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.


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? Dada? What are you doing?”


“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.