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.