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.)