13 December 2012

How To Be a Man


I recently had a terrifying glimpse of my future.

Having gotten down on the floor to play with my sons, I quickly found myself wrestled to the ground by the Doozer and Little Brother then piled on. In short order, the little one had poked me in the eye and put his hand on my throat, pushing against it with all of his might to stand up. Presumably to look down on me in victory from a position of dominance. And though a nonsensical string of sounds came out of his mouth at that moment, I’m pretty sure he was saying, “Stay down, old man. We’re here to unleash a merciless beating. For the next 12 years or so. Or until we get bored.”

Crap, I thought. What have I wrought? How do I contend with this?

Also, I am in terrible shape. Exercise has never been one of my specialties or interests. I’ve never been athletic or active or any of those things. Now I’m going to have to sign up for Krav Maga, just to figure out how to defend myself. Plus, isn’t teaching your son how to fight—or at the very least defend himself in a fight—something you’re required to do? I don’t know how to do that. I was only in one fight in my entire life, one physical altercation, in the fourth grade and somebody else stepped in and defended me and took the detention and never gave me up as being part of the fight in the first place.

What other manly things do I have no idea about? What kind of example am I setting? There’s an old joke in our house that I got my wife interested in watching Gilmore Girls and she got me interested in watching hockey. Which is only a very slight exaggeration.

I have no idea how to change the oil in my car. I have only the faintest grasp of the arcane rules of baseball. Or football. (I have a thin part in my skull and was the only kid in 8th grade to not be part of the school football team. And that’s a true story, not a made-up anecdote. I swear.)

What if they ask me about such things? I’m screwed. I overheard a father explaining baseball to his kid at a Tigers game a few months back. And panic set in. I’m going to have to answer these questions, I thought. Sure, I can answer questions about Star Wars, superheroes, and Lord of the Rings until the cows come home. But real boy stuff? I’ve got nothing. I was a swimmer. That’s not a real sport.

Man, I need to get in shape. “Eye of the Tiger” montage and all that. 

What else don't I know about? Pitching a tent. Starting a fire. Baiting a fish hook. Just, uh, surviving, basically. I have zero good survival instincts. I keep losing my place in podcasts whenever my iPod runs out of juice. This is borderline intolerable for me. How could I possibly survive outside civilization? I am not outdoorsy. Not in the least. When discovering old toys in our respective childhood basements, it was revealed that my wife grew up with a Fisher-Price camping set and I grew up with a . . . Holiday Inn playset. This pretty much says everything about the two of us.

My own father served in the Army. Which means he went through basic training. Which astounds me every time I think about it. I’m so f’ing sensitive I feel like Jillian Michaels is personally picking on me when she issues instructions while I try to do one of my wife’s workout DVDs.

Will they want a tree fort? How the hell does that get built? Me and ladders, not a good combination. I have vertigo, obviously. It’s hard enough to get up the side of the house and clear leaves out of the gutter. Building a structure in a tree 20 feet off the ground? It would take seven years, fear and panic slowing my work pace to a sluggish crawl.

The Doozer is obsessed with the Hulk. We all know what he likes to do. I have injured myself trying to swat a mosquito. I’d probably not even make it all the way through The Dangerous Book for Boys.

I have even found myself Googling “how to be a man.” I found a lot of it is about being a gentleman. I could probably handle most of that. I was a metrosexual long before such a thing even existed.

Now what? How did I get to be so old and never learn how to be a man?

Lately, Little Brother has amused himself by pulling books off the large bookcase in our living room. Works by John Guare and Samuel Beckett, Sophocles and Shakespeare. He smiles and laughs and I thought he was showing a keen, early interest in literature, but now I’m wondering if he’s just mocking me for being some kind of high-falutin’, book-learnin’ nerd. Because he’s also recently tried to rip my glasses off my face when I’ve held him. Whenever I hold him. Come to think of it, both kids (as babies) have tried, repeatedly, to rip my glasses off my face. And succeeded, often. Yes, I have been bullied by my own children. I sincerely hope I am not the only person to whom this has happened.

Maybe masculinity is overrated. Maybe I should just raise my kids in Europe.

My twin monuments of masculinity, perhaps my two heroes, the writers who loom largest in my mind, are Hunter S. Thompson and Woody Allen. And while I admire the wild fearlessness and willingness of one, I mostly (intensely) identify with the reserved, nebbishy nature of the other. Always have.

Sorry, boys, I think you might be screwed.

29 November 2012

Star Wars Episode VII: A New Fan


A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away . . . 

Okay, so not that long ago (I’m not that old—yet) and not so far, far away (my current house is approximately 15 minutes away from my childhood one), but life happens and it does create distance and space between the person you were and the person you are. Once I was a truly avid (obsessive) fan of Star Wars and a devoted collector of the assorted toys and trinkets that were generated by the original trilogy. And now I’m an adult. Kind of.

Sure, I still enjoy Star Wars. I don’t watch the movies regularly or anything, but they were such an integral part of my youth that I’ll never totally let them go. And I’m sort of a Brian Posehn-type Star Wars nerd, with an almost unhinged reverence for the original trilogy, in its original form. A bit of a skeptic when it comes to the second trilogy (for every awesome lightsaber fight or inspired Ewan McGregor line reading, there is an equal number of Jar Jar Binks-esque debacles), a flat-out denier of the revamped re-releases (don’t get me started on that whole Greedo shooting first thing).

So Star Wars meant a lot to me, once. And I did devote a lot of time to collecting the toys. Which, to this day, I never got rid of. Obviously, I haven’t played with them in years, but they’re still there, boxed up, in my parents’ basement. Not that I ever really played with them then. I was a weird kid, who would set up elaborate tableaus and not actually “play” with any of them. Just re-created scenes from the flicks.

I guess I never gave up them for several reasons. Again, the time and energy that went into it. The cataloguing of all that stuff. The way I would later in life with books and films and LPs. It seemed odd to just let it all go in a garage sale when I’d literally spent years of my life as a child and adolescent committed to the enterprise. (No wonder it took so long to get any action or attention from girls. Anyway.) And when I started to frequent comic book shops as a teenager and see old, still-packaged Star Wars toys up on the shelves, I figured I could hang on to them for several more years and maybe they’d just increase in value and when (or if) I really needed it, I could sell them all and finance some kind of film or art project or something.

And maybe, possibly, in the back of my head, I thought I may someday have a kid I could share them with. In hindsight, it's a pretty weird thought and I’m not sure it was the primary motivator in holding on to the stuff, but nevertheless, this is what seems to have happened.

There are actually several major things that have happened recently in the Star Wars universe. There was the announcement of Disney’s purchase of Lucasfilm and the plan to start making a new Star Wars trilogy, beginning with the mythic, long-debated, increasingly unlikely (until now) Episode 7 in 2015. And then there’s Star Wars Angry Birds. Yeah, that happened.

And perhaps most significantly, at least in my world, the Doozer is now very interested in Star Wars. It’s hard to say how it started, how any of these things start. He was aware of it for a while, had a few of my old action figures he played with from time to time. He got a Lego catalog in the mail which he was super-excited about. There’s a lot of (very expensive) Star Wars-themed sets and characters in it. And so he started asking a lot of questions about those and we’d talk about it, delving into the details of the movies, the stories, the characters.

The barrage of questions just kept coming, like determined Rebel fighters attacking the Death Star. His interest and excitement seemed to know now bounds. Standing in the kitchen one night, cleaning up after dinner, contending with a litany of such questions, my wife said to me, “I’m never going to have this.” We have two sons now, and the likelihood that their interests will so closely overlap with those she had as a kid are sort of slim. It became clear that what was happening was something pretty special. And maybe I should embrace it.

The questions continued: Is that a good guy? Is he a bad guy? Did you own that toy? Does that guy go to the snow planet? Why does the Rancor live in Jabba the Hutt’s basement? And as the questions intersected the galaxy, covering the gamut of events and characters that comprise the original trilogy, the Doozer asked a question about the chronology or timeline, which prompted me to inform him of how the story was laid out.

Without really thinking, I said, “Well, there’s three movies, actually.”

“That your daddy acknowledges,” the wife quickly interjected with a hint of sarcasm. True. Maybe.

And speaking of movies, in 2015, he’ll be 7 years old. Which is kind of the perfect age for a new Star Wars movie, I think. Just as long as they don’t hire Nicholas Winding Refn to do a highly stylized, ultra-violent, Boba Fett-centric flick about intergalactic bounty hunting.

But honestly, how much would you pay to watch that thing?

So, anyway, there I am, in the basement of my parents’ house, searching for these old toys because my 4-year-old son won’t stop asking about them. Discovering all the stuff I’ve stored there over time. Sifting through an entire existence, wondering, what is that? Why is this thing still around? Why did I ever even own that? This weird excavation of earlier forms of yourself. Action figures and lad mags and old journals. Mementoes, souvenirs, textbooks, trinkets, posters.

It makes you think. About who we are and who we were. What connects you to that time. Am I still that person in some way? And then I start thinking about the Doozer. He’s going to have some of the same experiences. The same trials and hardships, even. As he starts to grow and our worlds start to overlap a little bit more, what kind of person will he become? What else might we get to have in common? Will we ever have anything else in common again?

Looking at these toys now, I realize they exert a strong pull on my memory. They represent something lost, in a way: The time before mortgages and health insurance and student loans and diapers and preschool payments and auto loans. The days of an allowance, of saving up money from chores and birthdays with the single-minded purpose of expanding this collection, this assortment of spaceships and Jedis and stormtroopers and monsters, which enabled a little kid with a big imagination to have grand adventures on the living room floor.

Because even though it’s all make-believe, there is a force. A pretty powerful one. The force of nostalgia, of wonder, of discovery. Of creativity and imagination. I know that, in a way, Star Wars inspired me to write. To make up my own stories. So for every misstep George Lucas has made, at least he did that. He put that positive energy out into the world. That influence can still be seen and felt in things like the work of J.J. Abrams and Junot Díaz, the hilarious, winking references of Paul, as well as some delicious bits of Eddie Izzard comedy.

It’s about escape and adventure. When you’re a kid, it’s all you want. Of course you’re never going to blow up the Death Star or race a speeder bike, pilot the Millennium Falcon or face off against Boba Fett. But if you’re lucky, you don’t lose that sense, that feeling. For wonder. And adventure. Because it turns out, life is a pretty big adventure. Sure, there aren’t any lightsabers, space smugglers, Wookies, or Jedis, but it turns out, you don’t really need them. Because as it turns out, your kid is kind of an awesome little wizard or space pirate all on his own.

So, yeah, I’m going to go play Star Wars with my kid now. And likely spend all night answering an onslaught of questions about good guys and bad guys, snow planets and monsters, droids and bounty hunters. And I’m going to love every single moment of it. As long as it lasts.

May the Force be with you . . .

15 November 2012

Four More Years


Right now, it kind of looks like the zombie apocalypse in our house, what with the seasonal illness that has ravaged every single adult and child in the place. So as I lay on the couch attempting to ward off death, I can muster only the strength for this very brief token of gratitude that I offer to the people of America.

As a father of two small children, I’d like to thank you for the choice you made last week. As a father, I’d like to say, sincerely, thank you for ensuring that I did not have to be put in the awkward position of explaining to my sons why that robot with the helmet made of hair was in charge of everything. Or worse, why we now live in Canada.

So thank you. Again. As a father, I appreciate it.

Carry on.


31 October 2012

It's the Great Pumpkin!


I was dreading this. I really was.

Dread seems to be a common feeling that I have when it comes to certain parenting experiences. This is going to be a nightmare, seems to be a common sentiment. That sort of thing. Kids tend to make everything—seriously, everything—take twice as long. More complicated, more time-consuming, more messy. Than it ever really needs to be.

It’s mostly because the Doozer likes to do things. Or, everything. As if he is unaware that he is 4. And not capable of doing everything. I’m a big kid now, his common sentiment. Not exactly. Stop it.

So, when it came time to carve a pumpkin for this year’s Halloween, I was skeptical. I didn’t think this was going to work out. When we handed over a small marker and he started sketching out the face on the side that I was going to have to carve, I was pretty certain it was going to end badly. And sure enough, he finished drawing, and I just knew it wasn’t going to work out.

“Great job,” we told him.

But then something strange happened. I started carving. And only once did I have to tell him to keep his tiny fingers away from the miniature pumpking-cutting saw. But then, it was done. And I’ll be damned. He knew what he was doing. Sometimes it does work out.

And nobody got injured. I’d count that as a success.

Now, this is my new favorite thing.














Happy Halloween . . .

25 October 2012

Awkward Family Photos


In the great checklist of life experiences as a family, we have another rite of passage that we can now cross off: the long-standing tradition of the family photo. But forget about sweater vests and plastic smiles and phony backdrops. This shit is serious now. We skipped the old standbys like the Sears Portrait Studio and went straight to a pro. Going for realism. Naturalism. Candidness. Real settings. A field. Some downtown streets. Like I said, serious.

It’s the same with all things parenting these days. Cars and food and baby gear and everything else. It’s all serious. And complicated. What happened here? I don’t remember it being like this when I was a kid. Mostly because I think it wasn’t.

But there we were. Booking a photographer. Coordinating outfits. Two different versions, actually, for two different locations. Because you don’t want to clash, but you don’t want to match (at least, too much) either. And you have to be sure to optimize the cuteness of your kids, while also making sure it’s balanced. One can’t out-cute the other. That would be bad.

Of course, you don’t need to screw up their outfits for them to sabotage the photos. They’ll take care of that all on their own. Little Brother wouldn’t smile, while the Doozer just kept fake-smiling, thinking he was really smiling, clearly getting all up in his head about this whole smiling for the camera thing. Posing. Preening. It wasn’t pretty.

And Little Brother? Smiliest, happiest baby in the world until the camera got turned on him. What is that? This curious, quizzical look on his face. The whole time. I guess, thinking back, it was the same thing with the Doozer when he was younger. Always laughing and smiling, but then you try to take his picture and he goes all stone-faced and weird. Okay, listen, we get it, you want power, you want control, but there are definitely much better circumstances under which to exercise it and try it out. But photos are good things. Cameras can be your friends. Contrary to what some ancient beliefs and B-horror movies might say, they do not steal your soul. That’s a myth. We think.

Anyway.

While we haven’t seen all the results yet, our lovely photographer posted some initial shots to Facebook and it turns out it was not a complete disaster. Apparently, these are really photogenic little rugrats. How did that happen? Not really all that awkward, in the end. Not at all.

And here’s an interesting thing that happened as a result of the excursion. Sometimes it takes seeing that visual representation to remind you that you’re in a family now. A real, multi-dimensional, multi-member family. Because it’s easy to forget when it’s actually happening to you, all the time. You’re still you, you don’t seem to have changed, but now, you’re surrounded by all these people. Who are these people? Oh, right. You’re a unit. A team. This is how we’re perceived.

It seems to me it’s important to try and step out of it once in a while, see how other people see you. Oh,  this is what they see? To see the unit and the team. And to embrace that mentality. Because otherwise, it’s four disparate souls in a lifeboat and you’re just going to kill each other, when you really need to pull together to ensure your survival.

Or, at the very least, just take some very cute photos that make you seem like you should be in a fancy catalogue, like J. Crew or Boden or something. Really. We need to get on that. 

Anybody know anybody?

19 October 2012

The First Avenger



“Who’s strong and brave, here to save the American Way?
Who vows to fight like a man for what’s right night and day?
Who will campaign door-to-door for America,
Carry the flag shore to shore for America,
From Hoboken to Spokane,
The Star Spangled Man with a--”

Wait a second, who’s that guy?

(Or, the Doozer comes to the crushing realization that is he not the only kid planning to dress up as Captain Steve Rogers this Halloween. Oddly, the 900 versions of said costume found on the rack at Target didn’t trigger any alarm bells whatsoever.)

For weeks, months (years, it seems like) we’ve been trying to get the Doozer to commit to a Halloween costume. He seemed overwhelmed by all the options. His now yearly tradition of endlessly poring over the Halloween catalogues continued apace. Whenever we asked him what he wanted his costume to be, he’d tell us some kind of superhero (no specific one), an Angry Bird, or a character from Cars. The latter two options never remotely taken under consideration by us, we kept asking him about the superheroes. Eventually, he decided he would go as Falcon or as The Thing. Since the big comic book/superhero movies of the year were The Avengers and The Amazing Spider-Man, I was pretty certain he wasn’t going to find either of these.

And further, I’m not sure there’s ever even been a Falcon Halloween costume, due to the character being so incredibly obscure (the Doozer discovered him on a cartoon we mistakenly let him view online, Super Hero Squad, which features kid-friendly versions of Marvel characters; it’s like Muppet Babies, only far more violent). I had never heard of him before either. And I’m not sure kids are clamoring at the bit to dress as a big orange version of the Commish for Halloween, either.

But I digress.

Eventually, it came down to one of the Avengers. He has stopped calling them the Vendors, the word Avengers having finally been wrangled to the ground and mastered by his still-developing linguistic skills.

We had a deadline. And not October 31. We were attending an event at the Detroit Zoo, the annual Zoo Boo, on October 14. So he needed to make a decision and stick with it. And not to get off on a tangent (or reveal the stooped-shouldered, cursing-the-world old man persona that exists beneath my fresh-faced façade), but when did Halloween become a monthlong event, full of mini-Halloweens leading up to October 31? I’m pretty sure when I was a kid, there was just one day of this stuff. You wore the costume to school, you went trick-or-treating that night. That’s the end of it. Now it’s pre-events and everything else.

And when did costumes get so cheap and crummy-looking? And even though they are cheap-looking, they are not necessarily cheap. Quite the opposite. And I’m sure they’re constructed of questionable material which we will discover years later was actually quite toxic, prolonged exposure to which could have serious health (and mortality) ramifications for the wearer.

Where was I? I went blind with rage at the shoddiness of consumer culture for a second.

Oh, right. Zoo Boo. So we went to this pre-pre-pre-Halloween event. Which is basically trick-or-treating through the zoo, so more candy and more junk, yay! And the Doozer was super-excited about his Captain America get-up. He had previously been gifted a shield and a mask by his uncle, which became part of the costume. He was particularly excited about the fake muscles sewn into the chest and arms, as well as the very specific and character-appropriate Captain America gloves we’d picked out for him. That I’d picked out for him. I was always a stickler for details when it came to Halloween costumes, always dedicated to absolute authenticity. Which is why the weird, lycra-ish costumes with the painted-on “boots” bother me so much. And why I called countless pop-up Halloween shops trying to find more elaborate red boot covers that would enhance the overall image. But failed.

So we start off on the half-mile walk through the zoo (Look, camels! Pumpkins painted pink like flamingos!) and after a few stops at treat stations for the kid to fill his Avengers tote bag with goodies, a kid slightly bigger, slightly older than the Doozer, appeared at his side, dressed identically, as the Cap, grinning from ear to ear, amused by another kid in the same outfit.

“Hey, Captain America!”

The Doozer did not respond. His expression went stone-faced. Seriously, death ray eyes. It was as if in that moment the Cap transformed into Cyclops and wanted this kid erased from the planet with one quick glance and laser-beam projection.

He was so frustrated. Disappointed. Angry. But it seemed to pass. We kept on walking.

On the way home, he said, “We should have got another costume. Like Thor. Or Hulk.” We tried explaining that just because we didn’t see somebody dressed as them didn’t mean they’re not out there. He might see them at school. Or, you know, on regular Halloween.

But here we were thinking he wanted to be like everybody else by picking out an Avengers costume, and really he still wanted it to be his own thing. In his own version of the world, he's thinking he’s the only one who had this idea. Sweet, really. Naïve. But sweet.

So there’s hope yet. Yes, he chose the garb that screamed I am an automaton, a product of a homogenized corporate/consumer culture (and he’d rejected more handmade-looking outfits of a pirate and a knight and my repeated entreaties for the four of us to go as the Beatles with mop-top wigs and suits with skinny ties—would’ve been brilliant), but he thought he was being unique. He is definitely his own man. His own Doozer. He has embraced being a non-conformist. And to let his little freak flag fly.

Even if he does love what everyone else loves. He is, after all, just a 4-year-old boy. It happens. I guess.

And even though on Halloween night, he might walk around looking like countless other kids, I’ll know that behind the plastic mask and underneath the fake muscles, there will be my little man, who wants so very much to be his own man. And I will smile.

But next year, we’re totally doing that Beatles thing. I don’t care what he says about it.

11 October 2012

A Very Particular Set of Skills


He doesn’t have any money, but he is developing a very particular set of skills. And it’s turning into a nightmare. For people like me.

It’s the little one this time. Little Brother is rapidly developing new motor skills. And turning into someone almost as deadly and dangerous as a ticked-off Liam Neeson, whose daughter has just been kidnapped by a bunch of non-descript, Eastern European thugs. Mostly, we just want to tell him to stop, to slow down, to stay still. To just chill out. Because this is making us crazy.

Of course, it’s also amazing and beautiful and breathtaking and inspiring. Especially when considering how this journey started. Spending the first week of his life on this planet strapped down in a hospital bed and hooked up to tubes and machines. All the way to this. To this. Which is pretty incredible.

And also, how do they figure stuff out? I mean, really. How does it work? The brain is such a strange, foreign thing. Of course, you take it for granted, basic functioning, everything you’ve done your whole life. To watch it take shape, to watch it take root. To watch it develop. There’s nothing like it.

So he’s crawling. At seven months. Well, maybe when he was six. Or did he start at five? Anyway, apparently this is advanced. We’ve read that he shouldn't necessarily be crawling yet. We concur.

And then just the other day, he pulled himself up to a standing position. I wasn’t there, but it happened. He stood. Of course, it was only momentary, he proceeded to waver like a novice tightrope walker and then collapse. But he kept doing it. Kept getting right back up. Couldn’t be deterred.

For months now, he’s been scooting across the floor. It’s kind of like an army crawl, but it’s still entirely his own weird thing. It’s like watching Uma Thurman in Kill Bill: Vol. 1, dragging herself through that hospital parking lot to the Pussy Wagon. (At least that’s the way that I remember it.) Literally propelling oneself forward by any means necessary. I still have no idea where he’s trying to get to. I mean, he doesn’t even know where he is right now, so he can’t have any idea where he’s actually going. Maybe he’s just trying to get away. From us. Maybe he’s determined that anywhere must be better than here. 

I won’t dwell on that notion.

It is hard to reconcile this mobile creature with the one I can still see so vividly in my mind from those early days. And it’s not just the turbo-powered crawling. He keeps making the sound “Mama.” It’s directed everywhere, not just at his mother. And he just keeps jabbering. Banging toys together. Waving. Clapping his hands. The pediatrician recently told the Doozer that it was his job as the older brother to teach Little Brother these maneuvers. And he’s really taken to the new role. He’s quite a teacher. It’s like they don’t even need me anymore. I’ll try not to dwell on that notion, either.

Which is also fascinating, because I can clearly recall the time, not so long ago, when the Doozer was just a lump himself, shakily beginning to test out these very skills and functions, developing his own repertoire of moves and maneuvers.

So I guess we have to start babyproofing. We’ve done none of it. Or at least none that seems to be advised. They advise quite a lot. They. What do they know anyway? Maybe it’s better to make the place a little less kid-friendly, restrict their movements. Keep them down. Teach them to fear grabbing stuff and being exploratory. Being mobile. Convince them they should just sit still and chill out. Because someday, like when they get to be my age, say, they will relish the rare opportunities to sit still and not be mobile, to be lazy. Inactive. You cannot convey the importance, or true beauty of this to a child. They are clueless on this count. They just want to move and do stuff all the time.

Chill. Out. Seriously. You’ve got plenty of time. It’s like I’ve suddenly started speaking Klingon and they have no way to process or take in this suggestion. They just look at me blankly or with those goofy, off-kilter smiles. And take off again. Please, man. Sit down. Relax.

Oh. Never mind. Just try not to maim yourselves, please.

video

30 September 2012

Portrait of the Artist as a Young Doozer


The wife heard of a newish practice recently where parents ask their kid what they want to be when they grow up on the first day of every school year (some get creative and take a photo with the occupation printed on a sign, etc.) to see how the answer evolves over time.

So we presented this query to the Doozer around the start of the new school year. And without hesitation, he responded, “An artist.” We both smiled. Instantly. We were glad to hear it. We must’ve been doing something right. (We would worry later on, wonder if we’d actually done something horribly wrong and steered him in the wrong direction, toward a life of heartbreak, rejection, and abject failure—but maybe that’s just our experience of being artists.)

But then he started to reconsider. “Or maybe . . . ” He considered this thought for a moment, as if weighing his options. What would he say? we wondered. Was there something else? He likes to help out in the kitchen. The next Anthony Bourdain? Likes the drums—the next Dave Grohl, perhaps?

“No,” he finally said. “I want to be an artist.” Why? We asked him. So he can paint and draw and make things out of clay, like Angry Birds. (Yes, he’s actually done this.)

But he was being modest. Sure, he paints and draws and shapes Angry Birds out of clay. But his real masterpiece, these days, is arranging tableaus—of everything. Toys, cars, action figures, blocks. They’re intricate and elaborate, like Wes Anderson-esque dioramas. And they are everywhere. He would cover every square inch of the house if we let him. Like something out of Hoarders.

Lately, I’ve heard a lot of stories about people who pursued some kind of art, who were originally inspired by what they saw of their parents, artists or bohemians or whatever they were. And it made me realize that I’d like to do the same. Inspire him. Set an interesting example.

Because we are entering that new phase, where there’s this new dimension to your role as a parent. Being a role model, not just the person who ensures that this kid survives one day to the next, is fed and clothed and housed, etc. This new role is more complicated. Complex. He’s turning into a real person and it’s a journey we have to participate in and sometimes guide him on. Nurture his dreams. Show him what it means to be a dreamer. Create an atmosphere and an environment to start him on that journey. Have a home filled with books and music and movies and photographs and art.

And I’d say this is one thing we’re doing right. He likes the Decemberists. And the Beatles. He’s seen Rocky and Bullwinkle and Monty Python. We even took him to check out Camera Solo, the Patti Smith photography exhibit, at the Detroit Institute of Arts. He particularly enjoyed her photo of the Eiffel Tower and the guitar that belonged to Fred “Sonic” Smith that was on display.

And attempting to be this positive creative influence to him is inspiring. Invigorating. It makes me want to pursue my own dreams, create even more art. Dream big, want more. Be inspired.

Of course, there’s another part of me that just wants to tell him to run like hell the other way. To put a pin in those dreams. Prepare him for the harsh, cruel reality of what a truly brutal world we live in.

But that would be wrong, right? Still, dissuading him is tempting. 

Damn, parenting is hard work. I was just getting used to the whole keeping him clothed, fed, and housed thing. This really throws a wrinkle in there.

I’m not cut out for this, am I?

Don’t answer that.

21 September 2012

Mr. Popularity


Like a lot of parents (or so I imagine), we had some concerns that September one year ago when the Doozer was about to start his very first school year. Sure, it was only two days a week for a few hours each day, but still, it was unlike any experience he’d previously encountered. It would be the first time that he was exposed to a lot of kids his own age, the first time he’d have to figure out how to interact in a group of his contemporaries, the first time he’d be (gasp) apart from us for an extended period of time.

(Okay, so that concern was more about us than him. But still.)

We’d obviously read about the ideas of socialization, about its importance. And even innately, it makes sense that your kid should be with other little people and not just you all the time.

But would he fit in? Would he like it? Would they like him? Would he assume a “role” in the group? If so, what would it be? Leader, follower? Brown-nose, bully, outsider, clown? Would he relish the role or be punished for it? Would our kid be the favorite, or an insufferable jerk?

And would he miss us?

(Yeah, yeah, we place a lot of our needs for validation on a very small child. What of it?)

The reality ended up being a little more complicated. While some kids in preschool quickly fell into those specific types of roles, others did not. The Doozer was one of these. He was wary of participation. But memorized all the songs and remembered all the stories. He was removed. Not a follower, nor a leader. He was engaged, but not eager to be part of the group.

They liked him regardless. Other mothers fell in love with him. The teachers recognized his intelligence and intuitiveness. By the end of the year, other kids considered him a friend. And they’d continue to see each other during playdates during the summer.

A few weeks into the new school year (three days a week now), we have made an interesting discovery. At least two (and possibly three) of his fellow students have independently claimed the Doozer as their “best friend.” They talk about him to their parents at home. They want to know if he’ll be at certain functions outside of school. And when I asked the wife if she has witnessed certain dynamics amongst his class (which is only six students now, all repeats from last year, so they are very familiar and at ease with one another), if there was perhaps a ringleader when it came to things like playing together, she said yes.

Our son.


What? (I’d had another kid in mind, one who seemed to have a more dominant personality.) Really? Our son? The ringleader? That couldn’t possibly be true.

“He’s got them all running around playing monster on the playground,” she said.

What this really means is that they are running around in circles like maniacs, growling like monsters, and showing off pretend claws. Not so much a game as it is a . . . I don’t know what you’d call it. Bizarre, for one. So, our son, the quiet one, the one that was not a joiner, suddenly he’s a ringleader? And everybody’s best friend? How could that be?

And then we witnessed something that really had to be seen to be believed. One recent evening at a jungle-themed indoor playground, at a beginning of the school year meet-and-greet for the preschoolers and their parents, the Doozer encountered his very first stalker.

For real.

Some little girl, completely unrelated to our group from the preschool, latched onto him like nobody’s business. It was pretty insane, actually. She just zeroed in on him and wouldn’t leave him alone. Following him everywhere. Pawing at him. At a certain point, my wife had to politely ask her to stop grabbing our son, as her own mother seemed completely uninterested in monitoring—or curtailing—the somewhat outrageous, obnoxious behavior of her child.

It alarmed and confused him and so he swiftly eluded her and did his best to avoid her approaches for the remainder of our time there. But she wouldn’t relent. He’d disappear and she’d seek out the two of us.

“Where is him?” she caterwauled at us. “Where is him?”

We lied and said we didn’t know. (Don’t judge us.) But we must’ve heard that inquiry upwards of ten times while we were there. Where is him? Where is him?

This was crazy, full-on stalking. I feel bad for her parents when she turns into a boy-crazy teenager. You know, sometime next week. Words really don’t do justice to how insane it all was. I mean, our kid made this girl lose her mind. In an instant. Like he was the Beatles. No wonder everyone wants to be his best friend. And there can really be only one explanation.

Our son must have the kavorka.

Let’s hope it takes him a while—a long while—to figure that out himself.

13 September 2012

These Aren’t the Droids You’re Looking For


Something happened. When we weren’t looking, I guess. Our kid is growing up. And it’s happening fast. Faster than we anticipated. Faster than we’d hoped. Just fast, fast, fast.

And now, along with baby fat and weird pronunciations (“hambagunga” instead of “hamburger,” for instance), we are quickly losing something else: the ability to keep the Doozer in the dark. About anything we want. At anytime we want. Yes, it’s sad, but true.

It looks like the days of Jedi mind tricks are coming to an end.

This became evident in a single moment during our recent family vacation to Traverse City. One evening we took the childrens to a famed local ice cream parlor, Moomers. The sign on the building, the Moomers logo, features a cow. This was the very first time the Doozer had ever seen this image. And he pretty much only saw it for a few seconds as we parked. And then never again.

And yet—and yet—the next day, no more than 24 hours later, we were walking up to an old-timey general store, pretty much in the middle of nowhere, and they had a very small Moomers sign in the window (they sold pints of the stuff there). Immediately, the Doozer pointed it out.

“Moomers!”

Son of a bitch, I thought. How did he do that?

So, here’s what we’ve got. A steel trap mind. A ridiculous memory. And insatiable inquisitiveness. All added up, these things now make the Doozer a more than formidable opponent that is rapidly ceasing to be an individual we can put one over on. No longer can we talk right in front of him as if he’s not even there. Things may still go over his head, but this will only make him redouble his efforts to understand what the adults are talking about.

What are you talking about? Why? Why? Why . . . ? 

These are the questions now. And they are constant. He’s alert and aware and paying attention. To everything. All the time. In some ways, it’s like being a kid yourself, or a teenager, all over again and living with your parents. Creeping upstairs at night, trying not to make any noise (and not even doing anything suspicious at all, by the way) only to hear a tiny voice emanate from behind a closed door.

“Dada?”

Damn.

“Dada? Dada? What are you doing?”

Seriously.

“What is this, the Spanish Inquisition?”

(He doesn't get this reference yet. He only knows the Ministry of Silly Walks.)

“Nothing” or “Because” or “Never mind” or “Just go to sleep” no longer seem to be effective responses to the kid’s focused inquiries. He is no longer easy to dismiss, or easy to convince of anything, for that matter. He’s almost too smart. The wife and I have too many years of killing too many brain cells to stand up to the onslaught. It’s like the student is becoming the master.

And any day now, we’re going to allow him to get past us with C-3PO and R2-D2, because he’s got nothing but brain cells (for now) and he’s figuring out exactly how to use them. Against us.

And now we are screwed.

06 September 2012

Look, Kids, Big Ben! Parliament!


There are many challenges involved when traveling with small children. The smaller the children, the bigger the challenges. Based on the recent experience of our very first vacation as a family of four (co-starring a 4-year-old and 6-month-old), I can report that this is true.

Here’s the first thing that happened. We decided we’d go away for Labor Day weekend. But actually, before that, when we had our second child, we realized that it would be extremely helpful to have a larger vehicle. Though we weren’t quite prepared to take the leap to a van of any kind, we decided that two sedans were limiting us, with the children. Because here’s the thing. They have a lot of crap. A lot of crap. And looking at the possibility of going away, we realized that we’d need to pack, at the very least, a stroller, a portable crib, and a bouncy chair—which would immediately overtake our entire trunk and prevent us from packing additional necessary items in the car, such as underwear.

So in order to take a trip at all, we needed a new vehicle. And our deadline became Labor Day weekend. Due to a variety of circumstances, we did not actually come into possession of said vehicle until the very morning of the day we planned to depart. If I can offer any advice, it is this: pack your car the night before you want to leave. And so it should go without saying, you should probably at least have said vehicle you’re traveling in at least 24 hours prior to your departure.

But we’re idiots. Apparently.

And here’s the other thing. Where did all this stuff come from? When I was a kid, my parents both drove sedans or compact cars and we traveled all across the country in those. Never a van, never a station wagon, I don’t even think they had minivans then. And they managed to pack everything necessary to entertain and keep two children alive for an entire vacation in those cars. Again, we literally needed to get a new car in order to take a vacation. True story.

Why do we have so much more stuff? I don’t get it.

Anyway, after the difficult and trying process of installing both car seats in a new car for the first time (time allotted: 10 minutes; time needed: 1 hour, 10 minutes) and finally getting the whole thing packed—to the gills, by the way, there’s really no way we could’ve done it in one of the old cars—we were a few hours behind our planned schedule. And we were operating under the assumption that Google Maps provided an accurate accounting of the trip. Between our house and our destination (Traverse City, Michigan) it was meant to be only a little more than four hours. Piece of cake, right?

Of course, we have very small children. With very small bladders. And very short attention spans. Sure, the wife and I, in our footloose and carefree, pre-children days, would’ve made it no problem, without stopping. But we had to stop. Frequently. At least more frequently than we ever predicted.

Second piece of advice: double the travel time. Just trust me. Whatever Google Maps tells you, double it. Maybe make it two and a half times. You’ll need it.

It was well after dark when we finally arrived at our destination. Along the way, we came very close to losing our minds (without the vacation officially ever starting). The Doozer started asking that age-old question (“When do we get to vacation?”) within the first half hour of the trip. No, really. The first half hour. The other one, Little Brother, cried and screamed for large portions of the drive.

As a result, “We’re making memories!” became the oft-quoted mantra of the trip. Which would inevitably result in a collapse into cackling laughter. (Otherwise, one or both of us would just start crying uncontrollably. Come to think of it, that probably happened, too.)

So, after a whirlwind weekend tour of beaches, lighthouses, general stores, playgrounds, and restaurants, it was time to hit the road again. And, once again, a complete and utter failure to budget time accordingly. One could call it a borderline disaster. Or quasi-successful. Or just hellish.

But we were making memories. Or so we keep reminding ourselves.

What else happened? The Doozer swam in Lake Michigan for the first time. And ate fried pickles. And had ice cream for dinner one night. Yes. we did that. Don’t judge us. It’s vacation. And real life goes out the window, you have to improvise, make it up as you go.

Ice cream for dinner. And it was blue. And shaped like Mickey Mouse. With Oreo cookies. I think that pretty much sums up being on vacation with kids. It gets like that.

There was the horror show of a toddler having to urinate in a public restroom at the beach. (Which is a whole other story in itself.) Plus, restless nights as we all slept in the same room together. And not even out of necessity. No, there were other rooms available. But the Doozer insisted on sharing the bed with us for the entire trip. Yep. One big happy family.

We all made it home. There’s that at least. We learned a lot. Maybe it was more of a learning experience than a vacation. Maybe other people can be saved. Maybe we can prevent hardships from befalling other traveling families.

Or again, maybe we’re just idiots, and nobody will learn anything from us. Because everyone else is smarter and wouldn’t make these mistakes.

Whatever. Leave us alone.

23 August 2012

Mystery White Boy


Shh. No one tell the older kid, because I’m going to focus on the little one here for a change. Which the Doozer doesn’t always like. In real life. So I imagine he wouldn’t be too happy about this either. Deep down, I know he loves his little dream brother. (Brush up on your Jeff Buckley, kids. Guy was a genius.)

And said Little Brother, after five months on this planet, remains completely mysterious to the wife and I. It seems to us that a baby is typically an enigma wrapped in a mystery wrapped in a sleep sack. (Look it up.) They are inscrutable. And surprising. And bizarre.

It’s too bad there’s no such thing as baby ESP. Because it would come in handy. What’s going on in there? I’ve tried to ask the Doozer. All I get is blank stares. Sure, he can remember all the words to entire storybooks, every single car he has (and who gave it to him—no, really), entire plots of cartoons, obscure memories, particular times we ate certain foods. And yet, when I ask about his memories of being a baby, something that can help me navigate the situation, he comes up dry. 

Whatever.

They sleep, they don’t sleep. They spit up, they don’t spit up. Constantly fluctuating without rhyme or reason. No one day is like the next. There’s no consistency, no regularity, just wild unpredictability. And you certainly can’t reason with them. Even though you might feel weirdly compelled to try. Whenever Little Brother is freaking out or trying to squirm off the changing table or having a crying fit, I find myself saying, “Just keep it together, man.” I’ve said this so frequently of late, that I’m now convinced I must have been an anxious hippy in a past life.

And what's the deal with this: Often, it’ll be 3 o’clock in the morning and I’m completely bleary-eyed and desperate for sleep and he’s wide awake. Not crying or anything, no. That I’d get. He just looks up and smiles at me in this goofy, curious way. As if to say, “Hey. How’s it going. What’s up? What are you doing?” I’m not sure there is anything quite as infuriating as this. I get it, you’re cute. Go to sleep!

Just the other day my dad was like, You talk to him like a grown-up. You know he doesn’t understand, right?

Hey, it’s worth a shot. (And that attitude explains a lot about my upbringing. Just saying.)

We recently acknowledged the fact that the baby’s only been around for five short months so far. And so we could be forgiven for not having a real handle on the two-kid situation yet. Right?

Don’t answer that.

And though I search for a connection between these two creatures, some sign that they are brothers, I can barely see one. Looking for signs that he will develop along the same lines as the Doozer, turn in to that kind of person. Haven’t seen them. But signals that he might be different? That he might be his own unique individual? Sure. Recently, we’ve found ourselves referring to him with words I’m not sure we used with the Doozer. Such as maniac. And monkey. I don’t remember tossing these types of words around when the Doozer was a baby. He just wasn’t like that.

Now, when we say things like maniac and monkey, we have evidence. For instance, his new active of aggressively scooting across the floor. I didn’t think scooting could actually be aggressive until I saw this. But he’s really trying to get somewhere. He’s determined. Not sure where he’s trying to go. He doesn’t even know where he is. I don’t think. Then the flipping over. He’s trying to climb off the changing table. Seriously, he maneuvers like Spider-man. The flip from back to stomach to being in motion—I don’t know. I need to film it and watch it in slow motion to see how he even accomplishes it. I mean, it’s that quick. Like he’s Nightcrawler. Appearing and disappearing.

“Is this one going to try and climb out of the crib?” I asked the other night. A completely common occurrence that we miraculously didn’t experience the first time around.

“What do you mean, like, tonight?” She was joking. But we both stopped and looked over at the crib. For several long, silent seconds.

We laughed. But I’m sure it’s coming.

17 August 2012

Four


My son is four.

Wait. I need to clarify. My oldest son is now four. Since there’s actually two of them now. (But that’s a whole different story in and of itself.)

If there’s anything I’ve completely failed to learn in life, it’s how to be prepared. Possibly because I was never a boy scout, this is a skill I’ve just never acquired. I am not prepared. For anything. And so my son turning four should have been no different. But at the same time, this was something that I was especially not prepared for.

How did that happen exactly? Four years is a long time. A long time. Where did it go? Looking back at earlier birthday photos, it’s shocking. Really shocking. To see how far we’ve come. It’s impossible to fathom how long he’s been around. Four years is a very long time.

And this is what it’s going to be like now. Marking every year. That he’s around. This one started out a little different, though. The Doozer started to get weird, leading up to his birthday. He started telling us he didn’t want to turn four, didn’t want to be a big boy, wanted to stay a little kid. It was difficult to argue with him. We just tried to convince him that being four is not all that different from being three. That it doesn’t mean he’s a big boy, he’s still a little kid.

For now.

Of course, he is getting older. He is getting bigger. And it’s not going to slow down or stop. It’s just going to accelerate, it’s going to go by in the blink of an eye.

First, there’s fours preschool in a few short weeks and then there’s going to be kindergarten, elementary, high school, college. All gone in the blink of an eye. Hopefully we don’t lose this, don’t let go, of this little boy who rocks our world and doesn’t want to be four.

In the end, he loved his birthday. Had a blast. Forgot all about turning older. But we didn’t. We don’t. We can’t. He’s got a baby brother now, so it’s even clearer to us how grown up the Doozer is, how much he’s growing every day, how he’s no longer the little baby he once was.

The Doozer is four. It’s difficult to comprehend. No matter how true it might be, no matter how many times I might repeat it. Ours is a world of dinosaurs and superheroes and those freakin’ Cars movies. The kid’s all sassy mouth and insurrectionist tendencies. There’s less cuddling, more adversarial nonsense. Independence, defiance, imagination run amok. The occasional sneak preview of the coming storms, adolescence, teenagehood, the complications of the evolving parent and child dynamic.

But then there was a moment, just recently. When he said something very wise. In a rare moment of affection for his newish sibling, the Doozer told us that even when his little brother grows up and is a bigger kid (and a grown-up) that “he’ll still be my baby.” Wise, indeed.

My sentiments exactly.

26 July 2012

Seventy-six Trombones . . .


This is the first (and only) parade reference I could think of. Although, in reality, I did not see any trombones. A few bagpipes, actually, but that was it. And a viking. Randomly.

Because, yes, the Doozer marched in his first parade.

Often, I tend to dwell on the more negative aspects of parenting. Which I suppose can get boring. And I’m sure raises the question, If you have so much to complain about, then why did you have those kids? Sometimes you’re presented with a good answer to this question. Other times, you don’t know exactly how to answer it.

Sure, there are frustrations, annoyances, disappointments. Mostly about how they’re taking over your life and pretty much just ruining everything. But then there are the opposite moments, where you forget you were anything but this person. And that just make you happy.

There was a great bit on a recent Louie, where Louis C.K. did a routine about straight men needing to be perceived as straight, to the point that straight males cannot even use the word “wonderful.” Well, I’m going to have to disagree. Because wonderful is really one of the best ways to describe the experience of watching your kid in action sometimes, watching them become their own little person.

If you can find that balance between frustration and joy, then you’re getting somewhere. That’s the sweet spot of parenthood. If you can look past their defiance and wildness and general obliviousness. It’s hard to sometimes. Or maybe that’s just me.

Because life is moments. Like a Cameron Crowe movie. A series of them, some funny, some heartbreaking, some just plain lovely. What is he babbling about? you’re probably wondering. Well, I’ll tell you. The Doozer marched in his first parade recently. And it was wonderful.

We marched alongside some fellow classmates from his preschool. The kid was given the task of carrying a bucket and handing out candy to parade watchers, along with another little girl from his class. The wife and I carried the banner touting the school’s name, at the front of the group. And as we all stood in the street, waiting for the parade to begin, we turned around to see our little Doozer standing alongside his fellow candy distributer and . . . they were holding hands.

And I think I almost started to cry. It was perhaps the most adorable, perfect moment I've experienced in a long time. And all the complaints about parenting just evaporated. At least temporarily.

We’d been concerned about how he’d handle his job. We had doubts. Because he started out asking repeatedly about the candy and if he could eat it. Which made us concerned that he would just try to keep it all to himself. But he didn’t. He just started running right up to strangers and handing out the little candies. He was focused. On task. And didn’t even notice then that he walked for miles.

At least I think it was miles.

But there was that moment. Watching him hold hands with that little girl. I seriously almost felt like crying. And not complaining anymore. I’m sure there'll be something any minute now. For now, I’ll enjoy the wonder of watching our little human do things like march in a parade.

Apologies to Louis. It was wonderful.

19 July 2012

The Dark Night Rises (or, In Case of Emergency)


Spoiler alert: This post is not about Batman or Bane or Catwoman or Christopher Nolan’s elaborate, liberal conspiracy to turn the electorate against Mitt Romney through subliminal messaging in a pop culture medium (the man himself is perfectly capable all on his own).

But I’ve gotta try to get eyeballs somehow, right?

Sidenote: We’ve been watching a lot of Rocky and Bullwinkle with the Doozer lately, hence the double title. I’m currently obsessed with this device where they tease the next segment of the serialized story with two alternate (and often pun-filled) titles. Just from a writing standpoint it’s impressive, there are three in an episode and each season is like 40 episodes and I’m terrible at math, so I’m not going to try and figure out that number, but it seems to me it’s pretty large.

The second half of the title is perhaps the more accurate and apt message as I encountered a rite of passage in parenthood that I had previously not even fathomed: I had to take the Doozer to the emergency room in the middle of the night. On a Saturday. He’s fine now (was then, even, after antibiotics and ear drops), so it’s not a terribly dark or sad story. Of course, I’m still upset about all the sleep I lost, but I suppose that’s a separate issue.

He’d gone to bed as normal. But a few hours later, he was crying out. At first, we thought it was a nightmare. But the wife went in to comfort him and discovered him writhing around in pain, complaining about a pain in his ear. It’s important to note here that the kid never complains about anything, any kind of pain or ailment. When he had an ear infection a few months ago, he never even mentioned it. When the doctor finally checked out his ear, she was amazed he hadn’t complained about it more—it looked that bad in there.

So obviously this was a red flag. We gave him Children’s Tylenol (drugging kids is the best, isn’t it?) and encouraged him to try and go back to sleep. But every time he laid down for any length of time, he was squirming and crying again. We mentioned the hospital and he very calmly hopped out of bed and headed for the stairs as though this was a common occurrence. His nonchalant behavior made us question the severity of the situation. But in the end, we could not deny that he was uncomfortable and not going back to sleep.

So we went to the hospital. And the adventure began.

And yes, I mean adventure. Because that’s how he treated it. The hospital was approximately a 3-minute drive from the house, but along the way, the Doozer marveled at all the lights everywhere (porch lights, etc.). Being out this late at night was a novelty and he was savoring it.

We got to the hospital and checked in. The Doozer’s eyes were wide, taking it all in. We were sent to a small waiting room where Judge Judy was playing on a giant flatscreen on the wall. The Doozer was mesmerized. I’m assuming just by the TV, as the pathetic “case” of the episode—and the inbred yokels engaged in the legal shenanigans—couldn’t hold anybody’s interest.

I kept asking how he was doing. He was acting fine, more than fine. Active, alert, interested. Intrigued. Excited almost. Which started to bother me. Because I could be home sleeping.

At the same time, it’s hard not to find the whole thing nerve-wracking. Even if your kid is acting normal, not bleeding profusely or unconscious or anything, visiting the hospital is serious. He could be really sick. You don’t know. There’s no roadmap for this thing. The tiniest ailment could become the biggest calamity. You just don’t know. And if you’re not paranoid as a parent, then I don’t think you’re paying attention.

Also, there’s germs everywhere, right? Now, I’m not the biggest germaphobe, but it is a hospital. With disease everywhere. And I’ve now brought a child into this pestilence-filled den of seething decay. Everywhere he sits, everything he touches, I just keep thinking he’s going to leave this place in worse shape than when he arrived.

Although, there was not a lot of obvious germ-spewing going on around us. It was surprisingly quiet. One would think Saturday at midnight (“Saturday midnight . . . memories of this night are extremely hazy”) would be primetime for an ER freak show. But it wasn’t. No escaped lunatics, drunken morons, or shooting victims anywhere to be seen.

Though I am pretty sure there was a prostitute in an adjacent room.

The next few hours passed in a sleep-deprived blur and a running dialogue that consisted of “What’s that?” repeated ad nauseum by the Doozer, followed by my response of “Don’t touch that.” Eventually, he said, “I want to go home now.” Oh, really, I thought. Well, it’s a little late for that, pal. This is your doing.

Wait, I almost forgot. The popsicle. Sometime around 2, 2:30 in the morning, after the Doozer and I had spent an inordinate amount of time waiting around an exam room (not to mention fielding dozens of questions from him on the eye maladies depicted on a graphic poster on the wall), a nurse or doctor (maybe nurse, I’m sorry, I was very tired) brings in an orange popsicle and shows it to him, then, then, almost as an afterthought, turns to me and asks if it’s okay.

Thanks. Thanks for that.

It was a double popsicle and so we split it. Part of his fell on the floor and I had to spend the next several minutes talking him down off the ledge. Because we don’t eat anything off the floor. Especially the floor of a hospital exam room. A little while later, he turned to me.

“I didn’t know they had popsicles at the hospital.”

Yeah, yeah. Neither did I. And I can see the wheels spinning in his head, I can see the excitement in his eyes. Hospital = popsicles. This place is awesome! When can we go back?

And sure enough, the next day at dinner, he begins to reminisce about the grand adventure.

“Dada, remember when we went to the hospital that time?”

“Yes.”

“That was fun.”

Right. And I can’t wait until we get to go back. Good times.

16 July 2012

Unfortunate Side Effects


There was an incident recently that some people might find flattering, but I had the opposite reaction. An apparently incompetent grocery store clerk questioned my driver’s license. Didn’t believe it was real. That there was no way I was the person in the photo.

One of the things that simply floored me was that anyone could look at me and see anything but what I actually am now, the thing I see every day in the mirror:

An old man.

Old. Out of shape. Tired. Exhausted. All the time.

I’m an old man. It’s true. Who is that in the mirror? No grey hairs yet, though I can sense them. They’re coming. I know. They’re in the post, as the saying goes.

It wasn’t always this way. But kids do this to you. They literally suck the life out of you. It starts almost immediately, this transference of energy and power and vitality. Now there’s the two of them and so the soul-sucking has been even more amplified.

The wife and I stare at each other and wonder what happened. We used to be fun, right? We had energy and vivacity. We used to do stuff.

But then we had kids. And between a 3-and-a-half-year-old and a 4-month-old, I have nothing left. I’m prematurely old. The man in the mirror is no longer recognizable to me.

I need to get in shape. Because otherwise, they’re going to kill me. No, really. They’re going to kill me. Some people train for marathons or the Tough Mudder or whatever. I need to train in order to not drop dead just playing with my kids in the yard.

Kids keep you young. That’s a thing I’ve heard. I don’t know why anyone would ever say this. I don’t know what it means. Makes no sense to me. Because what they really do is make you old.

And it’s not just the energy or whatever. It’s their experience of the world. It’s watching the Doozer slide his fingers across the screen of my laptop and expecting some kind of result. It seems like a decently modern machine to me, but apparently it is already ancient. He picked this up from using his grandfather’s Kindle. Which I still don’t know how to work.

It’s our own fault, too. For instance, we don’t currently have a stereo. We have music on the computer and so the Doozer is of the opinion that’s where music comes from. I’m not sure he’s ever even seen a stereo. This is kind of wrong. We need to rectify this.

Then I look at the baby, the Doozer’s Little Brother, and think about the world he’ll grow up in. And it’s very different than the one I inhabited. Not so long ago.

Just watching them makes me tired. I want to sit down, I want to take a nap. Which is ironic, because they are children and yet, they are not sleeping. They are not taking a nap. Even though that is what children are meant to do, nap. Napping was invented for children. I think.

Both of them are just on, all the time. So open and full of curiosity. And wonder. Makes me feel more jaded and cynical, like I have been around forever, for too long, so nothing excites me anymore. As opposed to infectious, which I think it’s supposed to be.

Kids don’t keep you young. They are sent here to destroy you. Beware.

05 July 2012

In Memory of Maurice Sendak


One of the great things about parenthood is the opportunity to share magical, meaningful things from your own childhood with your kids. Be it certain books or Star Wars action figures or favorite animated movies. And witnessing that joy of discovery in their face, that’s a pretty amazing feeling. It really brings you together.

For a while now, we’ve been reading Where the Wild Things Are to the Doozer. Like pretty much every person who grew up after it was published in 1963, it was easily one of my favorite books as a kid. It’s also not one of those things you revisit as an adult and wonder why you liked it in the first place—it holds up. (And Spike Jonze’s movie is pretty amazing, too, if very, very strange.)

It’s become a favorite in our house now, a permanent part of the reading rotation. The Doozer has grown fascinated by the characters in the book, the details that define them, the kind of hair they have, whether they have horns or not, if they have sharp, scary teeth. And again, it holds up. My experience of it is different today and, if anything, it’s even more brilliant now.

But I do have a complaint. And this may not necessarily be about the book or its author, the wonderful, recently departed Mr. Sendak—because honestly, it seems a bit unfair to blame him for my son’s reaction to the book—but I have a complaint. And it’s this:

This book is impossible to properly explain to a 3 ½-year-old.

There have been countless readings of this book where the Doozer has simply sat rapt, enjoyed the story, and kept his mouth shut. But those days appear to be behind us. Now, there are questions. What seems like an endless stream of them. Questions, questions, questions.

So we’re at this phase now.

And it comes out now on a regular basis when reading certain children’s books which are a bit more conceptual, or abstract, than others. (I’m looking at you, There’s a Monster At the End of This Book.) And Where The Wild Things Are is a prime example. I mean, here’s this beautifully illustrated, very appealing, and clever little book, and yet, and yet, at its center, there is a very confusing conceit (at least when it comes to explaining it to a child).

What happens to Max’s room? Where is his mom? Where is his dinner? Where does the boat come from?

I mean, I get it. The wife gets it. We're not dumb. But how do you explain it? Again, it’s conceptual. Abstract. These are not easy ideas to put across with a child.

So thanks for that, Mr. Sendak. (And for your wonderful, wonderful book, don’t get me wrong. We don’t have one without the other and I am well aware of that.)

The question phase is new. But already kind of astounding. Reading another book, there's a picture of fire and smoke. What’s that? the kid asks. It’s smoke, I reply. And go to turn the page. But, no, no. He stops me. He flips the page back. Dada, I have one more question.

I don’t understand. Fire = smoke. How is there a follow-up question?

His question is about the color of the smoke. It looks different from smoke he’s seen in other pictures. This confuses him. Why isn’t all smoke the same color he seems to be asking?

And how does one go about answering that question exactly?

At least that's a relatively easy one. For the others, thankfully, there are the Interwebs. What did parents ever do without the Google?

29 June 2012

Things I’ve Learned From Being a Parent #167: A Brief Guide to Extricating Your Child From a Party


As summer kicks into gear, we’ve found ourselves traveling as a family to a variety of functions, such as barbecues, birthdays, and graduation parties. And there are many challenges inherent in such an excursion—honestly, in leaving the house anytime for any reason, but I digress—though one particular challenge we routinely face is the exodus from the party. Convincing a child to leave and return home is often an exercise in abject futility and simultaneously a massive power struggle.

Here are some things we’ve gleaned from our recent experiences:
  • Plan ahead. Like an hour or two before you want to leave. Start seeding the idea. It’s no longer you and your spouse, on the same page, ready to leave at the same time. You are not on the same page, you may never be on the same page with this one. Start a countdown. And just keep reminding them of it every few minutes. Because they will have completely forgotten what you talked about mere minutes before.
  • Come up with convincing excuses. Have your stories worked out. Remember going out in high school, maybe with a sibling, maybe with a friend, and you’d been doing something you shouldn’t be (or were expressly forbidden from doing) and you were going to be home late and you needed to have a reasonable explanation that needed to match up with your friend’s/sibling’s version of events, lest there be later conversation and fact-checking done between the adults in question? It’s kind of like that. But with a child. He’s still like a detective, he will ferret out the inconsistencies and nail you for them. Don’t let him.
  • Enticements, cajoling, flat-out bribery are not out of the question. But they should not be your go-to options.
  • Children are not reasonable. Remember this. This is key. You can’t reason with them the way you would with an adult. Absolutely not going to happen. So don’t waste your time.
  • And don’t use their sibling as a reason for leaving, in any way. This will only further enrage them.
  • Sidenote: Maybe just go someplace that isn’t fun to begin with. That’s another option.
  • Paint the other kids at the party as bad, somehow. Because they are. Yes, take the opportunity to sell out someone else’s child for your own selfish ends. Who will know?
  • Steel yourself for a scene. Often you can’t really prepare yourself. But you do not want to be seen screaming at your kid—or possibly worse, crying—in front of all these people. You want to remain reasonable and maintain the appearance of composure. At all costs.
  • Sharpen your negotiation skills. Don’t be fooled by him. He’s going to manipulate you. Don’t collapse like a house of cards. Nobody wants to see that.
Of course, this is not a foolproof approach. The other thing you need to learn is the ability to improvise and adapt. The dynamics will shift and the kid will wriggle out of situations or traps you construct (verbally, physically, etc.). Easily. So you need to be on your toes. And you need to work in tandem. You and your significant other need to be on the same page and sometimes it will actually take both of you working together to outwit and outmaneuver the pint-sized terrorist who will pull out all the stops to defeat you.

This is actually a philosophy you could apply in almost any situation of life with a toddler. Maybe be prepared is the best suggestion. And not only for success. But also failure. Because it is inevitable. If you can chalk up more victories than defeats, you’re getting somewhere. Yes, I’m advocating keeping score against your child.

It might be the only way to survive the whole ordeal.

21 June 2012

Brothers Gotta Hug


So, we have kids now. Plural. Two of them. One could say that before this we were just a couple who had a kid. Now, we’re more likely to be referred to as a family. Many people in our life now refer to “the boys.” And sometimes, for a moment, I have to stop and think, The boys? Who are they? Who are they talking about exactly?

Oh, right. Our kids. The boys.

Being a parent (at least in the early stages) reminds me of that saying about not being able to see the forest for the trees. It’s easy to get absorbed by the minutiae and routine of parenting, the dressing, feeding, cleaning, entertaining, consoling, diapering, wiping, cajoling of your children. As a result, you don’t see what’s really going on. And it’s very easy to miss the big picture.

You’re a family now. You created these bizarre little creatures, brought them into this world, and let them loose. Which is kinda, pretty amazing, if you think about it. They are not just vomit, pee, and poop machines that you have to spend all your time managing (although it can seem like this sometimes). They are actual human beings. With personalities. And now there are two of them.

Lately, I’ve begun to notice how our three-month-old stares intently at the Doozer. Studies him. I mean, he is utterly fascinated by the kid. And truth be told, he’s a pretty interesting character and we tend to watch him a lot ourselves. Of course, often he needs to be watched, so he doesn’t crush Little Brother in a well-meaning, but far-too-aggressive hug, or so that he doesn’t try to scale the bookcase in the living room, Everest-style. But it dawned on me recently what I’m really watching.

Bonding. These two kids are now in this relationship with each other that’s going to last their whole lives. Sure, they’ll get mad at each other, they’ll fight, they might not talk sometimes, sometimes possibly for a long time, but they are bonded. They are connected. They cannot escape each other, no matter how much they may want to.

These things are not always obvious. You don’t always know that it’s happening. Again, you’re just in it, right there in it, and life is happening and it’s sort of hurtling by. You can’t slow down time. It just keeps accelerating. Faster and faster.

I won’t go on and on about the miracle of life or anything like that, but yes, the experience of creating and shaping little lives is pretty amazing. Amazing, mostly, because we are simply allowed to do it. But there’s something in them both, something that is us and not really us. We can play them music and show them movies and talk to them and read great books, try to shape them into miniature versions of us. But they are their own people, too. They have their own personalities. 

Sure, it’s a reflection of us and how we parent. But it’s them, too. It can seem foreign sometimes. We don’t know where the Doozer gets the stuff that comes out of his mouth sometimes. We’d like to pat ourselves on the back and say it’s the result of having such incredible, smart, interesting, talented, kind parents. But that can’t be it. I mean, entirely.

Things the Doozer has said lately, unprompted, about Little Brother:



“I really like being in love with him.”

“He is the cutest baby in the whole world.”

“When you get bigger, you can eat coffee cake, too!” 

“I noticed he needed some toys to play with.”

Of course, these sentiments are often accompanied by a generous physical display from the Doozer which could easily cause, without intervention, suffocation of the baby. He has learned to love his brother, but he has not yet grasped the immense weight difference between the two of them.

This is happening. Right now. As we speak. It’s easy to fail to notice. It’s good to think of Ferris Bueller’s advice: If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.

And I don’t want to miss a minute of it.

08 June 2012

The Continuing (and Apparently Never-ending) Adventures of Lightning McQueen


Have you seen Cars 2? I have. A lot.

No, really. A lot. Though, let me rephrase that. I’ve seen parts of Cars 2 many times. Many, many times. I’ve seen parts of it only once. There are still other parts that I have never seen. Because the Doozer has devised a completely new (and honestly, whack job) manner in which to view a movie.

In pieces. Out of order. The climactic showdown, followed by the first race. The end of Act 1 and then the beginning of Act 3. The part with the bomb. And the part with the bomb again. It’s like a Dadaist reimagining of a Pixar movie. And it’s bizarre.

But there’s something I’ve learned. Kids fixate. Kids obsess. Kids develop deep, abiding affections for routine and repetition. They like what they like and they like it a lot. And they must experience it over and over and over again.

Is it possible to have the Beatles ruined for you? I recently asked the wife, after the Doozer forced us to hear the one-two punch of “Drive My Car” and “Ticket to Ride” for something like the zillionth time. Wait, sorry, “Ticket to Ride” and then “Drive My Car.” That’s the correct order. According to our son.

The weirdest part about the Doozer's narrow and oft-repeated playlist? No matter how many times I hear “Here Comes Your Man,” I still can't figure out all the words Frank Black is singing. What is he saying?

Of course, just when you think you’ve gotten the hang of the routine, it changes. You put the songs in the order you think he wants to hear them, you set up the London sequence of Cars 2, and the kid changes things up on you. And then seems to question your decision, as though what you have done is crazy. It’s like he’s just discovered the concept of changing one’s mind and now that’s his new favorite thing.

I mean, I get it. I have my own favorites, songs on repeat on my stereo. And lots of favorite movie scenes (when they try to rob Alfred Molina in Boogie Nights; when Gwyneth Paltrow gets off the Green Line bus in The Royal Tenenbaums; when Indiana Jones chases down that truck in Raiders of the Lost Ark—that’s a good one). But here’s the difference: I watch the entire movie that surrounds them. In order. Usually.

So I must count it as a minor victory in parenting when I convinced the Doozer that the Pixies have recorded songs other than “Here Comes Your Man.” And that we can listen to those ones, too. Although I’m sure I will still never learn all the words.

And no matter how many times I see it, I still don’t get what’s going on in Cars 2.

He’s trying to mess with me, isn’t he?

At least he’s into movies. That’s something. It’s easy to complain about the absurdity and unpredictability of life with children. But it’s nice to know that our interests might actually intersect at some point.

And so the education continues. For both of us.

24 May 2012

Dazed and Confused


So, school’s out. For the summer. Yeah. That happened.

I have no idea how. The Doozer has completed an entire year of school. Preschool, sure, yeah, but again—an entire year of it. It’s over.

How did this happen?

Of course, we do have a stack of artwork to attest to the passage of time. His early, Pollock-influenced, spattered canvases: raw, spare, impulsive, informal. And then there are the more recent additions, the more complex constructions, the ones that required scissors and glue and sometimes multiple types of materials. He learned to use scissors. He learned to use glue. A lot can happen in a school year.

He’s taller. He has bigger feet. He got a baby brother. He discovered the Avengers. And realized that his favorite kind of cheese is smoked gouda. Mastered the Kindle. And Angry Birds. He made friends. Kind of. Got a girlfriend (we think). He used tools. Memorized the dialogue from Cars and the lyrics to “Rumor Has It.”

He grew up. He’s growing up.

The picture of the two of us on the front stoop from the first day of school? I could’ve sworn that the wife took it yesterday. We look the same. And totally different, I realize now. It was just yesterday. And it was also forever ago. Part of me wants to live in that moment forever.

All of me knows that I’ll never have that moment again.

It was only nine months or so, but it was also a lifetime. A blueprint, for the years to come. He’ll just go to school more and more. There will be more accomplishments, more projects, more teachers, more assignments, more friends. More, more, more. Then Little Brother will join him and everything will double. Experiences will multiply. I imagine it will be hard to keep up.

School years will end. Summers will pass. Time will go on.

I know I can’t keep it from happening, but perhaps I can slow it down. Enjoy every peal of laughter as the Doozer runs through the sprinkler on a warm, sunny day. Smile at the smear of soft serve ice cream across his face on a Friday evening. Sing exuberantly along with him in the car to the songs of Adele (until he insists that I stop). Watch him on every trip to the zoo or the lake or a family barbecue, see him smile, hear him laugh, feel his boundless energy. Be the boys of summer. Every day. Every hour. Enjoy. Appreciate. Love.

Because soon again the leaves will change, the temperature will drop. T-shirts and shorts will be traded for new sneakers and sweatshirts. Summer will end and school will resume. And in a few more falls, the Doozer and his Little Brother will both be headed off, away from home. More school days, more experiences, more life.

We have just a few short summer hours to spend together. Better make the most of it.

18 May 2012

Eight or Higher, Bro


In this week’s season finale of How I Met Your Mother, new parents Marshall and Lily found themselves having to draw a line in the sand with their single, childless (and slightly self-involved) friend, Ted. While tending to their newborn, Marvin Wait For It (aka, best middle name ever) Erikson, they had to explain to Ted that they were now in charge of a human life and could not handle his issues, unless they rated an eight or higher on a scale of importance.

At the time, he was trying to figure out how to respond to a text he’d received from a girl he just met. The more Ted tried to elicit advice about this non-situation, the more Marshall repeated the phrase, “Eight or higher, bro. Eight or higher, bro.”

It was funny. It also got me thinking. About what separates us now, those of us with children and those without. It really is a thing you cannot explain.

I’ll admit, this must look crazy at times (or all the time) to someone on the outside. You’re exhausted, always. Not just physically. Mentally. Emotionally. Just drained. There's not much room left in your brain for other stuff. You try not to fall behind. To maintain communication and friendships and everything else. And you fail. Because you're responsible for another human life. It’s not just a time management issue. I mean, you try to approach it that way. But you can’t.

Because, again, you’re responsible for a human life. We are keeping them alive. Every minute of every day there is that one goal: Make sure that they keep breathing. That’s a heavy responsibility. This entity’s entire well-being and survival is based solely on my ability to not drop the ball. That’s a lot of pressure. There is nothing else like it. And if you’re already a person susceptible to anxiety, it only gets worse. Every waking moment is a potential horror show.

And really, you brought this all upon yourself.

When news came recently that a friend was expecting their third child, we predictably expressed complete and utter bafflement as to how one would approach and manage such a situation.

“Are we just not good at this?” my wife wondered aloud.

I did not respond.

But it got me thinking. Maybe we’re not. Maybe we have no business being parents. If we can’t maintain contact with our friends, if we can’t go about our lives and be ourselves and not just completely fall to pieces and accomplish absolutely nothing except for merely keeping our progeny alive, then perhaps we aren’t cut out for this racket?

Of course, we are routinely presented with examples of parenting worse than our own. On a recent trip to the farm with the Doozer’s preschool, I spotted the rotten apples mere moments after arrival. They inevitably acted out and time after time, parents expressed surprise and disbelief about their behavior. Really? I kept thinking. Really? I could tell your kid was a little shit the moment I laid eyes on him and now you’re acting like he’s never done this before? Right. Nice parenting.

And also, thank you for making me feel just slightly better about myself. At least momentarily.

Of course, I’m sleep-deprived. So you could easily dismiss all this as the lunatic ramblings of an overtired, stressed-out, growing-dumber-by-the-moment parent of a newborn. Overly tired and seriously hopped-up on coffee. Desperately attempting to crawl out of the black hole that is the experience of being the parent of a newborn child.

So, I'm sorry if I forgot your birthday, or haven’t called you back in a while, or generally seem to have dropped off the face of the earth. I’m a jerk. Granted. But I’m also a parent. Which is not to suggest that I’m better than you if you’re not. Not at all. Dumber than you, perhaps. For having chosen this path. Who knows. Time will tell.

Now let me go check if those kids are still breathing . . .

10 May 2012

Title TK


Ed. Note: Although we received a draft of a new blog post for this week, it has turned out to be nothing more than completely incoherent gibberish. If we did not know any better, it would appear to have been composed by candlelight with a broken crayon, after a four-day, meth-induced jaunt of vicious debauchery and complete sleeplessness.

It would seem that the author may have gone off the rails due to the exacting pressures of keeping a newborn child alive, as well as the side effects of general sleep deprivation. But don’t worry. We’re sure the situation will turn around. Eventually. Keep watching this space for further dispatches from the frontline of new parenthood. Coming soon. We promise. We think.

Honestly, though, we think he may have been inebriated or something when he was writing, we can’t really think of any other reasonable explanation, but at the same time we cannot be certain and we definitely don’t want to pass judgment, but really, seriously, who drinks like that when they have a newborn child in their care? What kind of person does that?

Okay, maybe you can be the judge. Most of what we got was just a random (and repetitive) assortment of notes and keywords (at least, that’s what we think this is):
Sleep. Diapers. Diapers. Sleep. Poop. Lightning McQueen. Poop. Sleep. Stab my eyeballs. Filthy, dirty urchins. Lazy. Useless. Dirty. Food everywhere. War of attrition. F’ing McQueen! Why do people think this is funny? Beer. Binky. Binky. Swaddle. Binky. Beer. Poop. Noise. Screaming. Death. Sweet relief. How awesome is Girls? Somebody kill me. Diapers!

Again, we apologize for the technical difficulties. And we assure you that we will have it all sorted out by next week. Or the week after. Or possibly in 17 years and 10 months.

As always, thank you for reading. And . . . good day.


04 May 2012

Man to Man


I’m not the biggest aficionado of . . . the sport, so I didn’t entirely understand the reference when I first heard it. When we were awaiting the arrival of our second child, and on the rare occasion that we expressed to outsiders our concern about being able to handle the new dynamic, we often heard, That’s easy, That’s still man-to-man defense. It’s not like zone.

I guess I still don’t know what any of this means.

It’s amazing to me how insanely difficult it is to get out of the house. For anything. For any reason. There’s just so much stuff, for one. So much stuff. Like, so much stuff that it requires multiple trips from the house to the garage to load the car. To go to, like, the grocery store. Ridiculous.

This week, I was recruited by the wife to accompany her and both our children on a class field trip for the Doozer’s preschool to a real farm. There was no way she was going to embark on this endeavor alone. She wasn’t prepared. I understand. I wouldn’t be, either.

I’m glad to report that we survived. And I wouldn’t even go so far as to describe it as an ordeal. We managed. We were late. Obviously. But we still managed.

And this is our life now. Man-to-man defense. And it does feel like defense. It’s like these two children are the barbarians at the gate, trying to crash our lovely grown-up existence and reduce our world to rubble and chaos. As a result, we must divide and conquer, man up and face them head-on, preventing the complete and utter annihilation of our way of life and well-being. It means devising a divide and conquer strategy on a daily basis, tagging in and out of challenging situations, steeling ourselves to confront these pint-sized terrorists.

So, at the farm, while watching our son clamber over bales of hay, feed a goat, milk a cow, and sit on a very small horse (not ride, mind you, just sit), I also calmed a fussy baby, changed his diaper on a picnic table, and generally kept him occupied. And for the most part, yes, it was a success.

Although, I did discover a downside to this new arrangement. With your focus fixated on both your kids (and possibly even just one at a time), it’s difficult to let in other stuff. You know, for instance, the directions of a farmer on how to properly feed a pig. Which is kind of important information if it is something that you have never done before—and are going to allow your three-and-a-half year-old child do it.

So, I only heard part of the directions. And after lunch, allowed the Doozer to stick his hand through the fence into the pig pen and drop part of a strawberry and a wrap onto the ground. And as the giant pig charged across the enclosure toward my son’s outstretched hand, it dawned on me that Farmer Don might have said something about not doing it this way. About dropping food from a greater height, above the fence. And possibly even to have an adult do it.

Luckily, the Doozer pulled his hand back and watched through the fence as the pig ate the remains of his lunch off the ground, none the wiser. Looking around, I saw no scolding reactions from fellow parents or the wife. That was close. But yes, I’m the guy who almost allowed his son to have his hand bitten off by a giant pig. Yep, that’s me.

So, man-to-man defense at the farm can be qualified as a success. The same cannot necessarily be said of the period later that evening when I was left alone with both children for several hours as my wife attended to what was surely very important business of some kind, as I attempted to wrangle a screaming baby and an overtired toddler at bedtime and feeding time, without the aid of even a small amount of alcohol to help me maintain composure.

But that’s a story for another time.