28 February 2011

The Street

Another day, another rite of passage.

It seems the milestones are coming fast and furious these days, as if the Doozer is in some kind of serious hurry to grow up. Memo to Doozer: please slow down.

Anyway, one of our latest major milestones involved taking the kid into the city to a fancy theater to see all his pals from the television. That's right. We took the Doozer to Sesame Street Live. This is a big event in the life of many a child. It's an institution, almost as much as the series itself. They've been bringing the show to live stages for decades, it seems, at least since I was a kid (though I don't think I was ever quite fortunate enough to go as a youngster myself). And it's definitely worth checking out with your kids, if you haven't already done so.

For weeks beforehand, we talked up the show, to get the Doozer prepared. We've found that lengthy, repetitive conversation is often the best way for him to embrace new experiences. Serious preparation. So, leading up to the show, he kept talking about how much he wanted to see Big Bird, Elmo, and Cookie Monster at the theater. The day of the show, we get to the theater and the lights come down and the show begins. The theme of the show is using your imagination and during the opening number, a plethora of characters appears onstage, expanding on this theme. There's Grover! There's Abby! There's Elmo! And Big Bird!

Cookie Monster is nowhere in sight.

"Where's Cookie Monster?" the Doozer asks.

We're hopeful he's like a second act surprise or something. We tell our son he must be coming later.

"Where's Cookie Monster?" he asks again. And again. And again.

Awesome, Sesame Street Live is a disaster. This was supposed to be like the Beatles at Shea Stadium, our kid was supposed to be rapturous with excitement about seeing his favorite characters live in a theater and —

Oh, wait, there he is. "Cookie Monster!" the Doozer exclaims as the big, furry blue one shows up at 10 or 15 minutes into the show. Disaster averted. All is right with the world. Of course, the Doozer is still not rapturous with excitement. He's more interested in the snack we brought him than the show. Doesn't he realize he's seeing the Beatles?

Well, he liked the theater seats that you can put up and down. There was that, at least.

In the end, overall, it was a fun, enjoyable experience for the Doozer. Even if he did tell us that everyone but Big Bird, Elmo, and Cookie Monster was "too loud." Although, personally, I was a little surprised not to see or hear any of the greatest hits. I mean, you see somebody live on stage, you expect the greatest hits, right? But there was no "Rubber Duckie" or "C is For Cookie," nothing. Not even the theme song about sunny days and whatnot.

It reminded me of that old SNL bit with David Spade where he admonishes bands for not playing their greatest hits in concert, encouraging Big Country to be sure and play "In a Big Country" when he goes to their show.

And don't get me started on the impostor Mr. Noodle they sprang on us during the Elmo's World segment. That was most certainly not Bill Irwin, gifted mime and stage actor, he of dishwasher loading fame in Rachel Getting Married.

But honestly, I can't really complain. It was fun. Sesame Street is awesome. I'm consistently impressed by its high quality and educational value and heart and humor and music and everything else. I find it to be a positive influence in my son's life. And if they continue to put out heartfelt messages like this one, then it's all right by me.

Let me just hit play and watch the Doozer dance around the room . . .

24 February 2011

Devil's Haircut

Sometimes, life is just sad.

And sometimes, that sadness can come in some strange, seemingly innocuous packages.

Like a haircut.

While this is now a clearly defined ritual in the young life of the Doozer, as he's had an ever-growing number of them in the last few years, they can often be mirthless affairs.

And it has nothing at all to do with the locale. On the contrary, we just discovered this place called Snip-its. Which is a great place to take your little one, should they find themselves in need of a haircut. Bright and colorful, with cartoons and prizes, plus interactive decor, it's kind of like the Chuck E. Cheese's of hair salons. Definitely not your grandfather's barbershop, for sure.

Anyway, this most recent haircut was, simply, downright evil. Not in how it looked, mind you. It's not like the stylist fashioned his hair to look like Damien or one of those kids from Children of the Corn. Maybe a little on the short side, but other than that it looked completely fine. Except for the fact that it immediately made him look older.

In an instant, after several snips of hair, the Doozer revealed himself for what he's becoming—rapidly—a grown-up little boy. Less and less our little baby every day. And sure, in some ways, we're excited about this aging process (I imagine the conversations get better and that eventually he'll master the proper usage of a fork). But mostly, it's just sad. Yet again, this is something that no one warns you about: Becoming a parent is to be sad. A lot.

They grow up so fast is such a cliche, but really, it's true. They do. It doesn't stop. It's constant. You find yourself becoming nostalgic for things that happened yesterday, last week, because that's how quickly it all changes.

And so you find yourself feeling sad because of a haircut. A haircut.

What a strange life this is . . .

17 February 2011

Idiot Box

"Pediatricians should urge parents to avoid television viewing for children under the age of 2 years . . . exposing such young children to television programs should be discouraged."
—American Academy of Pediatrics

OTIS: I watch TV with a critical eye. If I get truly sucked in, I know it's time to change the channel.

MAX: Is it abbreviated? Is it plural? These are the questions I have to ask myself. Your attention span is, like, one- quarter of a music video.

OTIS: There are many dull parts in the videos.
Kicking and Screaming, Noah Baumbach (1995)

This first quote is from a study by the American Academy of Pediatrics, an organization that seems pretty official and which I have no reason to doubt. The second is from one of my favorite flicks and represents an argument between Max and Otis, in which Max chastises Otis for watching too much TV and not engaging in more brain-stimulating activities, like doing the crossword puzzle. To me, they represent different viewpoints on watching TV. And I bring them up in relation to a pretty major event in our house this week.

The Grumpy Old Troll got married.

Yes, Nick Jr. aired a very special episode of Dora the Explorer for Valentine's Day, following the misadventures of everybody's favorite yellow-haired, under-the-bridge dweller, on the day of his nuptials to Petunia (who may or may not have been a troll herself, this was never quite specified). It's kind of ridiculous and sad how momentous this occasion was in our household, how the Doozer's parents were looking forward to it almost as much as he was.

I must admit, we did allow our son to start watching TV some time before his second birthday. And his viewing has continued pretty much unabated ever since.

But I don't think it's bad thing. Necessarily. At least, not until I read things like the quote above, or hear about other parents who don't allow their kids to watch as much TV as we allow the Doozer to watch. The thing is, so far, it doesn't seem to be negatively impacting him. All that rotting your brain and stunting your development stuff, I haven't seen it.

(And hopefully won't.)

For the Doozer, watching TV is an interactive experience. Not like with us lazy, stupefied adults, who loll on the sofa, zoning out to Grey's Anatomy or the Cooking Channel. It's both interactive and active. He gets up and dances during songs. Because of Dora the Explorer, he's learned some Spanish words and even numbers. (He particularly likes to say, "Ocho.") He answers questions posed by the characters onscreen. I swear, sometimes it seems like Map and Backpack are far better at eliciting responses from him than the wife and me.

He's been exposed to letters, numbers, words, music. He's learned about feelings, emotions, colors, challenges.

And just like Otis, the Doozer watches with a critical eye. If a particular segment of Sesame Street does not hold his interest, he will play with some Duplo blocks or even pick up a book.

Yes, this happened. He once picked up a book during a TV show and asked me to read it to him. Suck it, pediatricians!

Maybe I'm creating an elaborate, selective defense of letting my son watch television (perhaps I really do care what all those pediatricians think). But I do think it often has the opposite effect of the one we grew up hearing about, or that seems to be a major concern. That it will make him dumb, live up to its nickname as the Idiot Box. But for now, he seems engaged, he interacts with shows, he doesn't just sit there slack-jawed and drooling, zombie-style, having his brain turned irrevocably to useless mush.

Obviously, it's good to have guidelines. It's good to follow rules. Nobody believes this more than me. Trust me. But the thing you learn about parenting is that, more than anything, it's fluid. Constantly evolving. The experience can't be put into any sort of box, or governed completely by a set of rules put forth by experts. Only you are an expert in your own kid. And most days, even you aren't that much of an expert.

I don't know. I don't have all the answers. I'm not sure I have even some of the answers. But I like TV. Okay, I like TV a lot. And though Dora the Explorer is no Mad Men or Modern Family, I'll take it. I'll gladly sit beside the Doozer on our couch and watch together. Because we're starting to share a common interest here. Sure, it could be viewed as my vain attempt to shape my son in my own image, to create a miniature TV acolyte, a fellow Idiot Box devotee.

Scratch that. We're bonding. That's right. Bonding. That's my story.

Now, if you'll excuse me, it's time to dance along to the "We Did It" song with Dora and her pals.

When did this become my life exactly . . . ?

10 February 2011

Learning Curve

In the book What to Expect The Toddler Years, the authors (the same people who brought you What to Expect When You're Expecting and What to Expect The First Year—they've really got a thing about babies) provide an extremely detailed, comprehensive analysis of every stage of your child's life as a toddler—down to the month. Yes, month. These exhaustive guidelines provide detailed analysis of a child's expected progress. And while it's meant to chart the abilities of your offspring, you can't always help but see it as a rating system for your success (or failure) as a parent.

And this is only one resource. If you've been to a bookstore lately (if your town even still has one), you've likely seen a parenting and childhood section filled floor to rafters with a multitude of volumes. My wife and I also receive a daily e-mail (daily!) from a site called Baby Center. It is informative and helpful and . . . excessive? Stacks of magazines can also be found around our house, like Parents and Parenting (yes, those are two different magazines).

What did people do before all these publications? Before babies came with step-by-step owner's manuals, as if they were a washing machine or a Blu-ray player?

Anyway, those monthly sections of What to Expect the Toddler Years feature four groupings of developmental events: "should be able to," "will probably be able to," "may possibly be able to," and "may even able to." The lists include things like number of pictures the child can name, number of colors the child can identify, or number of words your child can use. Now, this is going to sound like bragging (which maybe, partially, it kind of is), but we frequently find that the Doozer has exceeded these parameters, more than mastered even the "may even be able to" events. Which we wonder about. While we're inclined (and let's face it, want) to think of our son as a genius, we also find ourselves believing that the bar must be set really low and there are just a ton of not-too-bright, not-terribly-coordinated, relatively slow-witted children running around (that maybe Mike Judge's Idiocracy was far more prescient than it initially seemed).

And then something weird happens. (Though maybe it's just me.) But I find myself fixating on the things he can't do yet, rather than the myriad of items he actually excels at. Why can't he do that? I'll ask the wife. What's wrong with him? Or maybe it's us. Why aren't we teaching him these things? What's wrong with us?

I'm beginning to see how people become stage parents.

You really have to remind yourself that the kid is not even three years old. Sure, Mozart was composing by the time he was 5 or something, but really, what are the odds you've got a little Mozart? I don't know how to calculate "odds" exactly, but I think the chances are unlikely.

Still, you can't help (okay, maybe I can't help) but feel that your kid could be a genius, a prodigy, a master of art or science or engineering. A peak athlete or a talented singer. Why not? It's never too early to start training them, molding them, nudging them toward—

Wait. Stop. What are you doing? He's a kid. Let him be a kid.

(Again, I'm really seeing how easily a rational person can turn into a stage parent.)

It seems trite or cliche to go on and on about the wonder of raising a child, but it really is like nothing else. There's no frame of reference for this, nothing to compare it to. And just being there while your kid learns, witnessing so many small acts of discovery, it really is a pretty indescribable experience.

Seeing him learn letters and words and sentences. And numbers. (I think "eleventeen" is my favorite.) Hearing him learn how to sing the Bob Marley classic "Three Little Birds" (thank you, Elizabeth Mitchell). How to drink from a cup that doesn't have handles or a sippy top. To pull up the zipper on the front of his pajamas.

This past week, he's been learning to get undressed before his bath. I mean, I've been teaching him how to do this. And he's doing it. I'm teaching and he's learning. This is really happening. And while he still hasn't mastered pulling off a shirt, he's making short work of his socks and pants. Don't worry, it's not a trick we'll encourage him to perform for company ("Look, everybody, the kid's gonna take his pants off!").

He'll probably get there all on his own. Some things they don't need to be taught.