31 August 2010

Birthday Boy

Another day, another major milestone. Our son turned two. Born in early August as he was, we are now doomed to at least a decade or more of horrific, hellfire-ish weather on the day of his inevitable party, regardless of the day we choose. First birthday = melting faces, check. Second birthday = more melting faces. Check.

But of course, the Doozer didn't seem to mind. He ran around like a little maniac, sweating like Richard Simmons, while the adults fanned themselves, Southern belle-style, and fainted.

So, if they weren't already, when you have a small child, Target and Michael's become your go-to spots for pretty much everything you need in your life, but birthday party supplies in particular. And especially if you are married to someone enterprisingly crafty, a truly creative spirit, he or she will need these resources to properly execute their vision.

For weeks beforehand, we gathered our materials and began assembling decorations. The piece de resistance, though, was the batch of homemade cupcakes. On several occasions leading up to the party, we asked the Doozer what flavor cupcake he'd like. When we offered vanilla, he'd say, "Yes!" When we suggested chocolate, he'd say, "Yes!" We politely sidestepped his suggestion of green bean-flavored cupcakes. After a while, we started getting a "Yes!" more frequently and enthusiastically to chocolate. We had our flavor. We already had the design in mind.

(Yes, these are homemade. Nice work, Wifey.)

Which brings us to the other invaluable resource: the Internets. It provides untold inspiration, as well as points of reference. The breadth and variety of images available when you type "Sesame Street cupcake" into Google is astounding. And it can go one of two ways: either what you see stimulates your creative juices or results in frustration, overload brought on by the barrage of imagery.

And the end result is worth it, just to hear the Doozer exclaim the names of his favorite Sesame Street characters when he sees them rendered in delicious, edible cake form.

Will he recognize them? we fretted. Will he know what they're meant to be? If he doesn't, it's kind of all for naught, right? If the man of the hour is not sufficiently impressed, then what was the point of all that effort? Luckily for us, he recognized them right away as his old pals.

It was only when the singing began, that things took a turn for the worse. The Doozer is not keen on being the center of attention. What are you people doing to me? Look, kid, it's your birthday and we're gonna sing, dammit! And you're gonna sit there and like it!

Maybe it wasn't the singing so much, as just the general overload of revelry. Party favors and hats and temporary tattoos, oh my! And that's before we even get to the presents.

A pint-sized lawn mower, a set of foam golf clubs, a cherry-red wagon, a set of new drums. A big, yellow "shool" bus. My wife and I were most excited about the gift we'd selected for him, which we'd researched thoroughly online and in stores, before settling on the perfect one.

Big fan of food and eating and pretty much everything that goes on in the kitchen that he is, we figured the Doozer might enjoy his very own kitchen. Of course, we discovered that a lot of them are pretty girly. Which makes sense on one level, but on another, how many life-sized kitchens do you see that are totally pink? Kind of an outmoded gender bias, don't you think? Why doesn't Guy Fieri have a play kitchen for sale? One for little dudes, with flames and whatnot on the side. I mean, the man's got his name on everything else.

Really, our son (or yours) could be the next Jamie Oliver. Why aren't there more options for embracing that? I'd like to think if Jamie himself endorsed such a product, it would be the one we chose: Educo's My French Kitchen. Our country seems very down on the French, but in many ways, culturally, they seem light years ahead of us.

Maybe it's just me.

Anyway, that kid who hid his face in his hands when we all sang to him, for some reason, weeks later, can't stop singing "Happy Birthday." To himself. After two parties, countless presents, Muppet-shaped baked goods—he still can't let go. His little cousin had her first birthday a few weeks later and the effort to get him to swap out his own name in that song for hers was staggering. In the end, he acquiesced, but remained suspicious of the notion that someone else could also have a birthday. And unwilling to accept that his own was over.

Got to wait until next year, pal.

In the meantime, I'll think of the Doozer in 90-plus degree weather, banging on a brand-new set of drums, sweat dripping from his brow like Rainn Wilson in The Rocker, smiling, laughing, in his element, living it up as the little man of the hour: the birthday boy.

And I, for one, am really looking forward to next year.

23 August 2010

Real Men Wear Skirts, er, Kilts

Though there is some Scottish somewhere in my heritage, it has been largely eclipsed over time by Irish and Italian (mmm, stout and pasta—why am I stuck with the fattening cultural lineages?). Scottish also appears in my wife's heritage (more predominately so) along with a smattering of others.

Our son really is a mutt.

Anyway, my wife has fond memories of Scottish-themed events, like the Highland Games, from her childhood. She was thrilled to discover there was a Highland Games event this summer, conveniently located right down the street from our house.

After an unsuccessful attempt to wrangle the Doozer into a kilt ("No . . . wear . . . that!"), which had previously been worn by my wife and her mother, when they were but toddlers, we headed off to the Games. And the chance, perhaps, for the Doozer to get in touch with his heritage.

My frame of reference for Scottish culture is largely informed by pop culture, things like Trainspotting and Mike Myers comedy ("If it's not Scottish, it's crap!"), but upon arriving at the games I saw nary a heroin needle or Fat Bastard anywhere. Apparently, I'd been misinformed.

Since he wouldn't wear a kilt (and was too young for the whiskey tasting), we took the Doozer to the event's kid-friendly area. There was an activity center where kids could decorate a shield with a Scottish crest, a field where they could join a militia (and earn a shilling!), another field where they could see a bunch of Scottie dogs, or they could attempt Sean Connery's favorite pastime . . . baby golf.

Okay, so Connery probably plays regular golf.

But the piece de resistance of the kids' area had to be the activity that sounded completely absurd on paper and in reality was perhaps the most awesome thing ever.

Baby. Caber. Toss.

Yes, that's correct. Baby caber toss. And though we didn't get to see a real caber toss (apparently they just let random people out of the crowd attempt it—don't they have anybody on reserve who can actually do it? We paid for this, you know), we were afforded the glorious opportunity to watch the Doozer partake of his very first caber toss.

"Doesn't it make you proud to be Scottish?"

Then there were the bagpipers and drums, the fish and chips, delicious Scottish short bread. The wee bonny laddy was really in his element. And might have a serious future as a caber tosser. Is there much call for that out in the real world? Who cares, we're going to start training right away. And we're definitely going back next year.

Maybe next time he'll wear the kilt.

17 August 2010


For this past Father's Day, my wife found a very unique gift for me on Etsy, perhaps her very favorite site in the world. She got me a set of four coasters featuring the hand-drawn visages of an assortment of film directors, made by an awesome outfit called Retrowhale. Before ordering them, she actually found herself conflicted over the varied and extensive options, in the end selecting four of my favorite filmmakers: Terry Gilliam, Noah Baumbach, Wes Anderson, and Paul Thomas Anderson. Now, these coasters could not be more perfectly suited to me as an individual, but the best part was yet to come.

In the weeks that followed, the set of coasters piqued the Doozer's curiosity. He was already fascinated by the set of coasters that lives in the coffee table drawer. And he'd been taught that his sippy cup should always be placed on one and not directly on the coffee table, a task he actually took to without too much cajoling.

A kid who uses a coaster! Huzzah! (I think it's important to mark successful moments in parenting, if nothing else to remind yourself that you aren't totally failing in the enterprise.)

Anyway, he soon began pulling out these coasters and in his latest trademark expression would inquire, "What zat?" My wife began telling him who the different portraits were of, the names of the filmmakers he held in his hand. He kept asking, she kept telling him, and now, our son can correctly identify all four of these film directors on sight, like some kind of hipster matching game.

"Wes . . . Anderson! P . . . T . . . Anderson!"

Furthermore, when asked what they do, he will reply, "Terry Gilliam . . . make movies!"

Yes, it seems we have managed to turn our son into a miniature movie geek, a film snob like his old man. Of course, he'll be quite disappointed when he discovers that there is no bonus feature-laden, director's cut, Criterion Collection edition of his beloved Dora the Explorer.

We had a friend over recently who was amused to no end by this development, but who pointed out that the Doozer will get to school someday and be way too hip for the room, his references will sail right over the heads of his fellow classmates. I'm not sure how much I care about that exactly. His ability to recognize these notable figures from my life, and to identify their occupations, is probably the most entertaining thing he's done so far in his relatively short life. And pretty much my new proudest moment as a parent.

What a nerd . . . *

*Ed. note: This last represents the sentiments of the author's wife, not the author himself, and was inserted here under duress. The author would like to point out that it was said wife who purchased the film director coasters for the author in the first place. Good day.

09 August 2010

Growing Up is Hard to Do

Something they neglect to tell you about parenting is how, overnight, your behavior has to change. That there comes a time when you have to put childish (or are they adult?) things away. That the demands of parenting result in a forced maturation, one for which you might not be entirely prepared. Suddenly, there are rules. There are things you can't do. You have to go all Tipper Gore and censor your music choices, lest your child begin to repeat some of the inappropriate language and sexual innuendo that appears in the music you favor. You have to watch the words that come out of your own mouth, too. You have to be sober and sober-minded. Can't stay up late, or drink too much, or drive too fast (not at the same time).

So, the Doozer is starting to repeat things at random, causing me to reflect upon all that we have given up in service of parenthood. In many ways, real, true adulthood does not begin until you have progeny. And here's the thing. Now you're a role model. For the first time in your life, probably. Your kid is looking up to you (literally, in fact, physically looking up at you--until he's a teenager and hits a growth spurt and starts to look down at you--I don't want to think about that now). You have to set a good example. It all reminds me of that old public service announcement from when I was a kid, the one where the dad confronts the kid about the drugs he found and asked where he learned to do it. "You, all right! I learned it by watching you!" Followed by that ridiculous horrified expression. Don't be a drug addict, dumbass. It's not that hard.

So, in our quest to prevent the Doozer from repeating inappropriate things, we have to banish certain songs from the stereo. So long, "Rehab" and "Gold Digger." I hope to see you someday, when we meet again, introduced as friends. My wife has had to resort to yelling out, "Your socks are on fire!" when riding in the car with our son, listening to Kings of Leon's "Sex on Fire." Since she was not quite ready to give up the song entirely. This is what we've been reduced to. Why doesn't anyone prepare you for this? Because we actually need to prevent him from yelling out "This sex . . . on fire!" in the middle of a grocery store. Yes, that would happen. He will repeat something totally at random. It is impossible to predict or curtail. Which means you have to be "on" all the time. You have to get up in the morning, wearing that good role model hat and you've got to go to sleep at night wearing the same hat.

And you can't just get him to repeat stuff you want. Something funny that you think will be a riot coming out of his mouth. Then he gets all tight-lipped and looks at you with a withering stare that says, I am not your monkey. You just never know what he might pick up on. Like, "lawn mower broken." This is the refrain of the summer.

As new homeowners, with our very own lawn to mow for the first time (and a pretty big one at that), our new mower broke down and we've had to borrow other ones from relatives and pay a lawn service and, in general, not be able to keep it in the shape we'd like. And one of us, I'm not sure which, made the mistake of telling the Doozer that the lawn mower was broken. And he never misses an opportunity to remind me of that fact. "Lawn mower broken." Dolt, loser, failure, being the subtext, I'm sure of it. Who can't maintain a lawn mower? Who breaks a brand-new lawn mower?

Stop judging me! Baby jerk.

This is the onset of true adulthood. It makes you want to shout, I want my MTV! The good one, where they used to show the music videos. (Instantly dating yourself.) Now, as a parent, you're no longer a teenager or a college student or carefree twentysomething. Someone is depending on you, and worse, someone is looking up to you.

Stop it. Stop looking up to me. I can't possibly live up to your impossible expectations. Oh, you don't have any expectations. You think I'm great just like I am. You'd rather I sit on the floor, than the couch? That's it? Okay, I guess I can live with that.

You make the rules, pal. Apparently, as long as I live under his roof . . .