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?”


“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?