope. This step turned into more of a repeat of step 2, each time at a closer distance. I'd estimate it took about half dozen mascot visits before the big high five took place. Even then, my older Little Orange had to delegate her younger sister as the guinea pig. "She goes first, she goes first." She'll make good upper management material someday with her delegation skills. But when Littler Orange safely high fived, we had a second one the next moment.

Step 5 - The Chaperoned Photo - Due to fortunate circumstances, we were in a small group with Otto for about 30 minutes last summer. We repeated steps 2 and 4 for a while. Otto lived up to my admiration for him and played peek-a-boo, hide-the-hand-inside-the-body, and other mildly amusing games. Then I handed off my camera. I still had some leg hugging going on, but with the assurance that Mommy would be there, we got something to share with the grandparents. Note the suspicious look my older daughter has on her face and the fact that I had to carry the younger one.*

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Step 6 - Realizing the Dream - Here's my goal for the end of this six step plan: Someday my girls will be sitting in our Tops Family Section seats. Otto will come by on his rounds. Suddenly, two girls will independently rocket out of their seats, politely squeeze by our neighbors, sprint down the stairs, and each grab one of Otto's legs, possibly knocking him down. Upon recovering, Otto will put an arm around each of my girls, they will all smile for me, and I will capture the moment to share immediately on Facebook and Twitter. Oh, you will hear about that moment here, probably more than once, and we will all sleep more comfortably knowing that my Otto dreams have been fulfilled.

After last week's Orange Parenting column, I heard from some parents with children older than four. Their inspiring words and photos make me think my plan will work. Have I forgotten anything?

*While I was uploading this photo, both Little Oranges saw it on my screen. I was treated to a chorus of "Otto! Otto!" and some begging for turns on the laptop. Otto is far less scary when he's not actually there.

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