30 April 2015

Bed, Bath, and Out of My Mind

So, last night, there was a 15 to 20 minute period so comically absurd and bizarre that I wish I could describe it as extraordinary and unique. Which I would, if it weren’t absolutely par for the course and the type of event that pretty much defines my entire life.

The wife went out to an event. So I was on my own for dinner, baths, and bedtime. The amount of praise and respect that I demand for this period of time—which is usually no more than 2.5 hours total—may seem fairly unreasonable, but I think I deserve it. Especially after this.

(Of course, there are other opinions. Recently, when I casually suggested that I was “Super Dad” in a week that I took one kid to preschool, hung out with the other one while he was sick, and attended a field trip to a farm where I had to handle multiple goats, my wife’s response was that “Super Dad” was basically just “Regular Mom.” I’m not sure I see her point.)

Anyway, this scenario should explain absolutely everything about my life. So, my kids and I come inside from playing tag (I didn’t want to play tag, but again, Super Dad) and we’re about to get ready for a bath. “I need to poop!” the 3-year-old tells me urgently. He has been very particular lately about things like locations and times and tasks, so I must ask him (presuming will only get me into trouble) which bathroom he’d like to use. “Upstairs!” he says.

So we head upstairs. I help the little one get situated and start to locate clean pajamas for post-bath. (Seriously, Super Dad.) The older one starts shifting his body strangely and gets a weird look on his face.

Me: You have to go too, don’t you?
6YO: I can wait.
(He is not convincing.)
Me: Don’t hold it in. It’s not good to hold it in.

There is only one bathroom available to him at the moment. Downstairs. He is wary of being left alone down there. The little one is also not keen on the idea. There’s a stereo in their room, adjacent to the bathroom. I offer to play music for the little one while we’re gone.

“How about Holly Jolly Christmas?” he asks, excitedly.

Yes, it is April. Practically May. And my 3-year-old is only interested in the Burl Ives Christmas classic. What about last week when you were obsessed with Song 2 by Blur and I was so proud of you? No dice. Okay, A Holly Jolly Christmas, it is.

Set on repeat.

I race downstairs with the older one. “If he gets music, I want music, too,” he tells me. Yes. This is absurd. Ridiculous. But arguing will only extend this entire process. I concede. I tell him I’ll get the laptop and ask what he wants to hear.

But he is fickle. He changes his mind. “Can you just turn the volume up on the monitor?”

I do. So now, Burl Ives is singing about “the best time of the year” throughout my entire house, at full volume, to accompany both my children’s time in the bathroom.

This is actually happening.

The next 15 to 20 minutes (I’m really not exaggerating this figure, as much as it seems like I might be) are spent running up and down the stairs, checking in, fielding completely random questions.

3YO: Dada? I’m done!
Race upstairs.
Me: You’re done?
3YO: No.

Back downstairs.
Me: How’s it going?
6YO: Fine. Dad. You know what Lego set I really want?
3YO: Dada!
Me: Scooby-Doo.
6YO: No. Well, yeah, I want the Scooby-Doo sets. But do you know what other set I really want?
3YO: Dada!
Me: I’ll be right back.

Race upstairs.
Me: Are you done?
3YO: No. I dropped my sock.

Back downstairs.
6YO: You know what puppet I want to make next?
Me: What puppet do you want me to make next?
3YO: Dada!
Me: Sorry. I’ll be back.

3YO: Can I see the poop?
Me: No.
3YO: Mama shows me the poop.
Me: No, she doesn’t.

Back downstairs.
6YO: Is he still going?
3YO: Have a Holly! Jolly! Christmas!

Me: Are you done yet?
3YO: Five more minutes.
Me: Nobody needs this much time.

6YO: I’m done.
Me: Finally. You’re so weird. Who poops at exactly the same time?

His response is completely nonchalant and pointed as if I’ve asked the dumbest question in the history of the world. “We’re brothers.”

Not a reasonable explanation.

This is why I don’t answer emails or Facebook messages or call people on their birthdays. It’s why I can’t tell you which one is Ariana Grande and which one is Iggy Azaelea. It’s why I don’t spend more time writing or planning or thinking or being productive in any way. Because this kind of thing is going on all the time.

Over and over and over again. And so now, if you’ll excuse me, I just want to take a nap. Until July.

13 November 2014

The Mom Scene, Part 2

Apparently, there was more. Here’s a further dispatch from my wife’s adventures in the land of motherhood . . .

3:30 pm: Everyone’s awake. Everyone has more energy than I do. Way, way more energy. I swear they’re doing crank when I’m not looking. The constant attempts at flying off the couch. The violent mood swings. The nosebleeds. It’s all starting to make sense.

3:45 pm: Provide a healthy snack.

4:00 pm: Wipe, sweep, and/or vacuum snack detritus from every surface of the house, including rooms they didn’t even enter. It’s like a really bad magic trick. They are Uri Geller with apple slices. More often than not, I find Cheerios inside the feet of the little one’s pajamas. What?!?

4:15 pm: Head outside. It’s gloomy and everything’s still wet from the previous night’s rain, but the walls are closing in and at least one out of three of us is not going to survive inside any longer.

4:17 pm: Wonder how anyone can be so singularly obsessed with ants.

4:19 pm: Wonder how a person who has only been walking for a little more than a year can toss a Frisbee at the exact angle necessary to wholly decapitate a large, lush, flowering plant.

4:35 pm: Play tag. Their legs are so short, how can they be so fast?

4:36 pm: Oh, right. The crank.

5:00 pm: They want the Stomp Rocket out of the garage. Only three out of five rockets get stuck in trees and/or the roof, and of those three, we manage to shake two down. The last one will require hurricane-force winds or a ladder. Either way. Not. My. Job.

5:25 pm: The husband is home. I go into the bathroom to do a shot of tequila pee.

5:28 pm: Enter the kitchen to find he has brought flowers. And beer. And wine. He’s not Dave Grohl, but he ain’t half bad.

5:37 pm: I put some music on, the beer is good, dinner’s going. My kids are pretty cute when we’re separated by a sliding glass door.

5:54 pm: Pretend like the dandelion I’ve just been given is the most special thing in the world, even though it makes me sneeze. And it’s the fifth one I’ve received this week. And when they opened the door to bring it in, 5,000 dirty leaves blew in with them.

6:00 pm – 7:30 pm: A list of sentences uttered during the hour and a half that spans dinner and bath time, in no particular order:

“No feet on the table.”

“No feet in your mouth.”

“We do not spit our milk onto our plates.”

“Stop laughing at him.”

“Do not touch your brother’s penis.”

“Do not touch YOUR brother’s penis, either!”

“Yes, I suppose that piece of potato sort of looks like a TIE fighter.”

“Yes, your potato looks like a TIE fighter, too.”

“He doesn’t need help getting his sock off.”

“Or the other sock.”

“That’s gross.”

“Are you guys asleep yet?”

“I pee-peeing in the baftub.”


7:47 pm: The four of us are piled up on the couch. Their hair is damp and combed and smells of baby shampoo because I will never stop using baby shampoo on them, not ever. They insisted on wearing matching pajamas tonight, and I am wrecked with their cuteness.

8:01 pm: Without warning, the little one grabs my cheeks, smushes them toward my lips and says, “Mama fish face!” and laughs hysterically. He stops just as suddenly, hugs me with all his tiny might, and says, “I love you, Mama. You are mine best buddy.” I kiss his soft little forehead and make a mental note to buy him more blue dishes.

8:25 pm: We are looking out the window at the top of the stairs, saying goodnight to the moon. The big one: “Goodnight, everything in the whole entire universe.” The little one: “Goodnight, everything in the whole tired universe.”

9:00 pm: They’ve been in bed for less than an hour and I’m looking at pictures of them on my phone. “What are you doing?” the husband asks. “Look how cute they are,” I reply. “I miss them.” He rolls his eyes more than is necessary and hands me a glass of wine.

Ed. Note: There was an appropriate amount of eye-rolling.

06 November 2014

School of Rock

When you’re a parent, you learn time is not on your side. On a regular basis, in a variety of situations, you find yourself thinking, This, like all things, will end. For me, lately, it is driving the Doozer to school. Someday he won’t need me to drive him anywhere. Or won’t want me to drive him anywhere. Which will be worse. So for now, I’ll enjoy it.

And spend that time talking about Legos. Top five Lego Movie Lego sets. And Hobbit Lego sets that he doesn’t own, based on a movie he’s never seen. But they are online and in the Lego catalogue, so obviously he must know all about the backstory of those Lego sets, so I find myself recounting entire plotlines from Peter Jackson epics.

Ad nauseum.

But then we listen to music. This is our time to rock out. It’s one of the things that always takes me back to being a kid myself. Riding in the car with my dad, listening to the oldies station. He knew every word to every song and I know I’ll never forget those times with him.

And now the Doozer and I have our own music in the car tradition. Recently, he requested, nay demanded, to hear more rock-and-roll songs. You know, the ones with the drums and air guitar. Not sure how it started, what song he heard that prompted the request (might’ve been a Green Day tune), but who am I to deny such a request. I will create a playlist of rock songs.

(And yes, no matter what type of guitar we hear, it is always an air guitar. Also, the kid plays a pretty mean one himself.)

He already loved the Foo Fighters and Jack White and Pearl Jam. (Yes, you are correct, I am absolutely doing a fantastic job as a parent. And then some.) But of course I will take this valuable opportunity to further his education and shape his young mind. I am more than happy to be the Lester Bangs to his William Miller.

We’ve never gone in for the kiddie rock, with very few exceptions (Elizabeth Mitchell’s family sing-a-long version of “Three Little Birds” is lovely and one of our favorites). Our kids are going to like what we like. It gets harder the more they comprehend, the better their awareness becomes. And their ability to repeat things. Finding songs without inappropriate lyrics we don’t want him repeating in his first grade classroom can be a challenge. But this is one parenting challenge that we are comfortable with facing. And conquering.

Of course, there are still questions.

“Why does that guy scream like that?” he asks.

That guy is Julian Casablancas.

“It’s a type of singing,” I reply. “The guy from Pearl Jam does that sometimes.”

“Not like this guy,” he says. He seems equally impressed and baffled by the shrieking lyrics of The Strokes’ “Juicebox.”

I mean, really, what 6-year-old sings along to “Fell In Love With a Girl” at top volume? Or Weezer? Or the Stiff Little Fingers? (Thank you, High Fidelity.) The Yeah Yeah Yeahs. The MC5. The Darkness. (Of course, it’s easier to hit that falsetto when you’re his age.)

He is particularly impressed with Lenny Kravitz’s shredding skills. So, every morning, we’re taking it all the way back to 1993 in that car as he bounces gleefully, plays his air guitar, and sings along to “Are You Gonna Go My Way?” with a giant grin across his face.

And he’s right. That Lenny Kravitz is pretty damn good at air guitar.

23 October 2014

The Mom Scene

On a recent afternoon, I texted my wife to see how her day was going. And this was her response.

6:38 am: 6:38, 6:38, 6:38. Everyday this kid wakes up at 6:38. It’s like we’re in a ratings-desperate spin-off of Lost and the numbers 6-3-8 are super important but no one knows why. Not 6:37, no thank you. 6:40? Poppycock! I will rise at 6:38 every morning, regardless of the time I fell asleep the night before, and you will begin catering to my every whim. Got it, lady?

6:38 and 29 seconds: I scoop up Little Brother and hurry him out of the room before he wakes his big brother, who occasionally and awesomely sleeps ALL THE WAY UNTIL 7:30 AM.

6:39 am: Consider the alternative, to let him wake up the Doozer, lock them both in the room with a box of cereal and go back to bed. Decide that this is probably bad parenting, no matter how tempting.

7:00 am: We settle down with a large mug of black coffee and diluted apple juice in a sippy cup for a thought-provoking episode of Max and Ruby, in which Max derails Ruby’s attempt at organic, artisanal beauty products by eating her supplies. Ponder a business venture (run by cartoon bunnies) in which a locavore and a craftswoman could work together harmoniously.

7:12 am: Recall that when I was first pregnant, I thought I wouldn’t let my kids watch television. Snort audibly at my prenatal naïveté.

7:30 am: Shower. Alone. With the door closed. A cherished luxury made possible only because my husband’s new commute is shorter than the old one and he no longer leaves the house by 7.

7:45 am: Exit the bathroom to find the Doozer awake. I begin warning them both that we will have to go to Target this morning. Words I will repeat 300 times over the next hour and still, they will both act shocked and horrified when I herd them upstairs to get dressed after breakfast.

8:00 am: Make breakfast.

8:05 am: Call the kids to breakfast.

8:06 am: Call the kids to breakfast.

8:07 am: Call the kids to breakfast.

8:08 am: Call the kids to breakfast.

8:09 am: Pee.

8:11 am: Call the kids to breakfast REALLY LOUDLY while physically prying toys from their chubby little fingers.

8:13 am: Unload the dishwasher and try to explain to a 2-year-old why he can’t have the blue plate for every meal and that his breakfast will taste just as good on the orange plate. Continue this conversation throughout the duration of breakfast, getting washed up, brushing teeth, getting dressed. Try to decide if we could avoid future iterations of this conversation by eliminating all the blue plates from the house, or by getting only blue dishes forever and ever until we die.

9:50 am: Load everyone into the car with the 900 things they need to take a 1-mile trip and realize I forgot to eat breakfast. Hunger is totally fine. I don’t need food.

9:57 am:   Head into Target, where we [REDACTED] until we agree to [REDACTED]. Continue our shopping trip when [REDACTED] and I plead for [REDACTED] until I give up, drive home, and try to decide which neighboring town’s Target is closer, since we’ve been [REDACTED].

12:11 pm: I sit down at the lunch table with the boys. Not to eat, mind you. I don’t eat meals sitting down LIKE A HUMAN BEING anymore. Just to sit down, while the one who likes food is distracted by a plateful of it and the one who doesn’t care a whole hell of a lot for food (not my child) is physically strapped to his chair for the next 20 minutes.

12:14 pm: A carefully sliced grape-half tumbles to the floor and bounces off my big toe. I ignore it.

12:15 pm: "Mama! A gwape! On the floor! Mama!! A gwape is on the floor!" I am stone-faced. I welcome and appreciate the opportunity to ignore your ridiculous emergency.

12:17 pm: The clouds in the sky today remind me of one of our wedding photos, taken almost 9 years ago. I think about that perfect fall day in Michigan, crisp and sun-warmed all at the same time, friends and family and love and food and drink and promises of family and unity and TOGETHERNESS.

12:19 pm: Regret it. I could have been a nun! I could have gone to culinary school in Paris! I could have toiled on a fishing boat in Alaska, which probably includes the added and totally awesome bonus of never having to shave one’s legs! I could have slaved away at an unassuming desk job for an a-hole boss for a hundred years until I died without fanfare, but at least I could have EATEN MEALS SITTING DOWN.

12:22 pm: The big one gets the little one’s grape from under the table and asks me in earnest whether it can be rinsed off or if I can get him a new one. (The big one’s a good person. He’s my child. This other one fell off a turnip truck and rolled onto our front lawn. “Please, can we keep him, please? PLEEEEEEEEASE?” “Uh, he’s kinda cute. Sure.”)

12:23 pm: That would be funny if it was my actual birth story.

12:24 pm: Slice more grapes in half, wash knife. My life is repeating itself, only not in a cool Groundhog Day sort of way, just in a really mundane, no one enjoys halving grapes THE FIRST TIME kind of way.

12:35 pm: Wash. More. Dishes. Again.

1:00 pm: Read, cuddle, coerce, threaten the little one to take a nap. Promise the big one I will play table hockey with him if he gives me ten minutes to relax first. Ensure ten minutes of quiet time by letting him play Angry Birds on my phone.

1:50 pm: Check email, Facebook. I learn that if I had not quit my previous job when I was pregnant, I would currently, at this very moment in time, be hanging out with the Foo Fighters at work. This was the kind of job where, if you were having a craptastic day, someone would grab a bottle of whiskey and a couple of glasses out of the kitchen, and shortly you’d have obtained enough liquid perspective to get through the rest of the day.

2:00 pm: Settle in for the fifth consecutive day of our Naptime Classic table hockey tournament. Try not to sob openly about my parallel life, the one in which I’m presently shooting the breeze with Dave Grohl and Pat Smear.

2:25 pm: I declare the Doozer champion, magnanimously neglect to tell him that I let him win, and set him up with some Legos so I can get some work done in the brief but wondrous window of time that is the Afternoon Nap. When the little one gives up his Afternoon Nap, you may just find me wandering under a freeway overpass, half-dressed and disoriented. Don’t send help. It’s better for everyone this way.

2:26 pm: You texted to ask how my day was going.

25 September 2014

I Believe the Children Are Our Future

It’s true. They are. I don’t quibble with that. The late, great Whitney was onto something. It’s the second part of her sentiment that troubles me.

Teach them well and let them lead the way.

Here’s the problem. As a parent, I spend a great deal of time feeling like Nick Burns, your company’s computer guy.

Now, I’m aware that teaching kids is an important part of being a parent. It might be the most important part. And it’s supposed to teach you about patience and empathy and understanding. None of the above. If anything, I feel like it’s made me less patient. Less understanding.


They’re just so slow. And sloppy. And erratic. All the time.

They’re doing it wrong. To my mind, they’ve taken “You’re doing it wrong” to a whole new level. Given it a whole new meaning. You’re doing everything wrong. Their incompetence, inability to follow simple directions (or even to just hear, sometimes), frustrates me to no end. 

Also, I'm just kind of lazy. Teaching is annoying and I have no interest. But also, they don’t want to learn. They just want to screw around and smack me in the face.

Yes, I will feed a kid to avoid picking up spilled food. I will pick up toys because I’m tired of the room being cluttered. I will tie shoes rather than instruct how to tie shoes.

It’s like that old saying, if you want something done right . . .

“They are children,” my wife constantly reminds me.

“I don’t care,” I reply. “They should know better.”

My expectations are not that high. I want them to remain adorable small children who possess the grooming habits and basic life skills of fully functional adults. Is that so much to ask?

Never mind, I have to go organize 900 bins of toys.

18 September 2014

Me Time

When you’re a family, you share everything. Space, meals, the TV. Good times and bad times. And sickness. Oh, the humanity. The sickness.

Like the world’s worst game of tag, illnesses pass between kids, from kids to parents, from parents to kids. They just tear through the populace like a plague. Literally. You spend so much time teaching your kids to share and then all of a sudden you wish you could make it stop. 

And you can’t.

We had our share of sickness this summer. Having sick kids is pretty horrendous. I mean, more than usual. But at the same time, I am always amazed by how quickly they bounce back from it. Perhaps the clearest indication of a sick kid is watching their energy go from a level of about 5,000 to zero. Immediately. Then it’s always incredible when you are able to give them some relief from their predicament.

Just one dose of Tylenol and suddenly they’re flying off the floor like Uma Thurman in Pulp Fiction, ready to run around and take on the world again. I wish that a single Tylenol did that for me. Maybe I just need to take more of them.

The other amazing (and by amazing, I mean pretty horrible) thing you witness is when your child throws up the first time. Another milestone! But this one you won’t want to document. You’ll want to forget it ever happened, but like a scene from American Horror Story, it’s etched into your brain and you’re unable to banish it.

The horror and shock that comes over a kid when they get sick for the first time looks like it is powerful enough to break their brain. They’re just so . . . surprised by the whole thing.

What is this? their pale, desperate faces seem to be saying. This is possible? Why didn’t anybody warn me about this? I will kill you for allowing this to happen. Oh, look, a squirrel.

Of course, there was one good thing about getting sick this summer. (Or so I thought.) When I came down with something particularly nasty (and it hadn’t come from the kids in the first place), the wife made an executive decision to get them out of the house and away from their ailing father. Protect the children!

Sure, I was laying on the couch under a blanket wishing that I was dead, but at the same time, I suddenly found myself experiencing something I’d almost forgotten existed, something that I was certain had entered the realm of myth, akin to spotting a unicorn or Nessie.

Alone time.

No whining, no diapers, no tugging on my beard. No excitable 2-year-old smacking me in the face. No Nick Jr. or Disney Jr. or insistent pleas to run myself ragged playing our 1,273rd game of tag. The chance to put on an R-rated movie in the middle of the day. Which I promptly did.

And then I noticed something. Or rather, heard something. There was a strange sound that I couldn’t quite place. Something spooky. Eerie.

It was quiet. The house empty. I was alone. And then something even stranger happened. I realized I missed them. I missed them.

Really? I thought. Really?

Little jerkstores. Be glad to be rid of them, don’t count the minutes until they return. But that’s what happened. I’m stuck with these people. And yes, they make me crazy. But I can’t imagine a single day without them. And when they’re not there, I feel kind of lost. Aimless. 

And then of course they’re back and the whole vicious cycle starts all over again and I find myself hoping, wishing again for some kind of terrible illness, the enduring of which seems worth the brief respite of peace and quiet it will afford me. Because I’m a terrible parent. Or maybe just a parent.

I’m going to go with the latter. 

11 September 2014

When I Grow Up

Not long ago, just before the school year began, the Doozer and I were out in the yard, playing around, when he stopped and asked, “What did you want to be when you grew up?”

At first, it seemed like it was out of the blue. But it was clearly something that had been on his mind, something he’d earlier discussed with his mother. And his question was innocuous enough. Just curious, not cutting. But still. It could easily be interpreted as, This isn’t what you really wanted, is it? You have to have had other ideas.

Tell me you had other ideas.

I thought for a moment about how to answer. I mean, here’s the thing. I used to have hopes, dreams, ambitions, aspirations. Now I look forward to a day when I don’t have to wipe another person’s bum.

So I told him my dream. About being a writer. And then something occurred to me, which I hadn’t necessarily thought of before, or thought of in these terms.

I’ll tell you a secret, I added. Your mom and I. We’re not really grown up. Not yet.

He didn’t entirely understand. Gave me a quizzical expression. For his experience of the world, the wife and I are as old as the moon. How could we not be grown up? He said as much.

I tried to explain. Life is a process. Ongoing. Things change every day. People change every day.

More quizzical looks. And then a plea to play tag. Our entire conversation forgotten.

But still, that conversation got me thinking. What kind of parent would I be if I didn’t dream? If I didn’t have desires or ambitions or crazy hopes? How do I inspire him and his brother to have dreams, if I don’t at least try to demonstrate what it looks like to dream?

On the first day of first grade, just like on the first day of Kindergarten, he told us he wanted to be a Lego designer when he grew up. I’m thinking if you take a gander at your Facebook news feed and check out the signs other kids held up on the first day of school, you would not see this one. Firefighter, maybe. Or cowboy. Princess. But not this.

His obsession with Legos has led him to the Lego website, where he spends a lot of time watching videos and looking at images of sets he would like to own. But his favorite part is the videos where the designers discuss their process and show off all the details of their sets.

He’s interested in a process, not just a thing. That spark needs to be nurtured. Of course, will Lego designer even be a job when he grows up? I don’t know. And he’s 6, so obviously he might change his mind. He will probably change his mind. But this seems like an important part of being their dad. To encourage them to dream. To reach for the stars. And think big. Maybe that’s my whole job, actually.

Apart from that whole stupid wiping bums thing. God, I hate that part.