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?