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.