27 April 2012

Baby B.S.

You forget. Time passes, memories fade. It’s inevitable.

And also incredibly dangerous.

It has now been over three years since we had a newborn under our roof. Enough time has passed that we forgot—or intentionally blocked out—all of the negative elements of that scenario. Most days, we look at the Doozer and see him just as he is, often unable to connect present-day Doozer to newborn Doozer of three and a half years back. So just enough time has passed that you feel secure in having a new baby. You’re sure you can handle it.

And then it all comes flooding back.

Little Brother very quickly reminded me that babies are, quite simply, evil. Devious. Manipulative. Sure, you ooh and ahh all over them, they’re so adorable and funny and snuggly and they smell really nice. But it’s all a ruse. They’re on a secret mission to destroy you.

Or possibly not-so-secret.

It’s crazy how much of this I’d forgotten—or again, blocked out. There is so much baby bullshit to deal with. So much. And it just doesn’t stop. Ever.

For instance, you cradle the kid in your arms, gently rock and shush them to sleep. They pass out and you go to set them down. Gently, mind you. Extremely gently. Like Indy replacing the idol with the bag of sand in Raiders of the Lost Ark gently. And just as you tip your fedora, confident that the transition from arm to soft, comfortable surface was so smooth there is no possible way the kid could wake up, his eyes pop wide open and he stares you down, his expression clearly saying, Whoa, wait a minute, what do you think you’re doing? We’re not done here. Pick me back up right quick, pal.

And you must repeat this insufferable scenario several more times before he finally gives in and goes to sleep. It’s infuriating.

When the Doozer was a newborn, his thing was sticking his tongue in and out of his mouth at a rapid pace. We’re not sure why he did it. It was odd, but also endearing and humorous. Little Brother’s “thing” on the other hand, so far seems to be convincing us that he’s finished with his business, waiting for us to pull of his dirty diaper, and then, mid-transition to the new, clean diaper, unleashing another torrent of baby poop, so that he soils two diapers and you have to wait and get a third to finish the job. And he just stares at you blankly.

You’re not fooling anyone, kid. I’m on to you.

Like the swing. We get you this awesome swing with little animals on it, it plays nice music, it rocks you gently—and you scream like a banshee when you’re in it. But if I swing you—in the exact same fashion—while you’re in the car seat, you quiet right down and sometimes even go to sleep. Clearly you’re just messing with me here, you’re not even trying to be subtle about it. Frankly, I’m starting to resent it.

Not to mention your strategic deployment of baby cuteness. And those ridiculous old man faces that you keep making. You know we’re powerless against them and you seem to know exactly when to make them in order to defeat us.

The other thing I’ve noticed is that once you get used to life with a toddler, it becomes difficult to recalibrate to a newborn. Like getting dressed, for instance. With the Doozer, it’s become a two-man operation, I’m basically just assisting him in certain areas, but he can pretty much dress and undress himself at this point. And with Little Brother, he just lays there. And I have to remember now how to get a tiny arm in a sleeve—with no assistance whatsoever, and possibly even some resistance to the entire operation. How long does this last?

It gets to the point where you just stare at the newborn, flabbergasted, and you’re like, What is your problem? What is your deal? Do something. Contribute. Get involved. Seriously, you just f’ing lay there all the time. What is the deal?

Stop blowing bubbles. And why do you smell so nice? Knock it off. I’m on to you. I’m hip to your game. You’re not going to get me. I will not be destroyed. You will not destroy me.

Seriously, why do you smell so nice? What is that smell? And stop making that funny old man face. It kills me. You look like a retiree in Florida, getting ready to play shuffleboard. How do you do that?

You’re going to pay for this kid. I don’t know how. But you are.

12 April 2012

The Epic (and Unending) Saga of Lightning McQueen

I’ll say this up front: I’m a fan of Pixar movies. Okay, I’m a fan of movies. In general. Yes, I’m a grown-up, but I still like to watch cartoons. But here’s the thing. Most of the Pixar movies are not simply for kids. They often play on the nostalgia of adults, for when they were children, as opposed to playing directly to children. I’m not sure why I feel the need to justify this. There are clearly movies that are geared directly toward children and I would not watch them. Well, if I was forced to, now that I’m a parent. But as an adult without children, I did watch animated films. I don’t think this is abnormal.

Now, there’s a lot of crap out there for kids, which is moronic and, on some level, I think, unhealthy. There was a great piece in the New Yorker recently about this very subject, particularly children’s television. And as a parent, I’ve done my best to steer my kid toward things more . . . I don’t know, enlightened. Sophisticated. As much as I want my kid to love movies like I do, to have an interest and affection for the better pieces of popular culture, there are things that filter in, things you never would’ve chosen to introduce to them in the first place. And I’m sure it’s only going to get worse, as time goes on.

But things happen. The kid goes to school, preschoolers are obsessed with Lightning McQueen and Mater, they bring in juice boxes with their images , they sport sneakers and T-shirts with these characters, and it begins to raise questions. The kid starts asking about them. A lot. The grandparents hear the kid mention this McQueen character, and suddenly, you have Lightning McQueen items in your house.

And then you face a moral dilemma: You see Cars showing on cable and you think, It can’t hurt to DVR it. He races all those cars around the room, he’d probably like to see them on TV.

But here’s the thing. You cannot be trusted. Being a parent has compromised your judgment. The years with your kid have taken their toll. It’s like being a low-level of drunk all the time. You are impaired. Things you never in a million years would’ve thought were a good idea when you were childless now seem reasonable.

Like showing Cars to your three-year-old.

Now, I know that he’s not me. And that he does not share my level of intellect. I know that what a toddler finds entertaining and what I find entertaining might not be the same thing. It’s unreasonable to expect that he might be interested in Mad Men, or even that anything he’s interested in could rise to that level of quality and sophistication. I can use Mad Men as a measurement for other things that I watch, but I cannot apply the same standards to my kid.

So, we showed him Cars. I start playing it off the DVR and the first thing I notice is the running time. It was shown with commercials, but even so, it took up an astounding two hours and 30 minutes worth of space on the DVR. Two hours and 30 minutes? What was I thinking?
 But then a peculiar thing happened. The film opens with a lengthy sequence of a race. And Lightning McQueen (the textbook reckless, hotshot rookie) is part of a three-way tie at the end of that race, which leads to the major plot point of a tie-breaker race to be held in California a few days later. At about this point in the recording, we hit the first commercial break.

And the Doozer wants to start over again. We tell him there’s more, Lightning's going to California and there will be another race. Nope. Not interested. He wants to see the beginning.
Over and over and over again.

For weeks, we watch the first 15 to 20 minutes of Cars as though it is its own self-contained story (it is not). The cliffhanger at the commercial break—will Lightning get to California to schmooze with racing sponsor Dinoco before the other cars—is completely lost on the kid. He couldn’t care less. He becomes obsessed. With that race. And every bit of action that occurs in that short time span. Hell, it’s not even the entire first act of the movie.

He learns all the dialogue. He learns the words (or at least his version of them) to the Sheryl Crow song that plays over the opening of the film. Which, by the way, references Bud Light in the first line—this song was written for this film, right? Which is for children? I’m confused.

But I digress. Eventually, we convinced him to go past that first commercial break. Each time, we’d get deeper and deeper into the film. Further along with the plot. I’m not sure how far we got, but maybe about an hour in, he’d lose interest or simply want to go back to the familiar part of the film, that first race until the commercial break.

But here’s the funny thing. The movie that I was unsure I even wanted to show the Doozer has suddenly got its hooks into me. I start to get desperate to know if Lightning McQueen finished repaving the road in Radiator Springs and got to California for the big race. What happens?

The Doozer was unmoved. I could not convince him to want to know what happened next. He was content to be entertained by the portion of the story that interested him. He’s got the lines of dialogue memorized (which I must admit, is something I do, so this is clearly my son). He loves the Fast and Furious gag on the freeway. Seriously, he walks around the house doing this affected, nasally, cholo voice, saying, “We got ourselves a nodder . . .”

Finally, after weeks (months?) of watching that portion of the film, I convince him to power through to the end. And I get to have closure with the story of Lightning McQueen. Finally.

But now he knows there's a Cars 2 and wants to watch that.

Damn you, Lightning McQueen! What have I done?

05 April 2012


It dawned on us during the wife’s pregnancy, one night when we were engaged in the lengthy, complex (and honestly, sort of exhausting) routine that precedes the Doozer going to bed at night, that we were about to completely ruin his life. And what horrible people we must be.

There was just no way that we could keep up this level of attention and devotion to him. And inevitably, he was going to hate us. Or his brother. What had we been thinking? We were about to create a giant tsunami of confusion, frustration, resentment, fury, and possibly homicidal intentions. Seriously, what had we been thinking?

We tried explaining to him what it might be like once his brother came along. We tried to explain that the whole bedtime routine might need to be altered or shortened or something. He looked at us skeptically. And said, “Just put the baby down on my bed.” We’ll see, we told him. He had it all worked out. And was not prepared to be questioned.

And the actual experience has borne out our concerns, in some ways, not in others. The disruption of our collective universe has been extensive, though perhaps not as damaging as we were concerned it would be. It was hard to gauge initially, since the first week that Little Brother was home, the Doozer came down with the flu. He was cranky and irritable and not himself, so this strange little screaming creature in his house was not so warmly received.

It started with entreaties to the baby to “Stop that” every time he started crying. Especially (and god forbid) if it was during a viewing of Dora the Explorer. We attempted to explain to him that this approach wouldn’t work—if it did, we’d be telling the baby that all the time.

Then there was the simple . . . inconvenience of having Little Brother in the house. “Can you move the baby so I can sit on the couch?” he’d ask, as if the baby were just an oddly-shaped pillow that could just be redistributed around the room to increase his level of comfort.

He would want to pick the baby up on occasion and hold him, though he would almost immediately lose interest and try to squirm out of the predicament. He still hasn’t gotten the concept of holding Little Brother’s head up, rather, he sticks his arms straight out in front of him, like he’s doing an impression of a forklift. Not the ideal baby-holding position. He’s also still trying to wrap his arms around the baby’s torso and lift him like he’s a sack of potatoes. Which, I guess, he kind of is, but still, again, not the ideal baby-holding maneuver.

There’s also the size ratio that escapes the Doozer. He attempts to show his affection by laying on top of his brother and crushing him with a bear hug. And the bear hug is sincere, I’m sure, but none of us want to see Little Brother actually crushed.

It reminds me of a story another father once told me (he had three sons) about one son holding the youngest boy, his face locked in a perma-grin, insisting that he really “loved” the baby, while slowly squeezing tighter and tighter, in a version of a hug, that bordered on disturbing and dangerous. We haven’t had that experience yet. But it’s early days.

And then there’s a moment that surprises you, where the Doozer reveals his true feelings and takes you aback. He and I were on our way out of the house for a weekend event at his preschool (basically a dad’s day, though it was framed as an event for the “adult” in your child’s life who doesn’t typically take the child to school; i.e., the dads) and he said to the wife, “Mama? Will you please take very good care of the baby while we’re at Special Person’s Day?” Completely straightfaced and sincere. As if she hadn’t thought of such a thing.

She promised she would. And then we realized, that as time goes on, so will he.

Now all I have to do is watch, wait, and take notes for the next 10 to 15 years and I will be able to write the ultimate bromance movie, to perhaps rival anything in the Apatow canon.

Yes, I plan to exploit my children’s precious bond for profit. Why not?