30 December 2010

Santa Claus Has Left the Building

That was quick.

Just yesterday it was Thanksgiving (hell, it was summer) and now it's almost New Year's Eve. All that build-up, all that anticipation, and in the end, Christmas came and went in the blink of an eye. Or more like a blur, of rich food, reams of wrapping paper, twinkling lights, and as the Grinch himself might say, "Noise, noise, noise!"

Most of that noise being the shrieks and squeals (of delight, for the most part) from a two-year-old boy adrift in a sea of new toys. Yes, Santa Claus was very good to the Doozer this year.

Sure, he got his toothpaste. But that did not prove nearly as wondrous or distracting as the carton of Goldfish crackers that he discovered midway through his stocking. Being something of a Goldfish addict myself, I can understand the salty succor that can consume you upon tasting them. But for it to overtake you completely, so that you want to do nothing more than snack contentedly while a mountain of gifts sits nearby under the tree, untouched and still wrapped?

The Doozer is one weird kid. I know I keep coming back to this, but I do find it amazing. Are other kids this weird?

Then, in a moment of distraction (perhaps it was the Santa Claus Pez dispenser), the Goldfish crackers were whisked away to the kitchen and the project of unwrapping all the new goodies could commence. I say project, which seems appropriate, but marathon is also a good word. We may have gone a bit overboard with the presents this year, the wife and me. So much so that the Doozer actually lost steam--lost interest--in unwrapping new toys. New toys! His wary expression suggesting an inner monologue along the lines of: This is a lot of work. What is wrong with you people? Get me some breakfast--hey, wait a minute, where did those Goldfish crackers go?

So, this year we sought out toys without bells and whistles, simpler things that we hoped would fire the Doozer's imagination. Of course, one set of grandparents did get him Alphie the robot (at our suggestion, we fully admit), a golden oldie from our own childhoods, reissued for a new generation. A robot who helps you learn, Alphie is a toy with two volume settings, which are apparently LOUD and LOUDER.

The Doozer discovered Alphie through one of the various toy catalogues that cluttered our living room in the weeks leading up to Christmas--his favorite being the ones from Target and Toys "R" Us. He made a lot of discoveries in those pages. Lego Harry Potter allowed him to learn all the names of the characters in that franchise--seriously, all of the names (proud parenting moment that). Including the dreaded Death Eaters (yes, we taught our son the term Death Eaters, what's wrong with that?). He also developed an affinity for a Bigfoot robot and something called Stinky the Garbage Truck, which, thankfully, did not translate into a serious desire on his part to see these ridiculously expensive monstrosities actually brought into our home.

Perusing those catalogues also allowed me to introduce him to one of my favorite things: Star Wars. Apparently a big item this season was a Boba Fett mask. Unless you're as big a nerd as I am, I'm not sure I can adequately describe the sheer awesomeness of hearing your kid say, "Boba Fett!" Or the fact that he recognizes on sight the galaxy's most notorious bounty hunter. Of course, he soon pointed between Boba Fett and Darth Vader on the page and asked, "What are they talking about, Dada?" How do you answer that, exactly? Hunting down rebel scum? Hardly seems appropriate.

The Doozer also discovered Marvel superheroes, learning to recognize Spider-Man and Iron Man, giving me the opportunity to get this:

Yeah, I got my two year-old a miniature version of a reckless, self-destructive, alcoholic arms dealer as a toy to play with--what's it to ya?

For the most part, though, heeding the wisdom of our old friend Charlie Brown, we tried to steer clear of commercialism, opting for things like this wooden castle from Melissa & Doug. Again, a toy without batteries or lights or sounds, something to encourage him to use his imagination. Two knights, two horses, a king, a queen, a bed, two thrones, and a treasure chest.

Let the adventures begin! And use his imagination he did--leading to some interesting scenarios. Soon after it was open, a horse took a nap in the bed (flashes of The Godfather), then one of the knights was in the bed with the queen. My wife and I looked at each other, having the exact same thought: the king is not going to like this very much . . .

Soon after, the queen was in the castle's dungeon. Coincidence . . . ?

Eventually, a whole bunch of new toys got piled on the couch and the Doozer just sat in the middle of them. Like an old movie or cartoon, where a hobo gets rich and takes a bath in money.

Again, how weird is this kid?

Note to self: scale it back next year . . .

21 December 2010

All I Want For Christmas . . .

This is too easy.

As the Doozer's third official Christmas approaches, he is more attuned to the trappings of the season than he was even a year ago at this time. And he's beginning to grasp the concept that Santa Claus is a figure who brings presents (usually toys) to good boys and girls. So, when my wife and I asked our son what he wanted Santa to bring him for Christmas this year, his response was swift and rather simple.

"New toothpaste!"

Cue double-take.

We asked again. And got the same answer. For weeks we've inquired now and for weeks, the Doozer has been unwavering in his response.

The kid really wants that toothpaste.

Obviously, we've explained to him that it's customary for Santa to bring toys as presents. He seems to understand, he appears to follow this logic. Yet still, he persists in asking for toothpaste.


Now, I'm not complaining, mind you. A two year-old who values oral hygiene over cheap plastic trinkets? Who wouldn't want that? I'm just starting to rethink all the wads of cash we've already dropped on toys for the little guy . . .

Certainly, in years to come, he will become focused like a laser beam on stuff he will get for Christmas (as most kids do). So for now, I should enjoy the fact that his primary preoccupation this holiday is actually lights, instead of presents. That's right. Lights. The ones on neighbors' houses and our own tree and lining the main thoroughfare of our town.

You might even say he's obsessed with seeing Christmas lights. Whenever we leave the house, he asks about seeing them. Even in the middle of the day (he hasn't quite figured out why daylight and outdoor Christmas lights don't mix).

He's even become a big fan of the light on the nose of that immortal holiday character, "Red Nose-Off the Reindeer." What? That's what he told us the reindeer's name was. Okay, maybe he invented an entirely new character there.

He also discovered Frosty the Snowman and the Grinch (by discovered, I mean indoctrinated by his parents), so he now knows the true meaning of Christmas: cartoon specials.

I'm kidding. It's toothpaste.

Happy holidays . . .

( . . . is what terrorists say. Merry Christmas!)*

*The author must tip his hat to Jack Donaghy for this, his favorite 30 Rock quote of 2010.

15 December 2010

Doozer's Kitchen

This can't possibly last. There's just no way.

My wife and I have found ourselves with a two year-old who eats better than I do. A real foodie, open to a wide array of cuisine and types of food. It's unreal. Exhibit A: a sample menu of items we have recently served the Doozer, that he has consumed and enjoyed:

Butternut squash risotto
Pumpkin polenta
Lobster mac-n-cheese
Chicken paprikash
Roasted parsnips
Falafel with hummus
Fish tacos
Coq au vin

No, really. I'm not kidding. The kid ate (and loved) coq au vin.

And what really blows us away is his passionate feelings toward fruit. Passionate is really the only way to describe it. One night, shortly after Halloween, we offered him chocolate candy for dessert. And he replied that he wanted grapes. We reiterated: Just to be clear, we are offering you chocolate candy and you are opting to eat fruit. Just so we understand each other.

"Grapes!" came the swift, enthusiastic response.

Shortly after that occurrence, my wife was out to lunch with the Doozer one day and he chose a hamburger. And with it, he had options for a side dish, including french fries and a fruit plate.

Once again, the kid went for the fruit. My wife again made clear his options: salty, greasy, delicious french fries or a bowl of fresh fruit.

"Fruit!" the Doozer exclaimed in the middle of the restaurant.

Who is this kid? Seriously, who doesn't want the french fries?

At home, it's been a culinary world tour. We've fed him Italian, Mexican, Chinese, Greek food. Hungarian food. We have a kid-friendly French cookbook. We even got him to eat brie once. And his reaction was unequivocal.


We've heard stories about kids who reject everything that's put on the table, who respond only to things like chicken nuggets or pizza. Who won't drink milk, who fiend for soda at a young age. When I asked my wife recently when he's allowed to have soda (I was legitimately curious about the subject, but in absolutely no rush to actually give it to him), she thought for a moment and then responded, Never? Seemed reasonable enough to me.

The flipside, the negative to the Doozer's healthy appetite and insatiable interest in all things food-related is the fact that he wants not only everything that's on his plate, but what's on yours too. And so it really makes you start to think about what exactly you're putting on your plate. And into your body. You start looking at the pantry shelves or the different sections of the grocery store and wondering, Do I really need that? What's in those? I should skip these.

Apparently I'm a role model now. Crap, how did that happen? I'm not cut out for this. But honestly, I could really stand to eat better. But also, I really like food. Mostly, the kind that isn't good for you. All of those things. But I guess I'm saying the Doozer makes me want to be a better person. A better dad. Cool dad. Interesting dad. Healthy dad.

Good example dad.

Right after I finish this pint of Ben and Jerry's . . .

02 December 2010

Imagine . . .

Did you know that scrambled eggs look like dancing robots? Really? Neither did I.

Oh, the things you learn when living with a two year-old . . .

As time progresses and the Doozer grows up (more and more every day), we watch in wonder as his little personality develops. The kid who once pointed at ceiling fans and said, "Ba!" is now capable of some pretty involved, complex strings of words. Actual sentences and questions. His vocabulary is extensive and varied, his curiosity unending.

Up until now, for the most part, his experience and engagement with the world has been pretty literal. Straightforward. Abstract concepts don't land when we put them out there. Visible, tangible things are his stock-in-trade. But slowly, that's beginning to change. And lately, we've been able to witness his imagination as it takes flight, as his worldview expands and he begins to think outside the box. Sometimes, way outside the box.

And it's pretty amazing.

It could be seen in his invention of a new game, "Picnic." The Doozer would make my wife spread a bandanna out on the floor and he'd arrange a bunch of toys on it (not just people or action figures, but blocks and cars and other inanimate objects) and improvise what happens when they all hang out with each other, enjoying a picnic.

He's begun to have his animals and people and other toys talk to each other. Conversations. Out of thin air.

And then, suddenly, it kicked into high gear. With the "Elephant" game. We were cleaning up after dinner and he was still in his high chair and out of nowhere, he made an elephant noise. My wife had her back to him and acted surprised. She pretended that there was an elephant in the kitchen. And began to look around for it. We'd ask the Doozer if he heard the elephant and he'd say yes. We'd ask if we should check the dishwasher or inside a cabinet or under the table. And he'd say yes. And then he'd make the noise again and we'd wonder aloud where that elephant could be hiding.

"Check the paper towels, Dada!" the Doozer exclaimed. I did. No sign of the elephant. This continued for several minutes as the Doozer would alternate between making an elephant noise and joining in the search for said elephant. Eventually he determined that the elephant was hiding out in the ceiling above us.

You're kind of weird, kid. But also a lot of fun to hang with these days.

24 November 2010

Suck On This

It was time.

The Doozer's second birthday had come and gone. The pediatrician had advised us that we should take it away by his second birthday. We'd managed to limit its usage, restrict it to the crib, but it remained a fixture of naps and bedtimes, a miniature, rubberized security blanket. Which, my wife had noticed, was beginning to make our son's small teeth . . . protrude. And as committed, hipster parents, there was no way we could raise a buck-toothed child, a slack-jawed yokel with a crooked set of hillbilly teeth.

No, it was time. To take away the dreaded binky.

Apparently, some kids don't even take to pacifiers, never start using them in the first place. Some kids, however, completely fetishize the damn things. We often see kids in public, who appear to be significantly older than the Doozer in some cases, glassy-eyed and sucking away, as though their lips are wrapped around a tiny crack pipe. I hate to criticize other parents that I don't know personally—wait, no, I don't. Not at all. I revel in it. Your kid is too old to have a binky in public! What is wrong with you exactly?

There. I feel a little better.

Weeks (maybe months) earlier, we stopped giving it to him in the car (he never got it out in the real world, at least since he graduated from an infant car seat). We got this book about a piggy and his pacifier, illustrating the joys of a binky-less existence to encourage binky relinquishing, even changing the word from pacifier to binky as we read it. If we'd said pacifier, the Doozer would not have gotten the message.

As it is, I still don't think he did. Not entirely.

We set a date. A deadline. In advance of his two-year doctor appointment (my wife couldn't bear to face her with the news that we'd failed to heed her suggestion). There are different schools of thought on this, different approaches to take. Gradually cutting off the tip of the binky, until eventually the kid is just sucking air and then they give it up themselves, for one.

In the end, we just went for it. A completely gonzo move on our part, which we almost immediately realized was incredibly misguided. We'd talked it up for at least a week. We chose to do it Halloween weekend and made this deal with the Doozer. If he left his binky on the front porch in a plastic pumpkin, the Great Pumpkin (of Charlie Brown fame), would take it away and replace it with a very special new toy. He seemed okay with it. He went through the whole ritual, put the binky in the plastic pumpkin and went on with his evening.

But here's the thing. In hindsight, no preparation seems like it would have been enough. We made an egregious miscalculation. Learn from our mistakes. We did it on a Friday night on a holiday weekend when we had a full schedule of activities for several days. This was not the way to go. Avoid major activities. Understand that this is going to be an ordeal. You won't want to do anything else until the storm is over.

That kid will wail like a banshee. Unmerciful. It will be taxing, emotional. The sound of that cry will act as a sense memory, transporting you back to the sleepless nights during the early weeks and months of your kid's life. Right back to where you think you'll never sleep through the night again and then begin to wonder how you will possibly function in the harsh, unforgiving light of day.

Trust us. Try the gradual approach. Snip the tip. And also know that a remote-controlled train, no matter how cool you might think it is, cannot take the place of a beloved binky.

And so we become convinced that he's going to grow up and hate us. Pierce his tongue and start listening to Megadeth. But then, a week later, we're almost back to normal. Or as normal as life can be with a two year-old. We appear to have weathered the storm of a binky-less life. And come out relatively unscathed on the other side.

Then I remember. We had this game, the Doozer and me. The binky has this handle-type thing on one side, for easy gripping. I can no longer recall how this started, but I would put that handle between my teeth and the Doozer would grab it and pull. I'd struggle for a moment, a tug-of-war would ensue, and eventually I would let it out of the grip of my teeth and fall backward or collapse on the ground. It's kind of hard to explain, but the result isn't: uncontrollable fits of giggling. It was one of the Doozer's favorite games. Our own private, weird little thing. But now, I don't remember the last time we did it, because at the time, I didn't realize it was the last time.

This is the truth about parenthood. Sometimes it can be sad. You feel nostalgic over almost everything that happens with your kid. Like Max in Kicking and Screaming, "I'm nostalgic for conversations I had yesterday." Especially Doozer conversations. Time is fleeting. Memories will fade. It's possible he's already forgotten this little game of ours.

But I hope I never forget it.

17 November 2010

Fatherhood, Starring Robert Downey, Jr.

No, the purpose of this post is not to plug the movie Due Date. Though, if you're reading, you should go see it, because 1) it's really funny and 2) it was co-written by a dear friend of mine. And it's really funny.

Actually, this post is about how fatherhood is one massive learning experience (probably the biggest of your life). At least, that's what it's been like for me so far, with the Doozer. Imagine that you got a new job and every few days you found yourself with a new boss and a new job description, plus requirements well beyond the scope of the original job definition, as well as far outside your training and experience.

Further, there is no real manual for this position, nor a complete set of instructions. Sure, there is a lot of literature on this subject and there is an element of universality to child-rearing, but individual experiences are utterly unique and no single book or blog or magazine column can cover the entire breadth of your life with your kid. It's impossible.

But that doesn't mean that common ground doesn't exist. And for me, I've found a lot of it in fictional (often humorous) representations of fatherhood. There's also that complete lack of age-appropriate dad friends in my real life that I previously alluded to, so without real-world examples or reference points, I must turn to popular culture for my parenting touchstones.

Such as Phil Dunphy (as played by Ty Burrell) on Modern Family. I find him incredibly relatable (though I don't want to spend too much time on what this says about me). Something about this portrayal just makes absolute sense to me. And feels, weirdly, like a glimpse into my own future as a dad.

The same thing goes for Louie, on FX, featuring the comedian Louis C.K. His observations on parenting are absolutely hilarious (if often uncomfortably honest) and I just admire the hell out of him.

I think what I find most relatable is the acknowledgement of being out of one's depth. (It's why another touchstone of mine is Neal Pollack's Alternadad.) About being immersed in this role and yet having no true compass for how to navigate the whole thing. Louie is upfront about his shortcomings and frustrations, while Phil masks his with absurd bravado (though I don't think that this necessarily makes him any less self-aware).

But it extends beyond fictional creations to people in reality, people that I admire for a variety of reasons. Authors, musicians, movie stars. Like Johnny Depp. He's got two kids. What is he like as a father? Is he still extremely cool when changing diapers? Is that even possible? Is anybody cool when changing diapers?

Which brings us to Robert Downey, Jr., father of a now teenaged son. What is his parenting style? Is he more or less confident than the rest of us? If I were to meet him, would he have good dad tips for me?

What was it like for Bob Dylan in the '70s? There was a domestic period there for a while, right? (The lyrics to "Wedding Song" would seem to indicate as such.) How do you be "Bob Dylan" and "Dad" at the same time? How does that work exactly?

I look at the Doozer and I realize each day I'm shaping his definition of "dad." What kind of father will he be (if he becomes a father someday)? What is my influence on that? I know on one level that my own dad gave me a pretty strong definition of what it means to be a father. And I can only hope I'm doing as good a job as he did.

And if they ever make a movie about the Doozer and me, maybe Depp or Downey will play my part.

Guy can dream, right?

10 November 2010

"This is Halloween, This is Halloween"

Last year, he didn't really get it.

Sure, the Doozer wore a costume. Read some books about the holiday, but ultimately, the concept of Halloween was still a bit abstract for his wee mind to grasp.

But this year, things were different. As the trappings of the season accumulated, his interest in all things Halloween grew exponentially, practically blossoming into a full-blown obsession. So much so that we became convinced the actual holiday itself would be nothing more than anti-climactic and disappointing.

It was time to introduce him to some of our own childhood traditions. So we found the book version of It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown! and started reading it regularly in the weeks leading up to the annual airing of the TV special. And he became obsessed with this story, demanding it be read to him every night and almost every day. In particular, all the parts where Lucy was dressed up like a witch. "What zat?" he would ask eagerly, pointing to Lucy's masked visage—even though he already knew the answer. "It's a —" "Witch!" he'd interrupt us, gleefully. Witches quickly became one of his favorite elements of the season, pointing them out to us wherever and whenever we saw them. He even got a special surprise when his mom dressed up as one to take him out trick-or-treating on October 31.

Witches, pumpkins, and ghosts, oh my! He loved them all and pointed them out everywhere we went. We even installed a ghost on our front lawn for his enjoyment. "Night, night, Ghost," the Doozer said one evening as we headed inside for dinner. When the ghost did not respond, the Doozer said, "He didn't hear us." No, I guess he didn't.

We even carved a pumpkin with him and attempted to explain the subtle difference between a pumpkin and a jack-o-lantern. After that, he'd frequently point it out say, "that pumpkin has a jack-o-lantern in it." Yes, I suppose it does.

We visited the pumpkin patch and frequented the scarecrows on display in the center of town (part of a local scarecrow decorating contest, with a cinema theme). The Doozer quickly became enamored of Woody the Cowboy, Spider-Man, Ralphie from A Christmas Story, Mr. Potato Head, Charlie Brown, Forrest Gump, the Mad Hatter, and "Edward Fingerhands." But mostly, he fell in love with Gulliver ("He has a book! There is a little man on his back!") and Frankenstein's Monster. Yes, Frankenstein's Monster, not Frankenstein (important distinction). We wanted to be sure that he knew the actual name of this character, that his enthusiasm was well-informed and literarily accurate.

These things matter.

In the end, Halloween arrived and it was not anti-climactic at all. We had coached him all month on the fine art of trick-or-treating, explaining over and over again the process of going to someone's front door, saying "Trick-or-treat," then accepting some candy and saying, "Thank you." He seemed eager to try, though the Doozer is typically wary and skeptical of strangers and we weren't sure it would take.

But sure enough, he was ready to go before the sun even went down. He stood on our porch and began shouting "Trick-or-treat" in the direction of the street.

We explained that we had to go to people's doors and say it. And so we did. And he surprised us by going right up to strangers' doors and saying "Trick-or-treat" and "Thank you" every time. Amazing.

When I mentioned this to a co-worker, she said, "They're not dumb. Candy was at stake."

Once again, seeing the world through the Doozer's eyes, I realized that holidays are one of the great experiences of parenthood. You get a fresh perspective on an old, familiar experience. You get excited about something like Halloween (you're allowed to get excited) in a way that you haven't been in a very long time.

Plus, you get to exploit your kid's adorableness for candy. Don't look at me like that. Really, he doesn't know how much he got or what kinds. Just let us have this. For now. We can't keep this practice up forever. He'll get wise at some point.

Don't judge us. You'd do the same. You know you would.

03 November 2010

Come On, Guys, I Have a Kid

For the first time in my life, I have to worry about a future that isn't just mine. I have to think beyond myself and I have to hope that my son is going to grow up in a world that is, if not better than the one we live in now, at the very least, no worse. But thanks to you, America, I'm not sure how to feel optimistic today, let alone show him that we live in a country we can be proud of and that his future is so bright he has to wear shades.

Clearly, you don't care about women's rights or affordable healthcare or more tightly regulated banks. Apparently you want to go broke covering your medical expenses and paying off your credit cards. Obviously you want a bank to take your house from you and you believe that what happens with a woman's body is your concern, not hers. You also seem to be saying that you favor the fat-cat corporations that are eliminating your jobs wholesale and using your salaries to line the pockets of their incompetent and insidious executives—that one I really don't get.

On top of that, you just made an Oompa Loompa the Speaker of the House. Really, that guy spends more time tanning than George Hamilton.

And it's not as though you failed to read the fine print. It's not as though you can claim to have been duped. You knowingly voted into office a whole bunch of people who couldn't be clearer or more upfront about their views and ideas, no matter how ill-informed or backwards-thinking they happen to be. I suppose you can be commended for stopping short of electing the Anti-Masturbating, Practicing Witch.

Of course, upon further review, she got 40 percent of the vote. So no, in hindsight, you get no credit for that one. That was way too close.

And don't even get me started on Michigan. One of the only good things to happen to this state in a very long time, the film tax credit which has practically created a whole new industry in the state, virtually overnight, apparently none of you cares about that either. Instead of casting ballots for Rick Snyder, you should all be watching Detroit 1-8-7 every week, to insure that its ratings climb and it gets renewed for another season and more jobs come to Michigan. Because that's what we all want, isn't it? At least, I thought so.

Instead, today, I have to look at the Doozer and wonder what the hell is in store for him when he grows up. I heard a report recently that when his generation grows up, our economy will be truly global and that people will move to other countries for jobs, as routinely as we move to different states today. At the time I found this sort of depressing, thinking that this little human I've grown so fond of will grow up and abandon me for another continent (never mind that I grew up with the exact same belief, wanting to leave home pretty much forever—now that I'm the parent, the shoe's on the other foot), but now, I'm not so sure. Now I think maybe it's a good idea for him to go live somewhere else. The UK, France, Japan. Even Canada.

It's not as though I can stand here and tell the kid with complete conviction that America truly is the best place to live. Not now. Really, if you thought we were on the wrong path before, just wait until these teabaggers get going. Plus, we gave W. eight long years to drive this country into the ground, but we barely give Obama two years to dig us all out? I mean, I suck at math (it's true, Doozer, your mom will have to help you with homework), but even I can plainly see the incredible disparity between those two numbers.

So much for restoring sanity. I do respect the effort, though, gentlemen.

Seriously, what is wrong with you people? Did I not make it clear that I have a kid? I'd like to be able to afford medical coverage if he gets sick and I'd like to not go broke keeping a roof over his head which is important because—maybe you don't know this, but—they can be rather susceptible to the elements. And we live in a very cold place. Which just got a little colder.

I'm sorry, Doozer. If it helps, I didn't vote for any of these people. Because I care about your future and not just mine. Because I want you to live in a country that's functional, that's governed by reason and intellect and sure, philosophy, why not? Because being in charge of the Harvard Law Review is a better qualification for being President than being a coke-head frat boy who made it through Yale due to nepotism rather than actual merit.

And while self-tanner is fine for all those yahoos on Jersey Shore, it should not be plastered all over the face of the United States House of Representatives.

That face certainly doesn't represent the Doozer and me. I'll take the "elitist," thanks.

30 October 2010

I Think We're Alone Now

For the first time recently, I spent a day on my own, one-on-one, with the Doozer. Yes, he is two. And this was the first time I spent almost an entire day alone with my son. I almost couldn't believe that this was the first time. It seemed so unlikely, but it was actually true. From breakfast through dinner, it was just me and him. The boys. Alone.

Within fifteen minutes of my wife leaving the house in the morning, the Doozer took a header off an armchair in the living room. He'd been messing around on the chair, during Sesame Street, leaning over the side, as he is wont to do, as I'd witnessed him do a hundred times before. I was sitting nearby on the couch, surfing the Internet no doubt (I was probably perusing The Playlist, reading up on the controversy over the trailer for The Dilemma or the potential release date of Terrence Malick's Tree of Life—you know, something important).

He flipped off the side of the chair just as I looked over. I sprung into action (too late of course and only after I delicately set down the laptop, it is a relatively new purchase, after all). In the moment, I was convinced that he landed on his head and we were going to have serious problems. But he jumped right up and cried out about his back. He'd landed on his back. He asked me to kiss it. And then it was all better. No, really. If only that worked for adults, as well.

It did nothing to curtail the feeling I suddenly had that there was a reason I'd never spent that much alone time with my son. Because apparently I cannot be trusted in such a situation. But instead, the day just went on. Seriously, kids are crazy resilient. How does that happen?

Anyway, that afternoon, we had two attempted naps that both ended in failure. I found myself with almost no free time. Yes, I did manage to watch at least one episode of Bored to Death, wash, dry, and fold a load of laundry, plus empty and restock the dishwasher (I can be a pretty good husband sometimes). But when my wife returned around dinnertime, I did find myself complaining about the lack of naps and how I got nothing done (at least, nothing that I wanted to or thought I would get done). She rolled her eyes and did not respond. Though she did later inquire if the experience destroyed or deflated my whole stay-at-home-dad fantasy.

It didn't. It hasn't. Not yet.

Still, the whole thing got me thinking about how the modern, contemporary dad experience is not always all that different from the traditional, old-fashioned dad experience of earlier eras. While we've all heard that this generation of fathers is supposedly more engaged, more involved, than previous generations, it doesn't always feel that way. Seeing your child on nights and weekends can sometimes make you feel like an absentee parent, even if you're nothing of the sort. And it's not due to a lack of interest or desire, but rather outside forces conspiring against you (financial reality, society, the universe). It feels like those old 1950s notions of the breadwinner and the homemaker still exist, that our society hasn't changed all that much over the decades. Almost like you're a character out of Mad Men (except that I can't drink at work—where are those jobs nowadays? I mean, come on).

Because here's the thing. Kids are expensive. They cost a lot of money (and he's only 2!). So somebody's got to go out and earn the scratch to take care of him. Buy him the organic milk and the diapers and the toys and everything else. Sometimes ridiculously expensive. Sure, we could drop out and join a commune, abandon the consumer lifestyle, forget about a mortgage and a nice TV and groceries from Whole Foods. But somewhere inside, I guess, I'm just too addicted to modern convenience. I go to work every day to provide for my family, sure, to keep a roof over our heads and food on the table, the necessities—but I also like to buy DVDs and Chinese take-out.

Sometimes, my wife complains about the fact that I don't appreciate that I get to be around grown-ups all day (a debatable point) and engage in adult conversations. I suppose I do take this for granted. With a two year-old you can't really engage in meaningful discourse about the genius of Aaron Sorkin's script for The Social Network or the awesomeness of Glee doing Rocky Horror, the midterm elections or the new album from Margot and the Nuclear So-and-So's or the irony of Jonathan Franzen's Freedom being chosen for the Oprah Book Club.

And she's right. To a degree. But there is one conversation that I will gladly have with the Doozer over any adult conversation I could have. It goes something like this:

"Hi, Dada."

"Hi, buddy."

"Dada came home from work."

"Yes. I did come home from work."

"Dada sit down and color with me."

"Sure, pal. Anything you want."

Mostly, I'm just relieved he actually remembers who I am.

21 October 2010

Al Gore Approved This Message

Okay, so maybe he didn't. Gotta land some eyeballs here some way . . .

This was originally going to be titled "It Ain't Easy Being Green," because as a parent, you do face significant challenges to being environmentally conscious. More plastic, more waste, more electronics—just more, basically.

Recently, I read a book called Sleeping Naked Is Green by Vanessa Farquharson, an amusing account of how a Canadian arts journalist and self-proclaimed eco-cynic spent an entire year making one green change a day to her life. It's an entertaining depiction of the highs and lows of being a more environmentally conscious person.

By the way, I checked the book out of the library—pretty green. Well, at least, perhaps more green than ordering it online and having it shipped from . . . wherever they ship the books from. Of course, I did drive to the library to pick it up (and back again to return it), perhaps mitigating some, or even much, of any actual greenness from using the library as opposed to an online bookseller. See, being green is not easy.

And I feel like I'm setting a terrible example for my son.

Anyway, the book was actually inspiring and made me look closely at how green my life actually is (and whether it has gotten less or more so since the Doozer was born). And while I'm actually one of the greener people I know, I could still stand to make some more improvements.

While I'd really like to say we're raising a Gaia-loving hippie baby who is fed nothing but organic fruits and vegetables, and local, free range or sustainable foods . . . sadly, I cannot. (Although, he did recently utter the phrase, "More parsnips, please" at dinner. I'm not sure they were organic, but what 2 year-old makes that kind of request? That's gotta count for something.) Sure, I'd like to tell you he has more hand-me-downs than new designer clothes, that he has recycled (or recyclable) toys, that his bedroom is not full of a mass of plastic to rival that big ball of junk floating out there in the middle of the Pacific Ocean . . . while I can't say all that, he does have some hand-me-downs and wooden toys, he gets some organic food (milk, for one), and yes, we have told him about recycling and so has his pal the moose, the one in between the shows on Nick Jr. So, he knows the word "recycle."

He doesn't know what it means . . .

But, honestly, we could be doing better. we could be doing more. I suppose, in a way, one of the best ways to teach a child is simply to live the way you want them to, lead by example, as it were. Making it just a fact of life, a way of being, that it just seems normal. In that case, I suppose we are doing an okay job. Our recycle bin is filled to the brim every week, we turn off lights and electronics when leaving a room, I put a plastic bottle full of rocks in the toilet tank to use less water (no, really). We even started a garden and a compost bin this past year (with varying degrees of success).

However, there is one change for the greener we have managed to make in the Doozer's life. Which is pretty big. Earlier this year, we started using cloth diapers. While it took us rather longer to make the switch than it probably should have (and we are not 100 percent on cloth diapers, though we are pretty close). Yes, we still use disposables (don't judge us). Only at certain times and out of practicality (overnight, when someone else is watching him—it took quite a bit to get used to a soiled diaper that did not go directly into the trash, I cannot fathom my dad dealing with such a thing).

One smallish bag a week of disposable diapers is not so bad. Less waste (literally and figuratively) in a landfill. At first, it seemed there'd be a trade-off through an increase of laundry (water usage, energy), but that isn't out of control. On one occasion recently, we even put the newly washed diapers outside to dry in the sun—very green, in that we were able to forgo at least one entire time running the clothes dryer.

Plus, they're pretty stylish.

And it's actually not that huge an adjustment. (Ed. note: Of course not, muses the author's wife. You're not the one who deals with them every day. The author has no rebuttal. So we move on.)

Perhaps next we can join a CSA. Do more bike riding (or any). Cultivate an even bigger garden.

The Doozer should be sporting some serious dreadlocks and hemp shoes any day now . . .

12 October 2010

Face Forward

As a new parent, your life starts to become charted by an assortment of sometimes odd, child-centric markers and milestones, such as number of days without a bowel movement (him, not us), consecutive hours of sleep (both), amount of milk consumed in a day (again him, not us). Some very minor (did not fuss about bedtime), others more major (first tooth, haircut, night-long sleep) and countless more in between.

Recently, we encountered one on the more major end of the spectrum. After two-plus years of riding in a car seat in a rear-facing position, we turned the car seat around and the Doozer found himself, for the very first time, in the front-facing position.

This occasion prompted me to consider the constantly accelerating pace of our son's development—and how we would desperately like it to stop.

I'm kidding, of course, but one does discover in parenthood an interesting, often perplexing dichotomy: the shifting, opposing desires of wanting to see your baby grow up into a real person and at the same time, desperate for them to remain the tiny little creature you've grown so accustomed to in your life.

Facing forward in the car seat, along with clothes that are now too small, a mouthful of teeth, and a streak of independence a mile-wide (stop running away, kid, we just want to hold you and squeeze you and keep you close forever, that's all) are major indicators of growth. Of your wee Doozer becoming, alas, a very big boy, indeed.

And it's a real struggle, sometimes. When you have to pack away miniature outfits that no longer fit, it can bring on waves of nostalgia. Never mind if he only wore said outfit on one occasion and promptly soiled it with pasta sauce, it remains the single most adorable item of clothing in the history of the world . . . as well as a cruel harbinger of time's inevitable, unceasing forward march. Never mind that in actuality it's nothing more than a piece of consumer propaganda from a major corporation like the Gap ("So cute! He has to have this."), the wellspring of emotion it inspires cannot be denied or ignored.

You constantly lament the days gone by and the fact that he is not a baby anymore. Which can be weird, because sometimes he was little more than a screaming, crying, snot-ridden poop machine, who peed on your favorite MC5 T-shirt and turned you into a miserable zombie after countless sleepless nights of unremitting, unrelenting caterwauling (him, not us . . . usually), you still can't help but miss those days and that tiny creature.

And yet, simultaneously, you're always curious about the person he's becoming, that he will develop into. You long for the day when you can have an actual conversation with the kid. An honest-to-goodness exchange of ideas, not lopsided, one-sided discussions. What sort of questions will he ask? What will he talk about when he's 5? 6? 10?

You even find yourself curious about his teenage self, those wilderness years when all kids seem to rebel and pull away from their parents. Maybe his will be different, maybe we will manage to still connect with him, to crack the impossible code and maintain some shred of hipness that allows our kid to still relate to us. Perhaps we can be like one of those TV families, the ones where the kids say they hate their parents in the opening minutes, then 60 (or 30) short minutes later, all is resolved when it's revealed that father and child share a love of Bob Dylan or Woody Allen that unites them in familial harmony.

At least until next week at 9 o'clock.

Maybe we'll get really lucky and have one of those Rory and Lorelai Gilmore relationships, allowing us to have closely aligned interests and temperaments and —

Wait. He's going to hate Gilmore Girls, isn't he? He's going to find it dated and lame and hopelessly out-of-touch, right? We're just screwed, aren't we?

Please don't grow up, Doozer. We can just turn that car seat right back around . . .

"I'm in the back seat!" the Doozer exclaims, obviously thrilled.

(Apparently this was not clear to him in the previous configuration.)

He's so happy with his newfound view. Okay, so maybe we can let you grow up . . . a little.

Just not so fast, okay?

05 October 2010

Meeting People is (Not) Easy

This is true. It's not easy. In general, and specifically, when it comes to being new parents. We are alone in this wilderness of child-rearing with no built-in, age-specific, kid-raising brethren to hang out with.

My closest friends with kids all live far away, most in different time zones. Life happens and people scatter, I get that. But just understanding doesn't always take the sting out of it. One of my only friends who happens to be a dad, actually has a son who was born a mere 10 days apart from the Doozer. It would be awesome if I could have a dad friend around, to share the experience, to hang at the park together, and to do, well, dad stuff together.

But alas, at present, it is not to be.

And so the playground becomes your new pick-up spot, perhaps. Like your single, twentysomething days when you'd hit the bar, looking for companionship, for love, for a relationship. Now you find yourself at the park or the library for storytime, scoping out the other parents, sizing them up, looking for companionship or a relationship. And how do you approach a stranger under those circumstances? What's your opening line? Come here often?

Why is it so hard to meet somebody? I mean, seriously, we already went through this once. We survived the minefield of our sad, pathetic single years (okay, okay—my pathetic single years), why do we have to go through this all over again?

Oh, Doozer, why must you complicate everything so?

To further complicate matters, in public, it seems we are always discovering examples of bad parenting, or seeing individuals who appear wholly unsuited to parenthood, who should in fact have been prevented from procreating in the first place. More winning examples are few and far between. We find ourselves stalking the aisles of Trader Joe's, seeking out like-minded contemporaries saddled with kids, but usually just watching from afar, unable to approach them and strike up a conversation. We find ourselves wondering how exactly you can maintain your child (or children) and a truly cool, stylish haircut at the same time.

Really, how do they do that? Who are those people? On one level, it's good to know it's not a myth. Cool parents do exist. At least, people who manage to look cool while they're parenting. Even if we don't always feel that way about ourselves.

How do we meet people? How do we talk to them? It's awkward. And it is exactly like the dating scene. What are you supposed to do? Same fears, same inadequacies. Really, why do we have to go through this all over again?

So, if you see us at the park and we appear to be staring, don't worry. We're not homicidal or perverted. We're not swingers looking for a good time We're just two people with a kid, looking for somebody to hang out with. No pressure. We can take things slow. Get to know each other. We like wine and movies and good books. Walks on the beach. Art museums. Pubs.

Call us?

27 September 2010

In Defense of Katy Perry and Sesame Street (or, I Kissed a Muppet and I Liked It)

Since there is a world outside my living room and the life of the Doozer, today we're going to discuss something topical. I'm sure I'm now the 9 millionth person to take to the Internets to address the issue of Katy Perry's video being nixed from Sesame Street, but as a regular adult viewer of said program, I feel like I have just as valid an opinion as anyone else does. And my opinion, it turns out, is pretty simple.

Really, America? Really?

Now, I have not seen the video in question. Maybe I should watch it, lest I be like all those people I despise who always condemn pop culture without ever actually seeing it.

We'll be right back after these messages . . .

Okay. Seen it. (And watched it with the Doozer. Didn't pre-screen it. Guess what? He did not instantaneously turn into a sex maniac.) And not surprisingly, my opinion remains unchanged.

Really, parents of America? Really?

This is Sesame Street we're talking about. Sesame Street. It baffles me that we're even having this conversation. This is not hardcore pornography being broadcast over the public airwaves into your living room every morning at 9 am, prepared to defile your youngster. This is children's programming, people. Of the highest quality, actually.

Why are we all so uptight? Sure, it might be difficult to appropriately explain Katy Perry to an impressionable tyke (leaving out entirely her engagement to former heroin and sex addict/comedic genius Russell Brand—there is no G-rated version of that story), but in this context, she's just a girl singing a cute song with Elmo.

Fine, fine, so the dress was a little low-cut. And by a little, I mean, barely at all. So beyond that almost imperceptible amount of cleavage, how is this really any different from previous performances, from the likes of Norah Jones and Diana Krall (she's Canadian!)? Or Mr. Adam Sandler? There was no uproar over his appearance and performance of "A Song About Elmo." But have you seen Funny People? In which he indiscriminately bangs groupies and makes at least one joke about the Holocaust that I can recall. Let me see if I have this right: Adam Sandler, okay. Katy Perry, evil.

I think I need a scorecard to keep up.

Are we judging Katy Perry for who she is, outside of this appearance on Sesame Street? If that's so, where does it end? Should we ban Maggie Gyllenhaal from the Street because of her work in Secretary? What about Adrian Grenier? Have you ever seen Entourage? Or Greg Kinnear. He taught us about robots and machines. But he also starred in Auto-Focus, an incredibly disturbing depiction of a once-successful star sliding into utter depravity. How could you, Hogan?

Ricky Gervais has appeared on Sesame Street with Elmo! No part of his stand-up routine cannot be repeated in polite company. And he drinks on the air during award shows!

Even one of the executive producers of Sesame Street, Carol-Lynne Parente, expressed surprise at the reaction to the Katy Perry video. And I think if somebody knows what's appropriate or not on Sesame Street, it might be her.

As someone who's become a regular viewer of the show in the last year, I can attest to the fact that it is of the highest quality. I'm consistently impressed by what they accomplish in every episode: a full hour of entertainment and information, education and laughter, an impressive feat that holds the attention of even the most rambunctious child—and manages to actually teach them something at the same time.

And further, they are not here to harm or brainwash our children, or expose them to indecency. It's a show that takes great pride in creativity and art, inspiring children to use their imaginations and embrace the possibility of wonder.

Wait a second. Creative. Art. Creative artist . . . ummm, Katy Perry? Oh, I see. There is a connection there. There is a reason they chose to feature her on the show. Because she is absolutely appropriate to appear on the show.

So, America, do us all a favor. Get over yourselves. What do you really think is going to happen? Your infant son is not going to spontaneously start masturbating in the middle of your living room at the sight of Katy Perry frolicking with Elmo. And if you start doing it, well then, you have serious problems.

Katy Perry is not exactly Marilyn Manson. Or Charles Manson, for that matter. Can we put the brakes on here, and acknowledge how absurd this outcry is? How misplaced and misguided these objections? There are real problems in the world, real threats and dangers to our children to get worked up over. Not a pop star in a cute dress.

Seriously, America. Let my Katy Perry go . . .

And now back to our regularly scheduled programming.