24 February 2010

L'Enfant Terrible

Even people who don't have kids have heard of the phenomenon known as the Terrible Twos. Something you learn as a new parent, though, is that it sometimes doesn't take until a child is two years old to throw a serious tantrum, the likes of which you cannot fathom until you have witnessed it firsthand. They can whine and pout and cry to the point that you want to scratch your eyes out. The caterwauling that can be produced by such a tiny human can really be astounding.

And I'm not sure we've even hit the tip of this proverbial iceberg yet. At this point, we're several months out from the kid's second birthday and he can work himself into a snit something fierce.

He wants what he wants, when he wants it. He's yet to fully grasp or acknowledge that he has certain limitations, as do we, his parents. That there are such things as boundaries and as the Rolling Stones once said, "You can't always get what you want."

The whole second part of that, about getting what you need, is an even loftier concept that I wouldn't dare try to explain to him yet, as I'm not sure he'd be able to fully grasp it.

Screenwriter John August recently blogged about his daughter's discovery of fake emotions. She's four, but the concepts still apply to a toddler. It's really interesting how quickly they learn to manipulate us.

Sometimes there's just no reasoning with him. Though there is, at times, a look in his eyes which I swear suggests that he knows the score, but only he's not letting on that he does. He's playing his cards close to the chest. Or vest? (Is that the phrase? What does it mean? Something to do with poker, right?)

Anyway, this is proving to be one of the serious tests of parenthood. There's all kinds of suggestions and advice you come across for dealing with temper tantrums. But in the moment, it's hard to always act rationally. Do you give in to the demands of the pint-sized terrorist? Something tells me that would simply result in being held hostage for the subsequent 17+ years. Do you ignore it and hope that it (or he) goes away? Do you maintain your composure and coolly explain things to him, whether he really understands what you're getting at or not?

Regardless of how much practical advice you seek on this matter (or the amount of common sense you possess, which hopefully, as a parent, is relatively bountiful), sometimes weird instincts kick in. Almost like you're spoiling for a fight. You know it's irrational, but he's pushing your buttons and you're suddenly thinking, I'm not gonna be pushed around. I'm not gonna be bullied. You're back on the playground and your back is up and -

Wait. He's only a toddler. What is wrong with you?

But you can't help it. It just happens. Is this the start of the power struggle? Can a direct line be drawn from the toddler's temper tantrum to the feuding and infighting of the teenage years? Does it all go downhill from here?

Maybe this is what Pat Benatar meant about love being a battlefield . . .

Then, of course, the strangest thing happens. The whining and whimpering fades almost as quickly as it began, replaced instead by giggles and smiles, hugs and kisses. The good stuff.

Seriously, it's like living in a lunatic asylum. Kids are crazy. And wildly unpredictable. It's a good idea to take up drinking when you become a parent (unless you're already there) in order to cope. Of course, on the other hand, dealing with them often requires a level of definite sobriety so you can keep all your wits about you.

Trust me, you'll need them.

16 February 2010

Snow Day

One of the most interesting things about parenthood is the way it can remind you of parts of your life that you have totally forgotten about. For instance, how much fun is sledding?

Of course I had not engaged in this winter season ritual for well over a decade or more. But with the epic recent snowfall that has marked the beginning of 2010 in the Midwest and elsewhere, my wife and I decided to take our son sledding. We bundled him up in his winter attire, so that he resembled Ralphie in A Christmas Story ("I can't put my arms down!") and ventured out to the local park. The designated sledding hill proved far too steep for a first-timer, unfortunately. But we found some alternative rises in the landscape and had at it.

Obviously, our son is still too small to go downhill all by himself, still not coordinated enough to maneuver the sled on his own. So my wife and I took turns riding down the hill with him. And it's a bit of a toss-up as to who enjoyed themselves more on that day, him or us.

No, wait, on second thought, it's no contest. It was definitely us.

And in a weird way, it was almost more fun this time than it ever was when I did it as a kid. Having a kid gives you a chance to experience things as if for the first time all over again. Witnessing a simple activity like sledding through his eyes makes it feel as if it's brand-new, even if you've done it countless times before.

The wonder he expresses at the sight of snow, the thrill in his eyes as he careens down the hill, these actually make me feel like I've never even seen a sled before. His reaction was curious, for someone who frequently smiles and giggles, I mean collapses in absolute hysterics, he spent the entire outing with an extremely serious expression on his face. But each time we came to a halt at the bottom of a hill, he'd quietly utter the words we've come to know so well: "More, more." And so we'd do it again. And again. And again. And then when it was time to go, he whined. He pleaded. He pouted. Turns out, he liked sledding, after all. He'd discovered something new, something fun. Something different.

And so did I. It seems sledding is way more fun the second time around. More, more, indeed.

07 February 2010

Life at the Tuggery

This particular post exists to be educational. Hopefully. It's squarely aimed at all hipster types, indie musicians, and general Brooklynites who might be thinking of becoming fathers. It could be a good idea to invest in a reliable beard trimmer.

This may sound like odd advice, but from someone who's been there, trust me when I say this: your kid will tug on your beard. It is inevitable. And fairly unpleasant. If you have full, thick, Serpico-style facial hair, trust me, it will hurt like hell when little tiny fingers reach up and intertwine with those follicles, giving them a serious yank. Hard.

You've never known such pain.

I found this guide in the Times to be an excellent resource for this essential new dad purchase. My own trimmer has routinely helped me thwart the beard-tugging antics of my own offspring. It was a proud day when my son reached up and tried to go for the beard, only to find that his wee digits could find no purchase, that the scraggly landscape which had been so welcoming was now far less dense and far more difficult to grasp. Ahh, the sweet taste of victory. Sucker.

Yes, I am divining satisfaction from outsmarting a toddler. Don't judge me. Just wait until it's you. You'll get it.

01 February 2010

The Collector

That would be me. Pop culture obsessive that I am, over time, I've amassed a sizable collection of media--books, magazines, CDs, DVDs, even LPs (the result, I must admit, of perhaps one too many, slightly inebriated late-night viewings of High Fidelity). While some people may consider this collection to be borderline excessive (some people, read: my wife), to me it is average, possibly even pedestrian.

In some ways, this collection exists merely to make me appear more hip, cultured, interesting--as much as it is for my leisure-time enjoyment. Of course, these items have now been put into service to a new end: playthings for my son.

As I previously reported, my son's first DVD, The Adventures of Elmo in Grouchland, now co-exists on a shelf with all of his father's films. Somewhere along the line, he's developed an intense, focused, obsessive fascination with those movies (perhaps an inherited character trait) and has taken to destroying their precisely calibrated organization on a daily basis.

Side note: in addition to being a compulsive collector, I am a notorious stickler for rules, guidelines, and all manner of cohesive organization. Films arranged in alphabetical order (except for boxed sets, in their own special section), CDs also in alphabetical order by band name or last name of artist--then chronological by album release year, books by size and then by subject matter or type. LPs, see CDs.

It really is exhausting being me.

"They used to call me Anal Girl . . I was very neat and organized." (I'm totally pulling for Neustadter and Weber to win the Original Screenplay Oscar for (500) Days of Summer. Nominations tomorrow.)

Anyway, so my son is quite keen on disrupting the orderliness of my DVD collection. It offers endless amusement for him. He intently examines all the packages, the pictures, the words. He's mesmerized.

A few observations:

Our son thinks that Minnie Driver on the cover of Good Will Hunting looks like his mother. He points to the image and says, "Mama." When shown the exact same actress with only a slightly different hairstyle on the cover of Grosse Pointe Blank, he does not have the same reaction. However, he will often point to a clearly doctored photograph of the actress Parminder Nagra on the back of Bend It Like Beckham, outfitted in traditional Indian garb and kicking a soccer ball in mid-air, and refer to this actress as "Mama." Strange.

His discovery that there is a "dead deer" on the back cover of Tommy Boy provoked insane amounts of glee. By the by, we own this modern-day classic because my wife, who often chides me about my failure so far in life to have seen a single film by Fellini, Antonioni, or Godard, and who insists The Bicycle Thief is her favorite film--loves it. Loves it.

He has, at various times, referred to Jason Schwartzman, Paul Giamatti, and John Cusack as "Dada." None of these three looks anything like the other. And none of them looks like me.

We have managed to teach him to recognize Jeff Bridges on the cover of The Big Lebowski and say, "Dooo!" Perhaps our single proudest moment as parents so far.

He is particularly fascinated by Boogie Nights. Gotta remember to hide that one . . .

This activity was amusing perhaps the first 20 times he did it. But now I would just like it to end. I don't contend well with disorder. Chaos. Somebody should've warned me about what kids are like. Seriously.