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.