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.


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.