26 May 2011

Hey, Energy Sucker

I'm exhausted.

No, really. Wiped out. That's what parenting is. A 7-day, 24-hour marathon (and repeat). It is an endurance test which pushes me to my limits. It has aged me. Rapidly. And before my time. (In my opinion.)

You know how you see Obama now and his hair seems to have gone really grey since he got elected? And he's only about midway through his first term. It's kind of like that. Thankfully I don't seem to actually have any grey hair yet (at least none that I've noticed), but it's a good physical representation of how I feel.

(Ed. note: "You totally have a grey hair," the wife says upon reviewing this entry. Whatever, the author replies.)

(Side note: Recently, the Doozer recognized the President on TV and referred to him by name. He can even tell you he lives in Washington, D.C. at the White House. We'd like to think this is an indication we're doing something right. So what if we haven't managed to potty train him yet or get him enrolled in the right preschool? The kid is smart.)

And it occurs to me that the job is not all that different. That managing the nation (and sometimes the affairs of other nations, near and far) is not necessarily that far removed from the job of being a parent. You're dealing with a suffering economy (kids being mad expensive, yo), disparate personalities, intransigence, disasters, ideological differences, policy battles. And it's a hard job. You can take out Bin Laden (or give an awesome piggyback ride) and still some people won't be satisfied. The next day your success will be forgotten and the people start complaining. Again.

Popular sentiment is constantly shifting.

And so I'm tired. Mustering the energy to write these words is a challenge. It's a 24/7 job and while you could say it's tiring but exhilarating, it's really just mostly tiring.

In addition to the premature aging, there's also the issue of baby weight. Most people don't know this, but it affects fathers too. I've heard that spending your time chasing a toddler around can help you stay in shape. Personally, I haven't found this to be true. In fact, chasing said kid around, being on high alert and constantly aware of your heightened level of responsibility is so tiring, that you counteract all that energy expenditure with longer periods of excessive slothfulness.

Every night, collapsing in front of the TV, on the couch, eating and drinking too much, finding yourself in no mood or state for projects of self-improvement of any kind. I can't imagine that Obama doesn't hit a White House vending machine on certain late nights, chowing down on Cheetos or something, because that's just how it is when you have to work late and there's stress and pressure everywhere you look. And even though your wife's big (and extremely important) cause is fighting childhood obesity, you just can't help it, you have to eat junk food to fuel those late nights of sitting up and worrying how it's all going to turn out in the end.

At least, he's got one thing going for him: term limits. There's an end in sight. There will be a day when he can relax in the not-so-distant future (2016 is not all that far away), kick back, and remove the weight of the world (literally) from his tired shoulders.

Not me. Doesn't work like that. Sure, he'll turn 18 someday, but there's no guarantee that things will change. I'm stuck. And so I'm just going to keep getting older and fatter. I should do something about that. Right now. But it's late and I'm tired and I'm full and I've got a bit of a buzz going and I kind of just want to go to bed.

Self-improvement and maintenance starts tomorrow. I swear.

Before I'm a really old man.

18 May 2011

An Apology

Dear Doozer,

I'm sorry. Really sorry.

Let me explain.

It's come to our attention that children your age often get enrolled in something called preschool. In fact, a co-worker of mine recently selected a preschool for his daughter to attend in the fall (about five months in advance). Apparently, this is something we should have already been looking into and planning.

Here's the thing. In our defense, your mom and I are not so great at this whole parenting thing. Sure, we may look like we have it together. You are consistently—and properly—washed, fed, and dressed. We can be fun. We're steady, we're present. You seem to like us. Most of the time.

But the truth is, more often than not, it is a charade. We are out of our depths. Sure, we're reasonably intelligent, university-educated individuals who consumed baby-rearing materials in print and online as though we were cramming for a particularly taxing final exam. Yes, we have managed to keep our own lives moving along (mostly), in addition to being your parents. We are also, usually, washed, fed, and dressed properly.

At the same time, this is probably the most challenging experience either one of us has ever faced. We had this plan, before you came along, that since we were here first (obviously), you would have to be integrated into our existing life, as opposed to us completely rearranging ourselves for your benefit. And oh, how the tables have turned, you conniving little upstart! Got us both wrapped around your little finger from the start, lording over the joint as if you were the one who was wearing the pants and making us feel as if we'd never even heard of pants. You asserted your dominance early on and have staunchly refused to relinquish that surprisingly strong iron grip of yours ever since.

Napoleon complex, much?

Anyway, back to the preschool thing. From here, it's a slippery slope. Every moment of this life counts and your mom and I are now fearful that we have forever altered your path through this world—for the worse. We have no idea how you go about selecting a preschool. What if we pick the wrong one? What if we find the right one, only it's too late and we can't get you in?

And if we don't get this preschool thing right, it will no doubt result in a catastrophic chain reaction. You won't excel in high school, there'll be no Harvard or Yale for you. You won't be brilliant and revolutionary and successful. You'll be mediocre and, therefore, embittered, drinking heavily and chain-smoking, complaining weekly to your shrink about what lousy, pathetic parents you have, who couldn't get anything right, who failed to do something so incredibly simple as use their combined intellect and intelligence to proactively seek out and confidently select a preschool to get you started on your journey in life.

If it makes you feel any better, neither of us went to Yale or Harvard. Sure, George W. Bush did. And yes, he was president (two times). But he was also a tremendous a-hole.

And just so you know, you should cut us some slack. Seriously. You don't like to sleep. So we never get to really rest. Which is exhausting, let me tell you. Also, you love books, but you can't read, so we have to do that for you. At least 25 percent or more of each day is spent reading. And believe me, I'd love to spend that time finishing the new Jonathan Franzen novel rather than reading Daisy-Head Mayzie for the 416th time. You have a voracious appetite for . . . everything. Food, cartoons, swimming, stomping in puddles, digging in dirt, reciting names of dinosaurs, listening to music, visiting Trader Joe's, running in circles, asking questions, giving hugs, getting hugs, drinking milk, pretending to cook, laughing, sharing, stomping in more puddles, petting dogs, watering pants, sliding . . .

Phew. It's exhausting just writing about being your parent, let alone actually being your parent. You're so damn determined to squeeze every single drop of experience out of this world, of living life to the fullest, as if it was your job. It's like no one told you this is not Las Vegas, that we can slow down and (for god's sake) take a nap once in a while.

So pardon us for being a little bit tired. We'll work on the preschool thing tomorrow. Or this weekend, for sure. Definitely by the end of the month. Let us just have one nap and then we'll start worrying about your future, okay?

Please don't hate us.


Your Dad

14 May 2011

Good Parent, Bad Parent

This week’s episode of Modern Family featured a storyline about how Phil and Claire had slipped into familiar roles in their family, one the disciplinarian, the other the “fun” parent. They tried to break out of these boxes, reverse those roles, and the results were predictably chaotic. (And, of course, hilarious.)

It struck a chord with me as I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the part of parenting that involves discipline. The Doozer is closing in on his third birthday and in his second year of life has become an at times emotionally volatile, impulsive, and even reckless, individual. It’s a tightrope. Keeping them in line and letting them spread their wings. And finding that right balance between nurturing and disciplining, being fun and being strict, can be taxing. Like every single other aspect of parenting.

I hate the disciplining part of being a parent. I hate being the bad guy. Watching your kid get upset with you (even if it’s the result of you acting in their best interest) is awful. And it doesn’t get better the more you do it. It stays awful.

While our roles as parents are still evolving, we haven’t fallen into any kinds of routines yet, there’s not a good parent and a bad parent in our house. At least not yet. Like everything else, we’re figuring this out as we go, in fits and starts, flailing and failing and occasionally feeling semi-successful.

We’ve tried to institute some consistent policies, a system for appropriate punishments and just rewards, something that is neither too coddling nor too oppressive. We read this book, 1-2-3 Magic. It was helpful. We’ve adopted some of its suggestions. Things like counting to three and giving time-outs if the Doozer’s behavior doesn’t change after the count of three.

The wife is with the Doozer more than I am, so she’s had to dole out more of these time-outs. She seems firm and confident in her approach to discipline (even if it bothers her as much as it bothers me). Me, I find that I flounder with this stuff, never knowing how or what to count. Uncertain of what types of behavior warrant punishment and which deserve warnings. How much talking, rationalizing, and explaining should you try to do before you reach the stage of punishment? I spend a lot of time talking to an unresponsive Doozer, trying to communicate with him like he’s a grown-up. Which he’s not.

That’s the part of me that just wants him to be good, all the time. It’s a completely ludicrous, unreasonable expectation. But I can’t help it. I feel like if I explain things to him logically, he’ll see the error of his ways. Which should work.

Except for the fact that he is only two. I imagine it's sort of what it's like to try and negotiate logically with a heroin addict. Or maybe an inanimate object. Reason cannot be applied.

Like everything else, the discipline issue seems to be unique. I mean, we can only get so much out of a book. There are theories and ideas and then there is the reality of living every day in our house with our son. And nobody can predict how that’s going to go, not us, not some child psychologist. We’ve kind of just got to wing it sometimes, you know?

There’s this thing you always hear in movies and on TV (and probably in real life, too) about how as a parent, you can’t forget that you’re a parent. That people are fixated on being “fun” and being friends with their kids, which blurs the lines and makes discipline exceedingly difficult. I want to be the fun parent, but I also want my son to behave in a reasonable fashion. If nothing else, his behavior is a reflection of us and if people are looking at him like he’s a holy terror, what they’re really thinking is what crappy parents that kid has. I know that’s what I think when I see kids going wild in public.

Nice parenting, I always think.

This is actually a good lesson I’ve learned as a parent. If you’re feeling bad about your abilities as a parent, if you’re doubting your effectiveness or competence, there’s a simple remedy. Go out in public. Wait a few minutes. Guaranteed, you will see an example of people who are even worse at being parents than you are. Just a few minutes of exposure to some really bad parenting (and honestly, you don’t have to search them out, they are everywhere), can make me feel better about being a parent myself for weeks or longer.

Because sometimes I get frustrated about my performance. You know how they say that you will always be your harshest critic? It’s true. And being a parent is no exception.

I’m a yeller. Apparently. I really don’t like this about myself. But I’ve noticed recently that I’m quick to raise my voice. I’m not sure if this is some internal mechanism, if this is how I was parented and now it’s coming out. Or it’s just my personality, that I’m quick to get angry or frustrated with situations I don’t like or I’m uncomfortable with. Regardless of the reasoning behind it, I still don’t like it.

But in my defense, it’s really not my fault. He just doesn’t listen. You have to repeat things sometimes, over and over – even his name – just to get him to look at you.

And I know he’s pushing our buttons. He’s testing his boundaries and developing a will and a personality and all those other things. I get it. I realize its importance. I want him to be independent and willful and opinionated and not a wallflower. I mean, if he wants to be a wallflower, that’s fine. There’s nothing wrong with that. I’m one myself. But if on occasion he could throw me a bone and behave as I expect, that would be great.

In fact, last night he did a great job cooperating. When I said it was time to come inside the house and take a bath, he did it promptly, without argument or resistance. The same thing happened a few minutes later when it was time to get out of his bath. He picked up his toys like I asked and drank his milk while watching TV. It was nice.

But something tells me tomorrow will be an entirely different experience. Because it always is. He’s going to find some new, inventive way to misbehave and get under my skin. Or simply to just be himself, to explore, to test, to gain control over his existence.

And then I will be forced to crush his spirit all over again.

I’m kidding, I’m kidding.

Sort of.

No, really. I’m joking.

I will break him.

Sorry. That was – I didn’t –

I’m really not that bad a parent.

At least I don’t think so.

Shut it.

07 May 2011

When the Going Gets Weird, the Weird Turn Pro

This is something of a personal triumph for me. I've managed to incorporate an apt reference to the work of my favorite writer, Dr. Hunter S. Thompson, into the subject of parenthood. Because this post is indeed about weirdness. Kid weirdness in general, I suppose, and the weirdness that I can only imagine is completely unique to our child.

There is an oft-repeated refrain at our house, typically uttered when the Doozer is out of earshot or out of the room or possibly sleeping. There are variations, but the gist of the sentiment is this: That kid is weird. "Such a weirdo," my wife will turn and say to me whenever we hear him through the monitor, chattering on and on to himself when he should be going to sleep. Telling himself about things that happened in his day or the plot of the latest Dora the Explorer.

And this is merely the tip of the iceberg. There is so much weirdness in our house these days. My wife and I are pretty quiet, homebody-ish types and we have spawned a miniature maniac, a kid who is a character all day long, every day.

My father recently observed to my wife that when the Doozer is taken somewhere (like his grandparents' house) or even has people outside his immediate circle (being the wife and I) in his home, he is strangely reluctant for a short period. He holds back and it takes a little time for him to warm up. Or as my wife put it, "Let his freak flag fly." But then fly it he does. And I like this sentiment. Because that's exactly how it is.

This is definitely one of the central tenets of good parenting (or at least it should be): Creating an environment that is conducive to letting your child do just that, fly his freak flag. I'd like to think we've done this. If our son's range of eccentricities and affectations are any indication, I suppose we have.

There is his fascination with gargoyles. Someone in our neighborhood had a giant, inflatable one in their yard last Halloween and it had the result of inspiring a full-blown obsession with the Doozer. So much so that at Christmas, the wife and I actually looked into gargoyle toys (to go with the wooden castle he was getting). And guess what? They don't seem to exist. Because normal kids, they do not want to play with gargoyles.

There are the bizarre bedtime routines. Where he must pretend he's going to go to sleep on the floor and we must leave the room and wait for him to come find us before we can put him in his crib. (I'm pretty sure the whole "I'm going to sleep on the floor" bit must be gone through at least twice each night.) Bedtime is an epic affair, full of minor detours and sometimes crazy rituals, which he pursues with the intensity of a zealot.

He often insists that he does not like the food he's been served for dinner. He will protest and complain and emphatically display his disgust with the offerings — then proceed to completely clean his plate. He'll proudly proclaim that a plastic iguana toy is his best friend (named Lucy). At least this week. Before that, it was the Wampa snow creature from Star Wars. (I mean it, the kid is weird.) And just recently, I heard this exchange in my house:

Doozer: Mama, you should laugh!
Wife: Ha ha ha!
Doozer: What's so funny, Mama?

And so we have learned to embrace the weirdness that now runs rampant in our home. We engage in the rituals, we laugh at the "jokes," we encourage the oddities. And perhaps we are not the quiet, reserved types we think we are. Perhaps all this weirdness is what he's inherited from us (beyond his love of books, which I feel comfortable claiming). This pint-sized personality spreading zaniness in our home is likely the reflection of two parents who are, in reality, and despite repeated protestations, a couple of kooks.

And I suppose that's fine with me.