12 December 2011

One (Silly) Step Forward

There are mysterious things locked inside the heads of toddlers. Their thought processes, emotions, likes, dislikes, allegiances, imaginings, and interpretations are endlessly fascinating and almost impossible to predict, or categorize, or sometimes to even comprehend.

For instance, what will make them laugh? What will truly tickle them, to the point of being overcome by excessive giggling? You can spend countless hours devoting yourself to acting silly, to trying to find the Holy Grail of toddler humor, whatever it might be, in order to keep them amused, to ensure that they like you, to ward off violent meltdowns and temper tantrums.

And then, other times, you simply stumble upon something unexpected, something that will delight your child to no end, make you seem a like a comic genius in their eyes, and keep them rolling with laughter until they are red in the face, with tears streaming down their cheeks, begging for mercy—and simultaneously begging you to do it again.

This is actually a story about potty training. Or using the potty, I suppose. Which our son now does, about 50 percent of the time. Well, for 50 percent of his functions, shall we say. Anyway, the whole process is like any other development in your child’s life, which is to say, daunting initially, stressful, trying, exasperating—and after a while, not nearly as bad as you imagined it to be, nor as horrendous as it appeared to be in the early going.

Lately, though, he has taken to sitting on the potty for quite a long time, insisting on privacy, and continually informing us that he is still going, even though he clearly is not. And so one night, recently, as he sat upon his throne, contemplating the vastness of the universe, or whatever it is that he does while he sits there, I absentmindedly began doing something silly, perhaps to stave off the boredom of waiting for him to complete his business, or to keep myself alert until he was done with his little bathroom ritual. In a few brisk steps, I walked past the bathroom door in an exaggerated, nonsensical fashion. The moment I was out of his sight, he erupted.

And I mean, erupted. I’m not sure I’ve ever heard him laugh so hard or for so long (outside of being tickled, which seems to do it every time). Gasping for air, he immediately demanded the act be repeated. Again. And again. Casting a sideways glance, I could see him tottering precariously on the toilet, overcome with laughter, in danger of falling sideways onto the floor at any moment. I did another funny walk. Hysterics continued.

And though I was not initially doing a direct homage to the geniuses of Monty Python, I immediately thought of this classic sketch:

Finding that it contained no real objectionable material (as it easily could have), I decided to share it with the Doozer. He has become a serious YouTube fan (junkie?) of late, and I’ve begun to wonder what parents did before every single video image their kid could possibly want to view at any single moment was available in such a readily-available, easily-searched repository.

So the Doozer and I watched his very first Monty Python sketch together, at the tender age of three. And guess what? Hysterics. Again. Cleese was an even better silly walker than Dada. Let me pause to revel in the triumphant nature of this moment. My three year-old and I watched Monty Python together. And he really liked it. As far as his pop culture education is concerned, I'm thinking that this is pretty advanced. I figured it would be years before we started tackling stuff this heady. I mean, we're barely into Star Wars. He is definitely on his way.

Of course, on the other end of the spectrum, we took him to a theater to see The Muppets and didn’t even make it through the trailers before the whole experience became overwhelming and we had to leave without seeing the flick. I’m trying desperately to overlook this.

He likes Monty Python. That's good for now. Although I was tempted to also show him Upper Class Twit of the Year, another favorite of mine. But I'm pretty sure they all commit (or attempt to commit) suicide at the end of that one.

Not something I’m keen on trying to explain to him at this time. (Or explaining why it's funny that they do.) In a few years, perhaps. For now, we'll just take it all one (silly) step at a time.

30 November 2011

Bedtime Story


It occurs so infrequently these days that I’m going to savor it.

Parenting is a series of failures. No, really. This is what I’ve found. It can be measured by what you get right and what you get wrong, situations you misjudge or flat-out bungle. It could be described as an evolution, a learning experience, but really, it’s a steady line of failings, occasionally interrupted by the blips of minor successes.

It’s like a post-game analysis show that never ends, that just runs 24/7 in your mind, as you lay awake at night, second-guessing your instincts and your maneuvers, questioning your fitness as a parent, and pessimistic about your ability to improve your game as time goes on.

But then, every once in a while, you seem to do something right. Something more than just keeping your child alive and free from harm. Something that makes you look at your spouse and high-five each other, or simply say, “Nailed it.”

We recently transitioned the Doozer to a big boy bed.

While many kids move out of their crib earlier (he is now 3 years, 4 months), we were lucky to be saddled with a child who never showed an aptitude for climbing out of his crib. Or an interest. We’re not sure what it was. He tried once, around 18 months maybe, and my wife yelled at him that he’d get hurt. He apparently took it to heart.

Having never been a decent sleeper, and recently having taken to singing, chatting, and calling for us repeatedly after being put down for the night, we were naturally concerned that he would take the opportunity to get up every night, to wander about and possibly come downstairs. We tried to remain hopeful that this would not happen. Lest he appear out of thin air in the living room while we watched TV, perhaps during yet another Paz de la Huerta nude scene on Boardwalk Empire (seriously, what, is she allergic to clothing?).

Dada? What is that lady doing? Ummm . . .

So far, though, thankfully, no such awkwardness has occurred. Perhaps it hasn’t yet dawned on him to try and get out of his bed at night and run around like a maniac, or disturb us while we’re trying to enjoy an adult beverage and some fine HBO programming. He’s done it in the morning. In fact, on the first morning in the new bed, he called out to us, as he is wont to do, and requested to be brought downstairs for the customary juice and Curious George.

Finally, I got up and walked into his room to retrieve him, only to discover that we were suddenly players in a French stage farce (or perhaps a production of Noises Off!), since there are two doors to the Doozer’s bedroom and while I entered one, he slipped out the other and wandered it into our bedroom, proud as a peacock, thrilled with this new dimension to his life.

It’s now been about a week and so far, it is far smoother sailing than we’d imagined it would be. Far smoother, for instance, than the Take-Away-the-Binky Debacle of Fall 2010. Though we employed the same tactics, did due diligence, talked endlessly about the impending change, got him excited for what awaited him on the other side (as he was given the opportunity to trade in his binky for a new toy—a remote-controlled train, which was pretty cool, if I do say so myself). We were ill-prepared for the epic meltdown and the long, lost weekend that followed.

By comparison, moving out of his crib into a big bed was miraculously issue-free. At least so far. (I’ve probably just completely jinxed us.) And so for the moment, we’re going to revel in this minor success. We did it at the right time, we did the proper amount of preparation, we got him prepared, nay, excited, for the move and so when it occurred, it was not traumatic—for him or us. Well, maybe for us. A little.

I mean, come on, he’s not in a crib anymore. He’s in a bed. A regular bed that a full-grown adult could sleep in. This struck me immediately upon constructing the bed and assembling all the bedding atop it. I looked at this suddenly large object in his room and realized, he might still be sleeping in this when he’s a teenager. When he’s in high school. He’s going to be in high school someday . . . he’s going to be a teenager.

This thought was almost enough to make me want to tear it down and go right back to the crib and keep him in there forever.

Oh well, the crib will be occupied soon enough, when the next addition of the family arrives, when the Doozer’s new brother, the Doozer Jr., will be spending his naps and his nights there. And the new little one will undoubtedly remind us of the first little one, the one that lived inside that crib, sleeping every night alongside a yellow ducky and some grapes. Of course the Doozer’s still got the ducky. Still got the grapes. Some things don’t change as quickly as others.

He’s still my little guy. For now. He’s just a little guy in a big bed.

A very big bed.

Good night, my sweet boy.

17 November 2011

I Hate My Generation

In the giant time suck that is life with a child (or children), it’s quite easy for two people to forget that they were once childless, that they had an entire existence as a couple, that they were two people in a romantic relationship, who were routinely well-rested, properly groomed, and—let’s admit it—fun to be around.

You often read about the importance of “date nights” for old, boring, married couples who spend most of their waking hours entertaining the whims and catering to the demands of a miniature human being. People often think they’ll escape this fate. That won’t be us, they’ll say. We won’t forget. Our kid will fit into our life, we won’t reshape ours entirely around him.

Yeah. Good luck with that.

The wife and I have, sadly, fallen headfirst into this trap as much as anyone else. Parent ends up becoming such an all-encompassing, all-consuming role, that you forget there are other facets to your personality, other facets to your relationship with your spouse. And so you resort to the tactic of date nights. The occasional night off from parenthood, to remind yourselves that you’re still relatively youthful and fun and spontaneous and capable of having a good time. And so it was that last Friday night the Doozer was packed off to one set of grandparents for the evening, so the boy’s mother and I could stay out past 8:30 and partake of a social ritual that we had not experienced for quite a long time: a rock show.

That’s right, we were hipsters again for a night. Or at least, trying to be. We started our adventure with dinner, at long last a grown-up meal with adult beverages, no chicken fingers on the menu, no dangerously teetering booster seats, no crayons on the table. It was a tapas place (just typing that out makes me feel more like an adult than I have in forever) and we reveled in our goat cheese this and calamari that. The restaurant, a place called Small Plates, is a great part of the growing downtown dining scene in Detroit.

And not a child in sight. Although, inevitably, the conversation did eventually (and by eventually, I mean within moments) meander back to the subject of the Doozer. It’s Machiavellian, almost, the way the kid has us wrapped around his little finger, how he manages to dominate our life even in his absence. He is nefarious.

Anyway, after dinner, we took a short walk on that brisk November night (moving at a normal pace, as opposed to being slowed down by a curious toddler reluctant to hold hands or be carried to speed up the process) and arrived at the second destination of our adventure, St. Andrews Hall, renowned music enclave, a place neither of us had visited in years (not that we’d visited any other concert venues, mind you). Glorious, it felt, to enter that space, to be transported back to our more youthful days, to late nights and loud music and cheap beer and being carefree and no kids whatsoever. Our tickets were scanned, we entered the hall, we looked around.

And immediately wanted to sit down. But the only seats were in a restricted balcony section overlooking the stage. Needless to say, we were not allowed up. “But we were up early this morning with our son and it’s been a long day,” though true, did not seem like the kind of thing that would get us what we wanted.

So we stood. And waited. And grew tired. And waited. And yelled over the pre-show music. Talk turned, yet again, to the Doozer. What was he doing? Was he in bed yet? When would we get a report about him?

And then, what time was it? How long had we been standing there? When would the opening act come on? When would the headliners actually be on stage? My feet are getting tired. My neck hurts. My lower back is starting to twinge.

Of course, in hindsight, taking your pregnant wife to a rock show where there is no seating is probably not the wisest idea. And so the notion that this evening would invigorate us, remind us that we’re still relatively young, the result was actually the opposite: to make us feel incredibly old.

Eventually, the headlining band hit the stage. Sloan was pretty big in the ‘90s when we were teenagers. My wife had owned more of their music than I had, but I distinctly remembered them getting airplay on 89X, back when it was a decent radio station that played a lot of music that you didn’t typically hear on the radio. But before I’d heard a story on NPR a few months back about Sloan celebrating its twentieth year as a band, I didn’t even know they were still around. And that they’d recorded ten albums over the course of their career. I’d missed that.

It was loud. I mean, really loud. (God, we are old.) I’d said something about ear plugs and my wife was like, Who wears ear plugs to a rock show? But I could see them sticking out of people’s ears all around us. (Maybe we’re not all that old.)

In the end, my wife said she was familiar with maybe 40 to 50 percent of the songs they played that night, I was at about 10 to 15 percent. In fact, it was not until the final song of their set that I found myself singing along. “The Good In Everyone.” I’d forgotten that was even a Sloan song. They did not play “I Hate My Generation” or “Coax Me” the two songs I am most familiar with.

Though we made it through the encore, we barely made it home. Falling asleep standing up, achy and suffering from tinnitus, we trudged back to the car and headed home. We were in bed before midnight (though up far later than our typical bedtime) and slept soundly without interruption or an early-morning Doozer wake-up call. Huzzah.

We’d done it. We’d gone out and partied like rock stars. Kind of. Sort of.

But soon enough, the concert was a memory and we were off to collect our Doozer. We’d missed him. Terribly. Machiavellian, I tell you.

But maybe not all is lost. Maybe we are not so old and pathetic as we seemed. I read just today that Ryan Adams will be headlining the Ann Arbor Folk Festival in late January and it got me thinking. The wife will only be about eight months pregnant at that point.

I’m sure that won’t be an issue.

14 November 2011

Nice Parenting

The age of TV and junk food has begun.

We don’t really have anyone to blame for this but ourselves. The wife and I like TV. We like junk food. It’s only natural that we’d allow these things to slip into the Doozer’s life.

Of course, it was just Halloween. And only the second time in the Doozer’s young life that he’s gone trick-or-treating. Perhaps the first time he really knew what was happening. And that encyclopedic brain of his, the one that memorizes lengthy dinosaur names and entire plotlines of Dora the Explorer and every word in a favorite Arthur book, it kicked into overdrive and from the moment we got home, he had the entire contents of his pumpkin bucket memorized.

There was no way he was forgetting a single piece of candy he acquired. Nor was he going to let us forget what they were. I hope that these frightening powers of recall are someday put to good use, like in the service of learning and studying and taking tests, but something tells me I shouldn’t get my hopes up too high.

Sure, we’ve doled it out. Little by little. We didn’t allow him an orgiastic devouring of sugar the first night, the next night. Or at all. One piece at a time. Usually only one piece a day. But still, he acquired a taste for it like a smackhead fiending for his next hit. The kid that devoured every kind of fruit and vegetable imaginable started pushing around the food on his dinner plate and saying, “Dada. I’m hungry for candy corns.”

What have we done?

It’s not just junk food, but the junk of televised entertainment we’ve exposed him to. Speaking personally, I’m a hopeless TV addict and while my wife hasn’t fully succumbed to my level of abasement, it’s a slippery slope, and she readily admits she watches far more television since she’s been with me than she ever did before. Actually, blames me is probably a far more accurate statement than admits to.

And just like the candy, we’ve done our best to dole out television in moderation. It’s not on constantly in the background, he doesn’t veg out in front of the tube for hours at a time, like a miniature zombie. There is some regulation, there is some monitoring. The core of his programming comes from Nick Jr. and PBS. But we recently allowed him to start watching a Saturday morning cartoon on a regular network (Busytown Mysteries, based on the books of Richard Scarry—don’t get me started on how bizarre it is to interpret this author’s work as a series of kid-friendly procedurals each week). Not to mention the annual holiday specials that we so prized in our own youth (and still in adulthood), like It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown and How the Grinch Stole Christmas. But you know what you get with network programming, that you don’t encounter on PBS or even Nick Jr.?


And there it is. That’s the junk. It’s not the shows themselves, which tend to range from fairly harmless to mildly educational. It’s the gooey filling in between. Toys and candy and sugar cereals and junk. Sure, you can try to be vigilant, leave your hand hovering over the remote control so you can fast-forward through those commercials as soon as they appear. But you’re not always that fast and sometimes you do just have to leave the room.

And the result is your kid asking endless questions about something called Dr. Zombie’s Laboratory. What is it? What does he make there? Plus, the regular, instant recognition of a ridiculously overpriced, dancing and singing monstrosity called Rock Star Mickey. Which he spots from a hundred yards away the moment you enter the toy store.

(Yes, we took him to a toy store. I know. We’re hopeless.)

And so it begins. Our son, at only three, is now enveloped by a media-saturated world, another hopeless drone in our consumerist culture. We’re doomed.

I think we’ll read The Berenstain Bears and Too Much Junk Food tonight. And tomorrow night. And the next. Until the message sinks in. And if all else fails, we'll be feigning ignorance (and innocence) when the rest of the Halloween candy vanishes into thin air.

It has to be done.

31 October 2011

It's Alive!

Tonight is Halloween. Although, in reality, it’s been Halloween around here for about a month or so. Actually longer. We procured the Doozer’s costume way back in early September. Last year, he was obsessed with scarecrows that decorated the town square, in particular the one of Frankenstein’s Monster. As literary accuracy is a prized commodity in our house, this is exactly what we told him. After all, the big green guy is Frankenstein’s Monster (or, the Creature), not Frankenstein as he is often, wrongly, called. That would be the doctor that created him.

And so, for the past year, the Doozer has been obsessed with Frankenstein’s Monster. And when we saw a pint-sized costume of the Creature on sale, we knew we had to get it.

(Parenting tip of the day: We’ve had great luck finding costumes at both Old Navy and The Children’s Place. They’re reasonable and well-made and the kids seem to dig them.)

And of course, he’s loved stomping around like a recently re-animated, stitched-together monster, developing an amusing growl to go along with his lumbering gait. His commitment to honoring the full name of this character has also been impressive.

“Can I call you Frankie?” his mother asked during the annual Zoo Boo at the Detroit Zoo.

“Usually,” he responded, very seriously. “This is called the Frankenstein’s Monster costume.”

“Yes, but can I just call you Frankie? For short?”


This year, also marked his first Halloween school party. And what happened? Another boy showed up wearing the exact same costume! We hadn’t anticipated this, but the Doozer seemed unfazed about sharing the duties of being the monster. The other boy even had a green-painted face to complete the outfit. The Doozer refused this addition, opting for the more abstract approach. (He even refused his mother’s entreaties to draw additional stitches on his face. No dice.)

His specificity over calling the character Frankenstein’s Monster has been the source of endless amusement to other people. When kids say adult-sounding things, it’s hilarious. Besides, we would not raise a kid to offer unspecific or sloppy literary references. Please.

One of the most interesting things this Halloween has been watching him begin to recognize the line between reality and make-believe at the center of the holiday. When asked about his visit to the Haunted Reptile House at the zoo and the scary creatures hanging from the ceiling, he practically shrugged when he said, “They’re just decorations.”

Or when he modeled his Frankenstein’s Monster costume for his uncle who feigned only the slightest bit of fright upon seeing it, resulting in the Doozer quickly telling him, “I’m not the real Frankenstein’s Monster. It’s just a costume.” Oh. Right. Thank you for clearing that up.

We even managed to find a YouTube video of the old song “Monster Mash” featuring the characters from the early 70s cartoon series, Groovie Goolies. And sure enough, the first person to sing the song in the video is Frankenstein’s Monster (Frankie, on the show. Take that, son.). Needless to say, this became a big hit in our house, an instant classic, which has been on a constant rotation in the days leading up to the big night.

When asked to recount (for grandparents, etc.) the song, the Doozer has emphatically replied, “It’s a graveyard smash.” I’ve noticed lately there is this bizarre level of certainty in almost everything he says. I’m sure this happens with most kids. Even things that they have just learned, they manage to regurgitate in a way that makes it sound as if they have actually known this forever. And they can’t believe you’re asking them about it. Like he’s some kind of Rhodes scholar. Like we should all bow down before the greatness of toddler wisdom.

Such a weirdo. Even without the costume.

Happy Halloween . . .

26 October 2011

Report Card

The leaves are changing. And falling. The air is crisp. The days shorter.

Fall, it seems, is officially here and with it, we find ourselves well into this, the Doozer’s very first year of school. Month two now and that phrase is no less foreign to say aloud or type out: Our son is going to school. School.

How did this happen?

As we sat in his classroom one recent evening (a group of full-sized adults, assembled in a circle, seated on the world’s smallest chairs like we’d been suddenly transported to Lilliput), it became quite clear that this is yet another major shift in the kid’s life. At least for us. He seems to be handling it with aplomb, taking it all in stride, adjusting to school like it’s no big thing at all. But for us, watching him leave our own little circle, spending time away from us with people who are not related to him, it’s still taking some getting used to.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s great. It is. We recognize that this is the natural progression of things, that this is how it goes, and we do want him to grow and thrive and spread his wings and make new friends and have new experiences, new discoveries. Hearing his stories about his time at school, the songs he’s learned, the art he’s made, the interactions he’s had with other kids, that’s all amazing. I dig it.

Of course, our house is also overrun with Doozer artwork. Seriously. In only his second month of school (going only twice a week), he has produced a back catalogue of compositions to rival the most prolific artist. What’s the opposite of Terrence Malick? That’s him. We were informed one day that he bogarted both easels simultaneously and began working on two paintings side-by-side, at the same time. Until another child expressed interest in using an easel and he had to cut one of the pieces short. I’m not going to lie, it’s not his best work. It’s an incomplete expression of his artistic sensibilities.

The stuff is everywhere. What do we do with it all? To get just one piece out of the house, I asked to take a painting to work with me, to hang at my desk. And rather than take this as a great compliment about his burgeoning artistic skills, he denied me! We haggled and wrangled and he finally allowed a lesser piece (somebody botched his name on it) from his early blue period to leave with me.

His favorite was painting with little toy cars. That’s a very long sheet of paper with multi-colored streaks of tire tracks running all over it. I don’t remember getting to do something like that when I was a kid. I’m a little bit jealous. I get why he liked it so much.

So, this is our life now. For the next fifteen years or so. More, probably. Hopefully more. Though I still can’t imagine that this pint-sized schoolgoing newbie is ever going to be a middle schooler. Or a high schooler. Or, shudder to think, an undergrad. It’s just not possible. He’s so tiny, how will he ever get so big? And why would he want to?

Now that he goes to school, he keeps telling us he’s a “big boy.” Never mind that he sleeps with a stuffed duckie and won’t go number two in a toilet and has yet to master a fork. In his mind, he’s all grown up.

I’m not quite there yet. And something tells me I might not ever be.

13 October 2011

Hipster Doofus Parents

As the new fall TV season was approaching this year, a friend asked if the wife and I were legally obligated to watch Up All Night, since we now had a kid. I'm not sure his exact level of sarcasm when posing this query (it was over email or text, if I recall), but I was forced to sheepishly admit that I was already planning on checking it out, had perhaps even already set up my DVR to record it. He does not have children. He's watching Breaking Bad.

Anyway, the appeal was obvious. Aside from Will Arnett (and all the fond memories of Arrested Development that his appearance never fails to call up), the show appeared to take a quasi-realistic look at being new parents. How hard it actually is, how it forces you grow up in a way that you might not be prepared to, how downright annoying other parents can be—and how desperately you want to avoid being lumped together with all of them.

I can’t decide if it’s sad and pathetic, or comforting and reassuring, that this show is so relatable. That it has offered such a reflection of my life, as I know it now, with the Doozer. That in each of its episodes so far in this, its freshman season, there has been at least one element of the story that has managed to strike a chord. The pilot episode, for instance, is built entirely around the idea that going out and partying like you used to will result in the single worst hangover/day of your entire life. True that:

Or when the cool, childless couple move in across the street and all you want to do is be recognized as peers in the realm of cool and hip and relevant, but their housewarming party is causing such a ruckus that it’s keeping you and your baby up and you’re just desperate for sleep. Check.

Or shopping for that new car, the mom mobile, because you really do need something practical to get to the beach. Hell, to get to the grocery store. But it’s the same beige car every other parent is driving, the parents you do not want to be associated with under any circumstances. But it really is the most practical vehicle you could purchase.

It sometimes feels like the writers of this show have recorded personal conversations that my wife and I have had and turned them into the characters' dialogue. It reminds me of seeing Knocked Up for the first time and being convinced that Judd Apatow must have bugged the West Los Angeles apartment I shared in my early 20s with a few friends and a revolving door of roommates. When I got to interview him for a magazine about his flick, I posed this question to him. He neither confirmed nor denied that he had done such a thing.

And since this show is such an accurate reflection of our experience with parenting, it obviously dashes the hopes I had of turning this, The Dad Scene, into a half-hour comedy about new fatherhood starring Adam Scott (when he’s through with Parks and Recreation, of course).

Of course, I'm already the star of a fatherhood comedy myself. And it isn't just a half hour long. Life with the Doozer is a show that is weird, funny, surprising, enlightening, inspiring, tiring. And it's not just on once a week for half an hour. It's continuous. Nonstop.

Somebody cue the laugh track . . .

06 October 2011

Work In Progress

Ahh, Facebook. What did we ever do without you?

I was a notorious, longtime Facebook holdout. One of my last friends to actually join the social network. And now it seems ubiquitous and oddly central to my existence. Where I would once log on daily (multiple times) to my email account, I’m now also doing it with Facebook. What did I miss? What did I miss? It has actually changed the world. Or at least, certain aspects of it.

I can still remember the days before I went to college, when I did not have the Internet or email. And now, I can’t imagine not having them in my life every day. As for Facebook, it really does allow you to maintain at least somewhat of a connection with more people than you would have been able to in the past. Or at least, it makes it a lot easier to maintain those connections. Instead of just hearing through the grapevine, several weeks or months later, that an old friend got married, you can instead actually see photos of the event within hours, or even minutes, of it occurring. This especially applies to other people’s kids. A number of my friends have children that I’ve never seen in real life, but I've gotten to see them grow up on the Internets.

And the same goes for the Doozer. Because of Facebook, I've been able to aggressively push his cuteness on all manner of people who have never seen him in person.

Lately, though, as things on Facebook are constantly in a state of flux, I noticed something that I hadn’t before and that may have been there all along, or could be brand-new (with Facebook, you honestly never know). Some time back, I’d added my son’s name and age under the Family section of my profile. Sure, he didn’t have a Facebook account himself for me to connect with, but this still seemed like the thing to do. But then, just the other day I noticed that after his name and age, it says in parentheses, Pending. Pending? What does that mean?

Now, I know it means it’s unconfirmed or something (again, because he doesn’t have his own Facebook page, although I’m sure he will soon enough), but there was something about it that really struck me and got me thinking. Like, Sure, yeah, he’s your kid. Pending board approval. Pending further notice. Pending another review.

It got me thinking that parenthood is one giant experiment, a constant work-in-progress. It’s why I write this, I guess, to try, in some way, to make sense of it all. Because just like Facebook with its constant updates and setting changes, parenthood is a fluid exercise, an evolving process that can look very different from one day to the next.

It’s bewildering. Confusing. Confounding. Stressful. Arbitrary. Both permanent and transitory. Plus, you’re really accountable now. It always feels like there’s some invisible entity or force keeping tabs on you and your every move, grading your performance.

Honestly, it’s kind of terrifying.

Often, you’re the harshest judge of your own parenting skills. And there are times you think your kid should be taken away from you, because you are just not fit to be a parent. Even if I do have the pictures on Facebook to prove that I am. It’s a learning experience.

But I guess, that’s what life is overall, parent or not. But I’m learning. I think. Every day. So is he. We're figuring it out. It may be a work-in-progress, but the work is pretty good.

(Ed. note: This post—as always—is being composed on my MacBook, one of my prized possessions. Thanks, Mr. Jobs. We'll miss you.)

29 September 2011

Conversations With a 3-Year-Old

This post is of course nothing more than a blatant excuse to recount some of the more amusing utterances we've heard from the Doozer of late. And these are actual conversations now. Still a bit lopsided and one-sided on occasion, but the art of conversation is slowly but surely being grasped by our son. He's picking stuff up. He's mimicking the way the wife and I speak. And he's begun asking questions.

I don't think you really understand. It never occurred to me that the "Why" phase might start this early, but it has. In earnest. The constant stream of questions sometimes makes me feel like a perp being interrogated by a hardened police detective intent on ferreting out the truth. It's like the Spanish Inquisition in our house. And nobody expects a Spanish Inquisition.

When a Google image search for ghosts (because Halloween is just around the corner) turns up several shots of the character Ghost Rider, complete with flaming skull and intimidating motorcycle, try explaining to a toddler why his head is completely engulfed in flames.

No really, try.

And since it's Halloween, the Doozer is back on gargoyles. Yes, gargoyles. Looking at an image of one sitting atop Notre Dame in Paris, he asks, "What is that gargoyle doing?" I don't even know how to begin trying to answer that. What does a gargoyle do exactly? How would you describe that?

The Doozer is just a sponge, and it's impossible to keep up with all the references. Seriously, talking to him is like being in a Quentin Tarantino movie. He just absorbs everything (from real life and TV and books and music) and he's filtering it through his own particular worldview and coming back at you with it. You just have to sit there and marvel at what comes out of his mouth.

Sitting in our bed one lazy Sunday morning, trying to get the wife and I in gear to go downstairs so he can have his juice and watch some Curious George, the Doozer looks at the two of us and asks, "Well, fellows. What do you think we should do now?" We can't help but collapse (okay, so we were already lying down) into fits of laughter. Where did that come from? How does he know the word fellows? And how does he know how to use it correctly? Or mostly correctly?

But I think our recent personal favorite was the question he asked when he heard that the father of one of his preschool classmates was out of town, that he was, in fact, in a place called Budapest, the Doozer asked with utmost sincerity, "Do they have Buddhas there?" Longtime readers might recall our son's earlier preoccupation with two miniature Buddha statues in our house—and their penchant for Italian cuisine.

He's peppering his speech with words like familiar. And ridiculous. After visiting me at work, he looked back at the office building and said, "Your office is a very interesting place." Yes, I suppose that it is.

I'm sure someday he's not going to want to talk to me at all, so I should really enjoy this while it lasts.

22 September 2011

SpongeBob StupidHead

You may have heard about this, but recently two studies were released that impact parenthood and fatherhood, in particular, in the case of one. The first study was done by the journal Pediatrics and the results showed something that perhaps many people long suspected (or feared) and did not need a study to reach the same conclusion. Essentially, the report indicates that watching the cartoon SpongeBob SquarePants makes your kids stupid. At least, that’s what I took away from this study and the surrounding media hoopla. That was the message, right?

The funny thing about this is that I could have told you the same thing without a fancy report done by “experts” with impressive initials behind their names. Have you ever watched SpongeBob? Although I’ve never caught an entire episode, on the few occasions that I’ve witnessed a few spare minutes of the show, I’ve felt myself getting dumber, just by being exposed to it.

And it’s not that I’m against absurdity in my television programs, or weirdness, just the opposite. I embrace all those things. But something about SpongeBob is so bizarre, that I’ve never been able to embrace it. The problem is they advertise this show around the more toddler-friendly programming that Nickelodeon has to offer (Wonder Pets, Dora the Explorer, Go Diego Go, etc.). The Doozer has been obsessed with Dora for a long time now. And Dino Dan. And Ni-Hao, Kai-Lan. Nick got its hooks into him and this led to a few viewings of SpongeBob before my wife put a stop to it.

She described it as junk (it made her feel stupider too). At least Dora solves problems and Kai-Lan preaches tolerance and how to deal with one’s emotions. SpongeBob sends weirdly confusing messages about the behavior of sea life. And so the wife and I (like many other parents, I’m sure), took the news of this report as validation that we were onto something in our parenting. That we had done at least one thing right, that shielding our son from this yellow menace in whitey tighties accorded us a big check mark in the success column as parents.

The other study seems to me to be somewhat related to the first. It was about fatherhood leading to lower levels of testosterone. And sure, if you spend your time watching things like SpongeBob, then that’s less time you’re watching Ice Road Truckers or Game of Thrones. That would probably cause anybody’s testosterone to drop.

Of course, I didn’t feel that strongly about the results of this research. I’m not sure how testosterone-y I was before, in pre-Doozer days. There’s an old joke in our house about how my wife got me to watch Red Wing hockey and Michigan football, while I returned the favor by getting her to watch Gilmore Girls. Seems a fair trade-off. I’ve never been that concerned about testosterone, so the fact that my supply might be depleting doesn’t faze me all that much.

I’ll tell you the other thing about fatherhood that could lead to reduced testosterone (something I’m not sure this study covered): getting smacked in the testicles by your children. This is something nobody really warns you about, but should. You’re going to get hit in the testicles frequently when you’re a dad, like you’re a character in a Farrelly Brothers movie. And it’s not going to be malicious or intentional, it’s just going to happen. They don’t realize what they’re doing, they’re unaware of the impact and the effect of such actions and so it’s going to keep happening.

Because if nothing else, kids like to pounce on you. And I mean pounce. There are times I think my son has mistaken me for a trampoline. And I’m not sure how you explain this to your child exactly. You can only hope that someday he gets smacked in the testicles himself and in the midst of his own pain and suffering, has sudden recall to his toddlerhood and feels bad about inflicting similar punishment upon his old man.

Or I guess I could always start wearing a cup.

15 September 2011

Sometimes I Do Grown-Up Things

Last week, I had the pleasure of having lunch as a full-fledged adult with an old friend from high school that I hadn’t seen in a few years. He’s also a fellow blogger and you should check out his amazing and inspiring work: Keep It Up, David. He already blogged about our encounter, so I’ll try to avoid treading the same ground. Suffice it to say, opportunities to act like a legitimate adult, such as eating in a restaurant without a high chair or a booster seat or a squirming child are increasingly rare and quite welcome when they come along. 

I did however notice that I spent a good deal of time at said lunch talking about the Doozer. Every time I think I'm out, they pull me back in. Being a dad is now part and parcel of my entire existence. It is not simply another component of my life, it is my life. And so it dominates conversations that don’t need to be about the Doozer at all.

Yet, apparently, I can’t stop talking about him.

It has slipped my mind whether my friend David made inquiries about the Doozer, or whether I just injected his presence into our conversation and he simply indulged my tangents, as I droned on and on, steering the conversation further and further from my dining companion’s far-more-interesting exploits working in production on daytime television in Los Angeles. Not to mention everything else that a single person in a big city gets to experience on a daily basis, untethered by a toddler.

But we are of that age, I suppose, where the people that you knew in high school are now living some version of an adult life, often married, frequently with children. At lunch, David mentioned an acquaintance who had a child who may have been as old as eight or ten (he couldn't quite recall). I observed how odd it was to think that all these people are parents. How bizarre, how perfectly strange. "You're one of those people," he said, dryly.

Oh, right. I am one of those people. For about 48 minutes, I'd kind of forgotten. I had an adult conversation with an old friend and it wasn't all about the Doozer. Although, again, I did interject him into the conversation frequently. I guess I don't have that much else to talk about these days. And that, after all, is what the Dad Scene is all about. That's my scene now, that's who I am these days. And I guess it's a pretty good scene to be a part of. Not a bad gig, all in all.

But seriously, I really must find at least a few new conversation topics for adult encounters.

08 September 2011

Back to School

So when the phrase "first day of school" has been absent from your vocabulary for an extensive period of time, it can come as quite a shock when it suddenly reenters your orbit. Which is exactly what happened recently, as Labor Day approached and then passed, brining us to the Doozer's first day of school. Having turned three in August (three!), it was time for him to embark on the next great adventure of his young life: Preschool.

We selected a co-op preschool in our area, realizing only later that maybe we might not be co-op people after all. We left our first pre-meeting with other parents, board members, etc., and I said to my wife, "Are you sure we're co-op people?" We are, typically, not joiners. And when you enroll your kid in a co-op, there is a lot of involvement required. A lot.

But we liked the school and the teachers and the whole co-op vibe appealed to the kind of people we'd like to be.

So we talked up school all summer. We got a backpack for his birthday (covered in dinosaurs, natch), only to discover that the cubby holes at school are too narrow for backpacks and they recommend tote bags instead. And now we have a tote bag. He got a new shirt to wear on his first day. He was ready. He woke up in the morning, all amped up.

And we were late. We were the parents of the last kid to arrive in class. We didn't miss much, just part of a story. But still. That's us. The ones who can't get their act together to be on time for the first day of school. Seems about right.

Then there was a song. And much like when people try to sing "Happy Birthday" to our son, he recoiled. The song went around the room, introducing all the kids in the class. When they got to the Doozer's name, he stopped clapping along, turned around, and buried his face against me, refusing to acknowledge the song. Maybe next time.

After the song, the teacher gathered all the kids in the corner of the room to talk about the weather outside that morning. The kids all lined up in front of her and several eagerly answered her questions. The Doozer kept his distance. He laid down on the floor, on his back, stared at the ceiling, and played with his name tag.


Shortly after, the kids were turned loose for a bit of free play time. This was my cue to exit and head to the office. It took a moment or two to get steer the Doozer's attention away from the cars and trucks he'd started pulling off the shelf. A quick hug and a kiss ensued and then I got an abrupt wave and a "Bye!" I got the message loud and clear.

Don't let the door hit you in the ass on the way out, Dada.

That night, there was a lot to report. He painted a picture for the first time. It was mostly a giant red splotch, but still, he painted that. (Actually, it bore a vague resemblance to a Rothko. Go figure.) He peed on the floor a little. (Yes, we're the parents of that kid, too.) He made some new friends, apparently. Or at least, he remembered their names.

Later, one of the parents who'd been working in the class that first day set up an online album of photos from the first day. And the Doozer was all over them. There he was shooting hoops. He didn't tell us about that. There is he is, lined up with the other kids from class, waiting to go out to the playground. Wait a second. He took direction? Somebody asked/told him what to do and he did it? Really?

Who is this kid?

The strangest part of viewing these photos was seeing the Doozer having experiences that we weren't part of. Seeing him with a bunch of people I don't really know, that aren't related to him. Realizing that this is only the beginning. He will start having a life apart from us. He will become even more independent. He'll move out and get his own place. Like, tomorrow. Where has all the time gone?

My son started school this week. Crazy. I am officially a very old man.

31 August 2011

The Return of Debbie Downer

This post is dedicated to anyone who has bothered reading this on a regular, or semi-regular, basis in the past. So, to all six or seven of you, I want to offer an apology. And explanation.

This lengthy absence was unintentional and unfortunate. And it’s not as though the Doozer hasn’t done anything remotely interesting in the past two months. He has. And though I wish I could say that we’ve been living the high life and having a summer of nonstop activity and excitement, I can’t. Sure, there was some fun stuff here and there. The Doozer’s first out-of-town vacation, our annual visit to the zoo (where our son got to see—and roar alongside—ginormous, life-sized dinosaurs), his third birthday celebration (dinosaur-themed—sensing a pattern here?).

The Doozer has been enrolled in preschool and starts next week. Which is crazy. He has mastered 48-piece puzzles. We tried and failed repeatedly to convince him to go and see his first movie in the theater (Winnie the Pooh). He peed all the way up the bathroom wall. (Yes, that happened. Seriously.) He got a sandbox. And a backpack. And a miniature house for the backyard (my biggest assembly project to date—becoming a parent has forced me to tap into my non-existent engineering skills more than I ever have in my entire life).

He also started wearing underpants. With Marvel superheroes on them. Time really flies.

The truth is, that despite all of these wonderful occurrences and developmental advancements, it has not been the greatest summer for me. For several different reasons which I won’t bore anyone with (anymore than I already have), I have spent most of the summer suffering from some pretty serious depression and anxiety. As if parenting wasn’t a difficult, arduous journey already, this experience put a serious crimp in my parenting style.

If I had any to begin with.

Being depressed and being Dad 24/7 can be a complicated balancing act. You don’t want to bum your kid out by being bummed out yourself. You don’t want to seem to your kid as though you are not interested in them or committed to whatever activity you’re engaged in. And just try explaining to an inquisitive toddler where you’ve been when you come home later in the evening than usual, because you’ve been seeing a therapist. Try to avoid telling them that you went to see a doctor, a term they are obviously more familiar with than therapist. “Why did you meet the doctor? Do you have a boo-boo? Did you get a sticker?” Uh, sure. Yeah. I got a sticker.

So, for me, this summer has been about putting on a happy face and trying to be normal (whatever that is anymore). And it hasn’t always been easy. But you learn when you become a parent that you want to keep your child safe, not only from actual danger and harm, but you want to protect them from harshness and cruelty and the generally crappy nature of the outside world. They’ll learn soon enough that life isn’t perfect, that the world is a pretty messed-up place. You should at least try to let them enjoy themselves for a little while before those realizations sink in.

At least until they’re five or so.

When I lamented to my wife that I worried about passing along all this stuff to our son (which is ridiculously cruel and unfair of us), she poignantly observed that if you’re smart and you’re paying attention to what’s going on in the world, chances are, you’re going to end up depressed. “And he’s already extremely smart,” she added with a sigh.

So, we’ve screwed him. Basically. Sorry, Son.

But, to move past the relentless gloom and doom of this post, there is some good to report. Well, first of all, I’m writing this, so that’s positive. My wife has been chastising me for weeks about posting, setting deadlines that I have been unable to meet. If nothing else, writing this will get her off my back. Kidding, kidding. But I feel comfortable and confident in writing this now (and I wanted to, I’ve missed it). I experienced something of a breakthrough recently. The dark clouds are starting to lift and I’m finding it less of a Herculean effort to simply be relaxed and happy and content around the Doozer.

In fact, this past weekend, we were playing in his grandparents’ yard with a bouncy ball. Playing “kickety kickball,” as the Doozer likes to call it. We ran in circles and he couldn’t stop giggling. Then I taught him how to drop-kick the ball. And he actually managed to replicate the action! Sure, sometimes it snapped back and smacked him in the face, but he didn’t mind. Sometimes he got it to sail straight through the air, up above both our heads.

“I knew I could do it!” he exclaimed and I swear I have never heard anything funnier in my entire life. And in that moment, watching that ball sail above us, seeing the Doozer smile, hearing his laughter ring through the air, everything else disappeared. Everything dropped away. It was pure, unfiltered joy. At least I think that's what it was. And for a few minutes I wasn’t depressed. I was just Dad.

And it was kind of awesome.