30 November 2011

Bedtime Story


It occurs so infrequently these days that I’m going to savor it.

Parenting is a series of failures. No, really. This is what I’ve found. It can be measured by what you get right and what you get wrong, situations you misjudge or flat-out bungle. It could be described as an evolution, a learning experience, but really, it’s a steady line of failings, occasionally interrupted by the blips of minor successes.

It’s like a post-game analysis show that never ends, that just runs 24/7 in your mind, as you lay awake at night, second-guessing your instincts and your maneuvers, questioning your fitness as a parent, and pessimistic about your ability to improve your game as time goes on.

But then, every once in a while, you seem to do something right. Something more than just keeping your child alive and free from harm. Something that makes you look at your spouse and high-five each other, or simply say, “Nailed it.”

We recently transitioned the Doozer to a big boy bed.

While many kids move out of their crib earlier (he is now 3 years, 4 months), we were lucky to be saddled with a child who never showed an aptitude for climbing out of his crib. Or an interest. We’re not sure what it was. He tried once, around 18 months maybe, and my wife yelled at him that he’d get hurt. He apparently took it to heart.

Having never been a decent sleeper, and recently having taken to singing, chatting, and calling for us repeatedly after being put down for the night, we were naturally concerned that he would take the opportunity to get up every night, to wander about and possibly come downstairs. We tried to remain hopeful that this would not happen. Lest he appear out of thin air in the living room while we watched TV, perhaps during yet another Paz de la Huerta nude scene on Boardwalk Empire (seriously, what, is she allergic to clothing?).

Dada? What is that lady doing? Ummm . . .

So far, though, thankfully, no such awkwardness has occurred. Perhaps it hasn’t yet dawned on him to try and get out of his bed at night and run around like a maniac, or disturb us while we’re trying to enjoy an adult beverage and some fine HBO programming. He’s done it in the morning. In fact, on the first morning in the new bed, he called out to us, as he is wont to do, and requested to be brought downstairs for the customary juice and Curious George.

Finally, I got up and walked into his room to retrieve him, only to discover that we were suddenly players in a French stage farce (or perhaps a production of Noises Off!), since there are two doors to the Doozer’s bedroom and while I entered one, he slipped out the other and wandered it into our bedroom, proud as a peacock, thrilled with this new dimension to his life.

It’s now been about a week and so far, it is far smoother sailing than we’d imagined it would be. Far smoother, for instance, than the Take-Away-the-Binky Debacle of Fall 2010. Though we employed the same tactics, did due diligence, talked endlessly about the impending change, got him excited for what awaited him on the other side (as he was given the opportunity to trade in his binky for a new toy—a remote-controlled train, which was pretty cool, if I do say so myself). We were ill-prepared for the epic meltdown and the long, lost weekend that followed.

By comparison, moving out of his crib into a big bed was miraculously issue-free. At least so far. (I’ve probably just completely jinxed us.) And so for the moment, we’re going to revel in this minor success. We did it at the right time, we did the proper amount of preparation, we got him prepared, nay, excited, for the move and so when it occurred, it was not traumatic—for him or us. Well, maybe for us. A little.

I mean, come on, he’s not in a crib anymore. He’s in a bed. A regular bed that a full-grown adult could sleep in. This struck me immediately upon constructing the bed and assembling all the bedding atop it. I looked at this suddenly large object in his room and realized, he might still be sleeping in this when he’s a teenager. When he’s in high school. He’s going to be in high school someday . . . he’s going to be a teenager.

This thought was almost enough to make me want to tear it down and go right back to the crib and keep him in there forever.

Oh well, the crib will be occupied soon enough, when the next addition of the family arrives, when the Doozer’s new brother, the Doozer Jr., will be spending his naps and his nights there. And the new little one will undoubtedly remind us of the first little one, the one that lived inside that crib, sleeping every night alongside a yellow ducky and some grapes. Of course the Doozer’s still got the ducky. Still got the grapes. Some things don’t change as quickly as others.

He’s still my little guy. For now. He’s just a little guy in a big bed.

A very big bed.

Good night, my sweet boy.

17 November 2011

I Hate My Generation

In the giant time suck that is life with a child (or children), it’s quite easy for two people to forget that they were once childless, that they had an entire existence as a couple, that they were two people in a romantic relationship, who were routinely well-rested, properly groomed, and—let’s admit it—fun to be around.

You often read about the importance of “date nights” for old, boring, married couples who spend most of their waking hours entertaining the whims and catering to the demands of a miniature human being. People often think they’ll escape this fate. That won’t be us, they’ll say. We won’t forget. Our kid will fit into our life, we won’t reshape ours entirely around him.

Yeah. Good luck with that.

The wife and I have, sadly, fallen headfirst into this trap as much as anyone else. Parent ends up becoming such an all-encompassing, all-consuming role, that you forget there are other facets to your personality, other facets to your relationship with your spouse. And so you resort to the tactic of date nights. The occasional night off from parenthood, to remind yourselves that you’re still relatively youthful and fun and spontaneous and capable of having a good time. And so it was that last Friday night the Doozer was packed off to one set of grandparents for the evening, so the boy’s mother and I could stay out past 8:30 and partake of a social ritual that we had not experienced for quite a long time: a rock show.

That’s right, we were hipsters again for a night. Or at least, trying to be. We started our adventure with dinner, at long last a grown-up meal with adult beverages, no chicken fingers on the menu, no dangerously teetering booster seats, no crayons on the table. It was a tapas place (just typing that out makes me feel more like an adult than I have in forever) and we reveled in our goat cheese this and calamari that. The restaurant, a place called Small Plates, is a great part of the growing downtown dining scene in Detroit.

And not a child in sight. Although, inevitably, the conversation did eventually (and by eventually, I mean within moments) meander back to the subject of the Doozer. It’s Machiavellian, almost, the way the kid has us wrapped around his little finger, how he manages to dominate our life even in his absence. He is nefarious.

Anyway, after dinner, we took a short walk on that brisk November night (moving at a normal pace, as opposed to being slowed down by a curious toddler reluctant to hold hands or be carried to speed up the process) and arrived at the second destination of our adventure, St. Andrews Hall, renowned music enclave, a place neither of us had visited in years (not that we’d visited any other concert venues, mind you). Glorious, it felt, to enter that space, to be transported back to our more youthful days, to late nights and loud music and cheap beer and being carefree and no kids whatsoever. Our tickets were scanned, we entered the hall, we looked around.

And immediately wanted to sit down. But the only seats were in a restricted balcony section overlooking the stage. Needless to say, we were not allowed up. “But we were up early this morning with our son and it’s been a long day,” though true, did not seem like the kind of thing that would get us what we wanted.

So we stood. And waited. And grew tired. And waited. And yelled over the pre-show music. Talk turned, yet again, to the Doozer. What was he doing? Was he in bed yet? When would we get a report about him?

And then, what time was it? How long had we been standing there? When would the opening act come on? When would the headliners actually be on stage? My feet are getting tired. My neck hurts. My lower back is starting to twinge.

Of course, in hindsight, taking your pregnant wife to a rock show where there is no seating is probably not the wisest idea. And so the notion that this evening would invigorate us, remind us that we’re still relatively young, the result was actually the opposite: to make us feel incredibly old.

Eventually, the headlining band hit the stage. Sloan was pretty big in the ‘90s when we were teenagers. My wife had owned more of their music than I had, but I distinctly remembered them getting airplay on 89X, back when it was a decent radio station that played a lot of music that you didn’t typically hear on the radio. But before I’d heard a story on NPR a few months back about Sloan celebrating its twentieth year as a band, I didn’t even know they were still around. And that they’d recorded ten albums over the course of their career. I’d missed that.

It was loud. I mean, really loud. (God, we are old.) I’d said something about ear plugs and my wife was like, Who wears ear plugs to a rock show? But I could see them sticking out of people’s ears all around us. (Maybe we’re not all that old.)

In the end, my wife said she was familiar with maybe 40 to 50 percent of the songs they played that night, I was at about 10 to 15 percent. In fact, it was not until the final song of their set that I found myself singing along. “The Good In Everyone.” I’d forgotten that was even a Sloan song. They did not play “I Hate My Generation” or “Coax Me” the two songs I am most familiar with.

Though we made it through the encore, we barely made it home. Falling asleep standing up, achy and suffering from tinnitus, we trudged back to the car and headed home. We were in bed before midnight (though up far later than our typical bedtime) and slept soundly without interruption or an early-morning Doozer wake-up call. Huzzah.

We’d done it. We’d gone out and partied like rock stars. Kind of. Sort of.

But soon enough, the concert was a memory and we were off to collect our Doozer. We’d missed him. Terribly. Machiavellian, I tell you.

But maybe not all is lost. Maybe we are not so old and pathetic as we seemed. I read just today that Ryan Adams will be headlining the Ann Arbor Folk Festival in late January and it got me thinking. The wife will only be about eight months pregnant at that point.

I’m sure that won’t be an issue.

14 November 2011

Nice Parenting

The age of TV and junk food has begun.

We don’t really have anyone to blame for this but ourselves. The wife and I like TV. We like junk food. It’s only natural that we’d allow these things to slip into the Doozer’s life.

Of course, it was just Halloween. And only the second time in the Doozer’s young life that he’s gone trick-or-treating. Perhaps the first time he really knew what was happening. And that encyclopedic brain of his, the one that memorizes lengthy dinosaur names and entire plotlines of Dora the Explorer and every word in a favorite Arthur book, it kicked into overdrive and from the moment we got home, he had the entire contents of his pumpkin bucket memorized.

There was no way he was forgetting a single piece of candy he acquired. Nor was he going to let us forget what they were. I hope that these frightening powers of recall are someday put to good use, like in the service of learning and studying and taking tests, but something tells me I shouldn’t get my hopes up too high.

Sure, we’ve doled it out. Little by little. We didn’t allow him an orgiastic devouring of sugar the first night, the next night. Or at all. One piece at a time. Usually only one piece a day. But still, he acquired a taste for it like a smackhead fiending for his next hit. The kid that devoured every kind of fruit and vegetable imaginable started pushing around the food on his dinner plate and saying, “Dada. I’m hungry for candy corns.”

What have we done?

It’s not just junk food, but the junk of televised entertainment we’ve exposed him to. Speaking personally, I’m a hopeless TV addict and while my wife hasn’t fully succumbed to my level of abasement, it’s a slippery slope, and she readily admits she watches far more television since she’s been with me than she ever did before. Actually, blames me is probably a far more accurate statement than admits to.

And just like the candy, we’ve done our best to dole out television in moderation. It’s not on constantly in the background, he doesn’t veg out in front of the tube for hours at a time, like a miniature zombie. There is some regulation, there is some monitoring. The core of his programming comes from Nick Jr. and PBS. But we recently allowed him to start watching a Saturday morning cartoon on a regular network (Busytown Mysteries, based on the books of Richard Scarry—don’t get me started on how bizarre it is to interpret this author’s work as a series of kid-friendly procedurals each week). Not to mention the annual holiday specials that we so prized in our own youth (and still in adulthood), like It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown and How the Grinch Stole Christmas. But you know what you get with network programming, that you don’t encounter on PBS or even Nick Jr.?


And there it is. That’s the junk. It’s not the shows themselves, which tend to range from fairly harmless to mildly educational. It’s the gooey filling in between. Toys and candy and sugar cereals and junk. Sure, you can try to be vigilant, leave your hand hovering over the remote control so you can fast-forward through those commercials as soon as they appear. But you’re not always that fast and sometimes you do just have to leave the room.

And the result is your kid asking endless questions about something called Dr. Zombie’s Laboratory. What is it? What does he make there? Plus, the regular, instant recognition of a ridiculously overpriced, dancing and singing monstrosity called Rock Star Mickey. Which he spots from a hundred yards away the moment you enter the toy store.

(Yes, we took him to a toy store. I know. We’re hopeless.)

And so it begins. Our son, at only three, is now enveloped by a media-saturated world, another hopeless drone in our consumerist culture. We’re doomed.

I think we’ll read The Berenstain Bears and Too Much Junk Food tonight. And tomorrow night. And the next. Until the message sinks in. And if all else fails, we'll be feigning ignorance (and innocence) when the rest of the Halloween candy vanishes into thin air.

It has to be done.