28 April 2011

My Buddy

There was something I read recently about the overpraising of dads. That when people see a dad pushing a stroller (especially if a mom is nowhere in sight) they think, Look at him, what a great dad. So involved. Whereas, when they see a woman doing the exact same thing, it goes entirely unremarked upon. It is simply expected.

If anyone can tell me where I read this, I'd appreciate it. (Ed. note: The author is fully aware this is akin to discussing popular culture with one's parents: You know, the guy. He was in that movie. Or maybe it was on TV. The one your father liked. Don't you remember?)

My wife tells me there was a similar comment in an old post on Sweet Juniper! Maybe that was it. Apparently, he was in a situation where some woman commented on him being out during the day with his kids and giving his wife a "break." And as a proud stay-at-home dad, he wanted to say that "break" was actually his wife's career.

All this came to mind when I had a rare one-on-one day with the Doozer recently. And how I am woefully unprepared for these days. How my behavior under these circumstances would likely be considered comical and absurd by an outside observer. How frazzled I can get when it comes to the maintenance of our child as a solo effort (something which my wife does constantly without any fanfare at all or any excessive griping).

Making sure the iPod is charged, lest the Doozer have a meltdown over not hearing the same three songs played over and over again, I collect the kid and his belongings and we head on our way. I must point out that though my wife had her own event to prepare for that day, she did pack the diaper bag for me with all the things I probably would have only thought of once we'd reached our destination. I mean, I would've remembered the diaper bag, but I'm not sure I would've brought a snack to tide him over if we didn't get lunch promptly or the utensils to bring to a restaurant. I probably would've remembered to check the bag for diapers before leaving and to add some more if need be. Probably.

("I thought about letting you fend for yourself in regards to the diaper bag," my wife informed me afterward. "But I thought it might be better for everyone involved if I just took care of it." Thanks, Dear.)

Anyway, our first stop for the day was the kid-friendly hair-cutting place. This was only his second time at this establishment, but he was fine the first time, so I assumed this time would be no different. But perhaps he realized we were alone, that Mama was nowhere in sight, and that I was more self-conscious than normal about my parenting skills, particularly in such a public forum. And so when we were called, he flipped out. Even though there was nothing particularly foreign or uncomfortable about the experience, he was acting as though it was. And I could feel all their eyes on me. The hairdressers and the receptionist and the other parents, staring, with pitying glances, silently expressing the same sentiment: That poor, pathetic bastard.

Of course, I feel this way most of the time when I'm out in public with my son. This time was just more acute.

Eventually he calmed down after a semi-serious fit (the likes of which I had rarely seen outside the safe confines of our own home) and got his hair cut. He had a lollipop. He was good. Quasi-successful navigation of one public-facing parenting experience. A new look from the staff: Maybe that poor, pathetic bastard will be okay after all.

After a quick trip to Trader Joe's (and stickers up and down the Doozer's pants), we move on to the lunch portion of the day. The Doozer informed me he wanted a hamburger (or hambagunga) for lunch, so I offered him some options of establishments where I knew such an item could be procured. One, a chain restaurant where he had never eaten where I'm certain he could have gotten some crayons to draw on the table (no dice) or the local pub (we have a winner).

"The pub in town," he repeats, excitedly. "The pub in town!"

Yes, my son chose a bar for lunch. There's nothing with that. Is there? Don't answer that.

We parked across the street and thinking that I had the situation under control, I decide that I will put his sippy cup and utensils in my coat pockets, so I won't have to carry the diaper bag across the street to the pub. It's a busy street and he's a maniac, so I want to be as unencumbered as possible to be fully capable of managing his movements at any given moment (or something like that). And so we toddle off to the pub. We have a disagreement over seating. I want to get a high chair for him, he initially refuses, insisting on siting on a regular chair, while I try to dissuade him. Once again, I'm on my own here, I have to make sure he is fed, etc., I'd prefer he be strapped down for the entire endeavor.

Don't judge me.

And once we're all settled, it hits me. I forgot his bib. It's back in the diaper bag in the car across the street. I think of that moment in 127 Hours where the camera pulls out of the trench and back through the desert and the canyon into the backseat of Aron's car to reveal that he's left some Gatorade and oranges there. Obviously, our situation is a bit less dramatic and severe. But I still feel as though it is representative of my shortcomings as a parent. I inform the Doozer of what has transpired. "You can go and I can stay here," he informs me. Nice try, pal. I'm convinced he's trying to trick me. That he's playing into my insecurities, getting me to think about walking away from my child in a public place (I can see the car clearly from where we're sitting, after all), so I will look bad in front of the other people having lunch on the patio today. He's nefarious. Or getting to be. I grow wise to his ploy and fashion a bib out of an extra napkin.

I order a pint. We're in a pub, after all. It arrives and I take a drink. And again, I think everyone is staring at me. Nice parenting, they're saying with their silent, judgmental stares. Kid at a pub, daytime drinking. Real nice.

Eyes averted, I take another drink.

The food arrives. I cut his hamburger into sections and cut some of his sweet potato fries, in order to get them to cool more quickly. I let him eat some pickles and tomatoes in the meantime. And then I have one of my very finest parenting moments. I should preface this by saying that I am clumsy. Like, ridiculously clumsy. And klutzy. I frequently walk into walls and doorframes that I have walked through, with no incident, hundreds of times before. I miss steps. I stumble over . . . nothing. Air, maybe. I don't know how it happens. I break dishes and glasses.

And so it happens that I do not set down the knife before picking up the plate and putting it in front of the Doozer. And midway through the procedure, it dawns on me. I am jabbing a knife in the direction of my son's face. Right in his face! Yes, that's me. I'm the guy who waves a knife around (while consuming alcohol, no less) within close proximity to the face of my two-year-old son.

Please don't call the authorities. Thank you.

So the moment passed. We finished our lunch. We took our little Daddy-Doozer party to the park. I managed to avoid placing my son in any further life-threatening incidents. We survive an afternoon of alone time to have another.


(We'll see what happens after the wife reads this post.)

22 April 2011

The Blank Page

The muse is sleeping. Inspiration is dormant.

(No, really, the Doozer is taking his afternoon nap.)

But more than that, I sit staring at the page, having developed this week a severe case of writer's block. I'm struggling to think of something Doozer-related I really want to document, some amusing anecdote to recreate in this space.

Entertain me, Son! Dance, monkey, dance!

But alas, inspiration is not forthcoming. This failure to produce material is something else I can now blame on him. Like no longer being able to stay awake until midnight or being free to play that new Beastie Boys single featuring the occasional profane lyric when his sensitive, innocent ears are within hearing distance. The fact that I haven't seen the inside of a real bar in forever or taken a proper vacation since his birth.

Kids ruin everything. Seriously.

Of course, the flipside of this scenario is that you can blame them for all kinds of stuff, stuff that's actually your fault and has almost nothing to do with your kid. You can use them as a scapegoat and an excuse for just about anything. Getting out of social engagements you'd rather not attend, or by way of explanation for forgetting a friend's birthday. So sorry, I have a kid now. They are exhausting and time-consuming and use up all of my time/brain power/energy/interest/time.

You can also exploit them. Let's call it kidsploitation. They can help you get an extra food sample at the grocery store by virtue of being so darn cute. Their warm cuddliness can be leveraged to convince their grandparents to take them off your hands for a bit, whenever you want to do something, anything, that isn't Doozer-centric. And with those same friends whose birthdays you forgot all about, you can get your kid to say something funny to them over the phone and like magic, your friend has forgotten all about your offense, having been blindsided by your child's absurd adorableness.

So I guess they don't really ruin everything. Exactly. They can come in quite handy sometimes. They can even be quite useful on occasion. In ways that you never would have imagined before becoming a parent.

However, they can also be wildly unpredictable and wreak utter havoc on your existence. Like right now. So I think I'll go wake the Doozer and try to do get him to do tricks for me to help me overcome this writer's block. As his father, I'm sure I can command him to inspire me. That'll work, right?

Don't answer that.

14 April 2011

School of Rock

One of the best things about being a parent is the ability it gives you to shape your kid in your own image, to influence their taste and style, before their peers and the world gets hold of them.

Lately, we've been doing our best to expose the Doozer to as much (and as many different kinds of) music as possible (free of inappropriate language and sexual references we'd prefer he not yet learn). In the car, at home, we're doing our best to plug him into our extensive music collection. Which currently means, playing music for him almost exclusively the computer, sadly. This kid is doomed. His whole world is wired. And we're part of the problem. He knows the iPod, but I doubt he'd recognize a CD. What have we done?

In our meager defense, our stereo is too large for our current living room and we really have nowhere else to put it, so our CD collection has yet to be unpacked since we moved (two-plus years ago now) and my vinyl collection is currently collecting dust in my parents' basement.

What a sad state of affairs.

Anyway, we have not let these circumstances deter us from our mission of developing the Doozer's interest (and good taste) in music. The fruits of our labor were realized recently when we heard the most amazing sound through the baby monitor. There's nothing quite like being awoken in the morning by the monitor's crackling, followed by your child singing at the top of his lungs: "She's got a ticket to ride . . . she's got a ticket to ride . . . my baby don't care!"

Of course, there has been the occasional setback. The minor meltdown precipitated by our inability to rewind and repeat a favorite song heard on the radio. That the radio is something different than a CD or an iPod or the iTunes library on the computer was a bit much for the little guy to grasp and he really wanted to hear that Beatles song again.

(Thankfully, we had it at home.)

And just like the books that we are forced to read over and over, the Doozer gets fixated on particular songs that we must then listen to a multitude of times. No matter how many times we try to explain to him that all of Cardinology by Ryan Adams and the Cardinals is pretty great, he still insists on just hearing "Magick" over and over and over again. Though, hearing your kid sing along to a song featuring lyrics about "missile strikes" and "mushroom clouds" is pretty hilarious.

Don't judge us.

Apparently he has not become acquainted with (or is not bothered by) the concept of a song getting stuck in your head. He seems to like that sort of thing. Little weirdo.

And while I did manage to convince him of the merits of "California" by Rufus Wainwright, I could not get him to open his mind (or his ears) to Mumford & Sons. When I played the first track of Sigh No More in the car, he actually covered his ears and told me, "That hurts my ears." I guess there is no accounting for taste. Guess we'll leave them off the growing playlist that we are compiling in order to further our son's musical education.

Though it might not be his cup of tea—yet, anyway—there is one song I'd like to put on that playlist for him. We know he's already a fan of its composer's work. If nothing else, this particular song means something to me now that it never did before. I've got my own one of these now, and so the lyrics speak to me in a much more profound, powerful way.

I'd make a terrible singer/songwriter, kid. You don't realize it yet, but I'm not a good singer. Your mother, in fact, hates my singing. She's the one with the beautiful voice in the family. Hopefully you'll take after her.

But anyway, if I were to ever write a song for you, it might go a little something like this . . .

07 April 2011

I Weep For the Future

Recently, the Doozer has surprised (and impressed) us by slowly revealing that he has completely memorized entire books. Apparently, there was method to his madness of forcing us to read the same stories, day after day, night after night, until the wife and I were so sick to death of these stories that we'd rather scratch out our eyeballs than endure them even one more time.

At 2 1/2, he clearly can't read yet, but he knows what words go with what pages, turning to the next page at exactly the right moment, which gives it the appearance of reading. He has even adopted our reading styles, appropriating the same inflections and tones of voice that we employ when reading these books to him.

Last night, it was Where the Wild Things Are and Knuffle Bunny, cover to cover. When there were pages without words, he'd vividly describe the action to us. This is pretty much the best free entertainment I've seen in a long time.

It took only a handful, as opposed to countless, readings for him to fully commit to memory the contents of A Child's Book of Art by Lucy Micklethwait. This one came from the wife's bookshelf and it's a great big hardcover , 60-plus pages of various works of art, spanning centuries, continents, and styles, featuring Matisse, Picasso, Degas, Toulouse-Lautrec, Hockney, Escher, and many others. The book is arranged into sections based on what appears in the paintings or drawings. Groupings such as animals or family members or fruit or outdoor activities or rooms in a house.

Each image is captioned briefly, often with just one word. This simplicity, no doubt, was instrumental in the ease of the Doozer's memorization.

We've attempted to take it a step further and teach him the names of some of the artists. So far we have been successful only with Kandinsky. (But what a victory.) Having a 2-year-old identify this artist's work and speak his name aloud is completely hilarious. And though he is pretty astute and resistant to our many attempts at turning him into a dancing monkey, steadfastly refusing to perform on cue, especially when an audience larger than his parents is present, this is one party trick we hope to exploit.


Anyway, my real point is specifically related to the book's section titled "Things to Do." In it, there is this image by Gerard ter Borch, named Woman Writing a Letter (circa 1655).

It has a one-word caption: Writing. (It appears on a page with Reading, Painting, and Drawing.) And so when we've read it to him, we've said, "Writing." (Obviously.) However, now that he's "reading" it back to us, he is saying "typing."

Now, I realize that a quill pen is an uncommon and foreign sight to eyes so young. But to see the general concept of writing transformed into his mind into no more than the use of a computer, to see what appears to me to be the eradication of a word which the boy's father uses to define his entire existence in this world—that's a little scary.

True, I fully recognize the irony of sitting here on the couch, composing this missive on my laptop as he sits nearby. No wonder he thinks of it as typing. (Ed. note: In my defense, I did use a pen and a notebook to draft a rough, early version of this post. Of course, he didn't actually witness that. Damn.) I suppose this is just a reflection of the wired nature of the world in which he finds himself growing up. It reminds me of that old PSA about the father confronting his kid about his drug use: "You, all right! I learned it by watching you!"

The whole thing reminded me of a brilliant sequence on 30 Rock recently, depicting renowned, acclaimed playwright, TV and screenwriter Aaron Sorkin (fresh off his Oscar win for The Social Network, no less) having to beg Nick Lachey for a job on reality TV series, The Sing Off. Hilarious. But also somewhat poignant.

I weep for the future.

It's like he's intentionally scrubbing this word from his vocabulary. We are "writing" emails, we inform him. He persists in calling it "typing."

I weep for the future. (Mitch Albom-style.)

I can picture it now, in a few years, a little bit older, when asked what his father does, he will say "type" and while technically this may be an accurate statement—it is the means by which I record the oft-brilliant thoughts rattling around in my brain—it completely diminishes the act of creation. I am more than just a stenographer. Not that there's anything wrong with that . . .

Now he's got me so worked up, I am slandering other perfectly decent professions. How dare he? Don't you realize what you're doing to me?

Listen, kid. The pen is mightier than the . . . well, that ridiculous light-up sword you got from the circus, for one. And all those precious books you love, all those episodes of your beloved Dora the Explorer? Somebody wrote those.

This is writing, kid. Take note.

Even if I do happen to be typing while I . . . dammit!