30 December 2013

Love Actually Is Making a Superhero Dollhouse For Your Kid For Christmas

It seems to me now that you don’t really know how much you love your kids until it’s 1 a.m. on Christmas Eve and you’re hand-cranking tiny hooks into the wall of a “superhero dollhouse” (that the wife and you have constructed out of an IKEA bookcase) to hang miniature keys, arrows, and “extra capes” on. (No, really. This is our life.)

Here’s the thing. In his infinite imagination (which, believe me, I am glad that he has), the Doozer mentioned a few months back to his mother that he’d like a dollhouse. But not for dolls. He wanted a place for his superheroes (and Star Wars guys and Scooby-Doo characters and animals and dinosaurs and knights and horses) to hang out. And sleep. And cook.

He’d played with one at his grandmother’s house and he was fascinated by all the little things in it, the food, the furniture, the accessories. But the dolls, not so much.

Thinking about the kid’s concept, my wife was inspired by some images on the Internets. On Pinterest, maybe. (Thanks a lot, Pinterest.) We looked at some actual dollhouses, but many came completely furnished and didn’t always seem to meet our needs (or rather, his).

So, we got a bookcase from IKEA with four cubes/compartments. The four rooms of the house would be a kitchen, a bedroom, a living room, and . . . a planning room. (We still haven’t come up with a truly decent name for this space.) This room would be like the command center and so it has maps, computers, binoculars, tools, a globe.

You know. For planning.

On the top of the house, we decided they’d have some grass and a rooftop vegetable garden, since the Doozer loves working alongside his mom in the actual garden. Since I’m a boy, I suggested that we should also have a landing pad up there. Hello? Where else is the Millennium Falcon going to land? Of course, the garden needed a white picket fence. And a cobblestone path connecting the garden and the landing pad. Affixing a miniature white picket fence all around the perimeter of a bookcase posing as a superhero dollhouse is one of the stranger things I’ve found myself doing in my life as a parent.

And since it’s Christmas, they would definitely need a gingerbread house and Christmas cookies in the kitchen. Not to mention their own Christmas tree, wreaths, and Christmas lights.

(Insert your own theory about our mental stability here.)

He better lose his mind over this thing, I started to think to myself. Although he did also get the Scooby-Doo Mystery Mansion, which for a few minutes on Christmas day seemed like it might beat out the superhero dollhouse as favorite toy of the year. Did I mention it comes with something called “goo?” This is a highly suspect material that I imagine might produce some kind of lawsuit in the future. (Do not taunt Happy Fun Ball!)

But back to that house. Did I mention it’s on wheels? Because it’s big. And heavy. Hey, what good is a superhero dollhouse if it isn’t capable of tipping over and flattening one of your kids like a pancake? I should say the wheels come with brakes, so that Little Brother doesn’t ram it into a wall or a door or a window. Which would definitely happen otherwise.

Did we discuss the extra capes? Or the gumball machine? Or the still from the Rudolph show playing on the TV in the living room? We went all out. Painstaking. Detail. This is what it’s like to be married to an artist. (Okay, so I got pretty into it, too.)

We wheeled it out at the end, after everything from Santa had been opened (or ravaged) and so everybody was a little Christmas’ed out at that point. So the response was a bit more muted than perhaps we’d hoped. (He actually seemed more excited about gummy candies he found in his stocking, but in his defense, they were one of the very first things he opened.)

I was just told (facetiously) that we were making other parents look mediocre. Which is all the praise we needed. Forget how much our kid might dig it, if we can make other parents look bad, so much the better. We got comments like AWESOME and AMAZING (their caps, not mine). Although, I think another word for it might be STUPID. Or CRAZY. Those also work.

And now that we’ve set the bar this high, we’re only going to have to top ourselves next year. Or just get used to disappointing our children, because I really don’t think we’ll be able to go above this one. We love you guys, but I don’t think we can find a bigger way of showing it.

Who am I kidding? They’re going to lose all interest in it in a month and six months from now won’t even remember that it exists.

20 December 2013

Walking Dead (Or, How Parenting Is Like the Movie Inception)

Dear Sir,

I did not order this 4:50 wake-up call and I would like to complain to the manager.
Yes, I know I am technically the manager, but I ceded authority and control to you when you were born.
Please try to keep it down, little man.
Shut your yap.

Thank you,
Dada (formerly the manager)

I’m pretty sure we can all agree—parents and non-parents alike—that 5 a.m. is a completely unreasonable time to get up. I am not a farmer. I have nothing to milk. And this is doubly—perhaps triply—true if it happens to be a weekend morning.

It’s been said, or written, or so I have heard, that when you become a parent, you just get used to sleeping less, that you grow accustomed to being tired. Really? Who are these people that think this? You don’t get used to it. You think you do. You have one kid and they start sleeping through the night and so you start sleeping through the night and you’re good. But then you have another kid (a really stupid idea) and the whole vicious cycle starts all over again. You’re not sleeping anymore. Then you’re being woken up super-early.

And it’s not just tired, like, oh I just mowed the grass and I’m going to sit down with my feet up and drink a beer for a minute. Not that kind of tired. More like I’ve been on a drug-fueled, Thompson-esque tear through Las Vegas and I’ve been awake for three days straight, holy shit, is this really what my hands look like kind of tired.

So I have no idea how you grow accustomed to it. It is disorienting and discombobulating. Still. This is why parenthood is a lot like Inception. It’s really hard to tell if you’re dreaming or awake. You’re in a perpetual state of semi-zombieness which leaves you confused about your reality. The only difference is that you’re changing diapers and spoon-feeding a baby instead of mounting an assault on a mountainous compound or fighting thugs in zero gravity.

Okay, I guess it’s kind of the same thing.

My bed is so tempting now. Like it’s never been before. And yet, the hours between 8 and 11 p.m. become so valuable, because they are the only opportunity to do anything remotely productive, to feed your own brain, to detach from the world and you just want that time to go on forever, but you also want to go to sleep right now this minute. But I can’t bring myself to go to bed earlier. What am I, my grandpa? I like the nightlife. I like to boogie.

I used to have me time. I used to have nothing but me time. But now it’s all kid time, all the time. Even after they go to bed at night. You’re not dealing with them, but now you’re talking about them. At length. And at this time of year, you’re wrapping their presents and building their precious superhero dollhouses for them—something that doesn’t exist in reality, so you have to improvise and invent the thing as you go along (yeah, that’s an entire post unto itself).

Yawn. No, really. Yawn.

Seriously, as I write this, I’m not sure how my eyelids are staying open. When I’m done, I’ve got to work on presents, talk to my wife, plan every day until Christmas to make sure we have enough time to get everything done. And it’s all the fault of the two sleep-averse maniacs upstairs.

Long ago, we decided that when they are teenagers, we are totally going into their rooms and shouting and making noise and waking them up at 3 a.m. This is only fair.

Don’t judge us.

Who am I kidding, we’ll be grateful for the sleep. There’s no way we’re dragging our asses out of bed at 3 a.m. Ever. For the rest of our lives.

12 December 2013

Deck the Halls

Another year, another holiday, another chance for tiny terrorists (I mean, our children) to run wild on sugary treats and destroy fragile decorations that represent cherished memories.

The monsters.

At the same time, they are really fun when it comes to other people’s decorations. And I know it’s a bit of a cliché at this point, but their immense wonder is really staggering to behold sometimes. Their genuine enthusiasm at seeing colored lights strung up outside of a stranger’s house practically makes me sob every time it happens. They are so excited about those lights. One night, Little Brother actually shouted out, “Christmas lights, I love you!” No, really. That happened.

It just kills me. I’m an emotional train wreck. Sure, I thought I was before, but my kids, I don’t know, it’s like they’re two little engineers shoveling piles and piles of coal on the fire, until the train is exceeding its speed limitations and starting to bust apart before it even jumps off the tracks. What did you do to me? I thought I was a functioning adult. Quit being so damn adorable all the time.

Of course, sometimes I wonder if the Doozer even knows (or cares) that Christmas is coming. We got him a kit for a gingerbread house and he insisted that it be a spooky gingerbread house with ghosts and zombies and bats—today is December 12, kid, can we stop celebrating Halloween already? Seriously, why do you keep bringing home Halloween books from the school library? They have hundreds (maybe thousands) of books—do they not have any about Christmas or, you know, any other subject that isn’t Halloween? By the way, it is December 12 and I have decided that whatever Halloween candy of yours that is still around is now fair game. Yeah, I said it.

I am the one that eats the candy.

But I am not the one who hangs the stockings from the mantle. No, really, we can’t even hang up the stockings because we’re convinced Little Brother is going to pull one down and cleave his skull with the stocking holder, Hot Fuzz-style. What’s this? Giant sock? Let me put it in my mouth like the ones from my feet. The first day the tree was up, he crawled under it and into the corner of the room. My wife was not so pleased, but he thought it was hilarious, sliding on his belly, like going under barbed wire. First morning! How does he know that this is what he’s meant to do? He sees the tree and he’s like, I’m going to crawl under there. What is the thought process? How does he get there?

It’s like living with a miniature version of Evel Knievel. He’s really not going to be happy until he’s wrecked everything of value. Hey, Handsy McGrabs-a-Lot, chill out already. Really, why did we have kids again? They ruin everything. You can’t have nice things. I find myself walking in the door every night and I just start shouting “No!” It’ll apply at some point, I’m sure, even if it’s not apropos at that exact moment.

Another (new) fixture of the holiday season is Pepper, our Elf on the Shelf. The Doozer gets super-excited about seeking him out every morning, wondering where he will be and what he will be doing. Is it just me, or is this a crazy weird phenomenon? And what does he really think about that thing? What goes through his head? I mean, our kid is pretty savvy, so is he just playing along? Does he suspect us of being “Santa” yet? I hope not. If he is just playing along, I’ll take it. Throughout the process, he taught Little Brother to call him a “cheeky elf.” That’s worth the price of admission.

The Elf on the Shelf is not the only bizarre element of Christmas these days. Have you been to any store lately with Christmas decorations? The other day, I saw a light-up Darth Vader with a Santa hat. We’ve lost our minds now, right? And this is coming from a guy who loves Star Wars. And Christmas. But not necessarily together. (1978’s The Star Wars Holiday Special notwithstanding.)

Ho ho ho. Pass the eggnog. It’s spiked, right?

05 December 2013

Two-Headed Boy

Now that I’ve recovered from the turkey-induced hangover . . .

Remember Single White Female? Yeah, so there’s a gender-switched remake happening in my house right now this minute.

Little Brother has become a complete acolyte (and copycat) of the Doozer. Repeats words. Follows him around like he’s a celebrity. Wants to consume him. From the moment he wakes up and then all day long until bedtime. He’s probably dreaming about him, too. He’s obsessed.

“Hi, buddy!” he exclaims when the Doozer enters a room. His excitement that this person is even in the room is so joyous and uncontainable. He forgets all about us. We totally cease to exist. 

I’m pretty sure this is how cults start.

Fortunately, so far at least, this adoration hasn’t gone to the subject’s head. Luckily, the Doozer hasn’t figured out how to be evil, how to manipulate his brother’s interest and use it to his advantage, make the little guy carry out his sinister bidding. We’re not there yet. But I’m sure it’s only a (short) matter of time.

So, in kindergarten, the Doozer has homework. For one thing, he brings a book home every night and reads it aloud to us. It comes home in a bag with a little monster finger that he wears, so he can follow along with the words on the page. Without fail, every night, when he finishes, Little Brother scrambles up on the couch, dons the monster finger himself and hilariously mimics the act of reading the book and following the words. Only, his version is utter verbal nonsense.

While we find this very amusing, perhaps you could figure out how to use a fork properly. Your brother does that too, you know. (Mostly.)

His love or adoration or insanity or whatever it is, it’s so all–consuming that when the Doozer is not around—when he’s at school, for instance—Little Brother will often wander around in a daze repeating his brother’s name and the word school, a sad inner monologue turned outward mantra of existential despair. He literally does not know his place in the world if he’s apart from his desired Doppelgänger.

And it goes both ways. The Doozer has crazy affection for his miniature sidekick. And all of a sudden they’re in this mutual admiration society, like the time we were taking a 40-minute drive to a wedding and they spontaneously began playing the game “Zombie” in the backseat. Not familiar with it? It’s pretty simple. Whenever one of them says the word “zombie,” they both begin growling and shrieking at each other (à la zombies) at a fairly grating, ear-splitting decibel. For half an hour.

“They’re crazy,” we said to each other.

And here’s the thing, the older one is crazy enough. But the younger one just seems to be trying to up the ante. All the time. He seems to be doing an impression of the Doozer, but with unnecessary additional theatrics. Apparently, this is how he’s interpreted what it means to be five. It means simply to be crazy and to be loud. You’re not a 1970s punk rocker, you can be quiet every once in a while.

Sometimes I even think they want to be twins. Or the same person. It’s creepy. They’ll cling to each other. I mean they hug and they’re affectionate and all that, but I also feel like they’re trying to merge/fuse into one creature, one single entity. Our very own two-headed boy.

Is this what Cain and Abel were like? Or the Menendez Brothers? I should really know that, but I can’t remember.

Or maybe I just don’t want to.

14 November 2013

An Open Letter to Peter Rabbit

Dear Peter,

So, my 1-year-old son is obsessed with you. Obsessed. And it’s starting to worry me. Plain and simple, I do not think that you are a good role model. I know watching you calms him down enough so that we can keep him from wiggling around for 30 seconds to clip all his toenails and fingernails. I suppose that’s worth something. But I definitely worry about the “lessons” that you’re imparting to him.

I’m worried he’s starting to think he is a rabbit himself. God help us when he chooses to act on this impulse by smack-talking a fox or a badger out in the woods. That’s not going to end well for anybody.

What kind of lifestyle choices are these? How many close-calls and near-misses do you think you can really have before a pitchfork-wielding human, a crafty fox, or a giant badger gets the better of you? How long do you think you can keep this going? All you do is thieve and antagonize larger, meaner creatures. Every day, all day. What kind of plan is this? Where’s the future in this?

Where are you headed?

Which begs the question, why aren’t you in school? Your “community” seems to have all the other trappings of civilization. But not once have I seen you in a school. What gives?

Also, why do you wear a coat but no pants? This I really don’t understand. Is this why my kid loves to run around naked? How are you not freezing all the time?

According to your origin story, your father was caught by Mr. McGregor and baked into a pie. Have you gleaned absolutely nothing from this history? Have you heard the phrase “history repeats itself”?

My main concern is that my son won’t be able to separate your adventures from reality. What you’re doing is providing entertainment. Which is fine, I suppose. But you also appear alongside Dora and Diego and those kids from Team Umizoomi which gives the mistaken impression that you’re providing some educational benefit. But I really don’t see much call in my son’s future for mocking woodland creatures and stealing vegetables from someone else’s garden.

By the way, you spend so much time in that garden, have you not picked up even a rudimentary understanding of how to grow your own crops? Is this a side effect of not being in school? Are you learning impaired? Or just averse?

And don’t even get me started on poor Benjamin. That kid will follow you anywhere in completely blind adoration. But here’s the thing: he’s not nearly as clever you are. One of these days you are going to get him killed. Do you want that blood on your hands? Do you?

You even bring danger right to your door sometimes. Do you ever think about the consequences of your actions? You have a family to think about. Your mother, your sisters, do you ever think about them when you’re out in the world causing mischief? Are they just collateral?

In conclusion, thank you for keeping my son’s attention occupied for 23-minute stretches so his mother and I can think about something else for a moment, check Facebook, doze off, drink wine. But seriously, would it hurt to do something else than steal? To think about someone besides yourself? Maybe you could go to school someday. Or plant your own garden. Hell, I’d settle for just one episode where you decide to wear a pair of pants. That would be a nice change of pace.

A Concerned Parent

(I’ll be watching you. Literally. Because this kid will have a complete meltdown if we don’t.)

07 November 2013

Family Cosplay

Ever since we’ve had two kids, the wife and I have wanted to do a group Halloween costume. My vote has always been for the Beatles, skinny ties and mop-top wigs. (Little Brother would obviously be Ringo.) But she was never keen on the idea.

And the last two years, we went to an event at the Detroit Zoo, the annual Zoo Boo, with my wife’s cousin. She and her husband and their two little girls have always dressed in matching costumes. We hadn’t heard rumors to the contrary this year and so we decided we had to step it up. To be better parents, we had to do a foursome of costumes.

But what would it be? The Avengers? Seeing Little Brother in a long blonde wig was tempting. The Incredibles? We’re lacking a Violet. And it would be weird to go as Mr. Incredible, Elastigirl, Dash, and Little Jack-Jack. He doesn’t even do anything until the last two minutes of the movie.

For a minute, the Doozer wanted to be Boba Fett. So we thought about other characters we could realistically be. But Yoda, Princess Leia, Chewbacca and Boba Fett just seemed like too random of an assortment. At one point, I suggested that we could all paint our faces yellow and be Lego minifigures. I still stand by this is a brilliant idea, even if he didn’t go for it.

Then we hit upon the idea: We had a dragon costume from when the Doozer was 2. He and Little Brother love playing with a castle set. What if the Doozer was a knight, Little Brother was the dragon, and we went as a king and a queen? Great. Perfect. Set. Only the Doozer had a slightly different idea.

In his version of “playing” with his castle, a toy parrot guards the fortress. He wanted to be a parrot guard, which somehow involved dressing as a parrot that is dressed as a knight. Maybe.

This was not going to happen. Not that we want to quash his imaginative spirit, not at all. It’s just, one costume is expensive enough, let alone two. Then the physics of trying to mash them together into one costume? And seriously, who has the time to sew? I feel like our generation got a lot of handmade, homemade costumes. But seriously, when did they have the time?

Finally, he was convinced to be a knight. And loved his knight costume. And forgot all about that parrot business. Although I do think he occasionally squawked while sporting that fake chain mail get-up. But I can’t be certain.

In the end, though, it didn’t matter. Because we showed up at the zoo and found that our compatriots were not donning a four-person costume this year. It was just us. Yeah, we were sold out by fellow parents. Come on, man, we’re supposed to be on the same team. 

And so now we’re walking around the zoo looking like idiots. (Even if our own kid still enjoyed this whole coordinating costumes enterprise.) My “crown” looked more like that funny hat the pope wears, but the cape and scepter seemed somewhat royal. I suppose. (Okay, I’ll admit it, carrying a scepter is pretty good.) One of the zoo employees told me I looked like a character from an old TV commercial about butter or margarine. I vaguely remembered it from my childhood.

Thanks, old-timer.

Of course, there was still actual Halloween. Which is weird. I didn’t get multiple Halloweens as a kid. What spoiled brats. That night, it rained. So not only did we have goofy costumes on, but we got drenched. Now we have soggy, goofy costumes. And cherished memories. I guess.

Although, I have one piece of advice for parents thinking of taking a 1-year-old out trick-or-treating:


(Of course, your experience could be better than ours. I suppose anything is possible.)

31 October 2013

Follow the Rules

Woo-hoo! I passed my first parent-teacher conferences. Yes, I do feel like it was a test. And in the end, I didn’t walk out of that classroom feeling two feet tall (this despite the fact that the meeting required me to sit in a child-sized chair.)

At one point, the Doozer’s teacher told us that he whenever he wants to say something or ask a question, he always raises his hand. Always. Like, even when he’s standing right next to her. We admitted that he can be all about following rules.

“He gets that from him,” my wife said, pointing to me. “Not from me.”

In related news, where did this bus come from? And how did I end up underneath it?

It got me thinking about what we’re imparting to our children. What everyone imparts to their kids, whether they know it or not. Not just the best, but also the worst parts of ourselves. You never really consider that, but they’re absorbing your qualities, aspects of your personality.

How do we stop that?

My wife always joked that with two sons, I got a couple of Mini-Mes. Which is all well and good when trying to get them interested in Star Wars or Elvis Costello or the Muppets. But this is something else. In some weird way, it’s almost like a cosmic do-over. You get the chance to try and shape them into the best possible version of yourself.  

This whole raising the hand thing is pretty adorable now. But hopefully it’s not an indicator that he’ll spend his life subjugating himself to others. Because that could happen. I should know, it’s kind of how I operate in the world. Or don’t operate, depending on your point of view.

At this age, how much of their personality is already defined? How much work will they have to do on themselves in the future, to undo all the mistakes we are surely making now? Why did we even have kids? We were only ever going to screw it up.

Of course, while the Doozer is all about following rules, the little one is a complete daredevil. We’re not sure where any of that comes from. Those personality traits cannot be found in either one of us. At least I don’t think so. But now that I think about it, perhaps it’s my wife’s disregard of rules and recipes writ large, amplified by childlike intensity. She also really loved ziplining on our honeymoon in Mexico, while it almost gave me a heart attack.

(So sorry, dear, this bus might have your name on it.)

I guess what I'm trying to say is that parenting is giving me a complex. Or rather, it's probably just contributing to the one I already had.

Of course, on the bright side, this week they fought over pumpkin guts during the traditional carving of the Halloween pumpkin. They literally fought over who got to pick up pumpkin guts and dispose of them. Maybe this means that they are still malleable. Perhaps there’s hope for them yet. Anyone with a full sense of themselves as a human being would realize that this is not a remotely fun activity. There’s still things to learn, there’s still an opportunity to teach them. Something useful.

After all, I did pass parent-teacher parent conferences. Got a gold star for parenting. So maybe I do have something worthwhile to teach. Maybe they will be better than me, after all.

What am I saying? They already are.

24 October 2013

Wonder Years

Having become jaded and cynical in so many ways, it is with great surprise (and maybe something like relief) that I am finding additional capacity for wonder and amazement and joy as a parent.

When your second kid comes along, there’s already a sense of “been there, seen that” to the entire enterprise. Second children get hand-me-down clothes and previously used toys and if they were paying any attention it might give them a complex. Plus, their parents are really tired at that point.

Really tired.

It’s true, parenting can be super-annoying and frustrating and you can find yourself feeling very quickly that you are just over it. Over. It. And so it’s incredible that I’ve found I can just look at Little Brother sometimes and be amazed. He’s not just an extension of his older brother (regardless of how much he behaves as such), he’s his own being, with his own personality and identity. And he can actually capture your attention much like the first one did, yet often in entirely new and different ways. Who is this kid? you can find yourself wondering. It’s like there’s an intruder in the house.

And this has been highlighted for me several times over the last few months. For instance, when preparing for his 18-month appointment with the pediatrician and examining his level of development at this point, the wife made a list of words that he spoke. She topped out somewhere over 200. We looked up the average and it was 15. 15. Seriously, he’s smarter than we are—or could ever hope to be. When he decides to use these powers for evil instead of good and turns against us—we are screwed.

Last night, I watched him spontaneously join his mother in putting dirty laundry in the laundry basket. Like it was no big thing, just started pitching in. It was hilarious, like he’d done it a thousand times before.

You should see him obsess about Lorde. That “Royals” song is the kid’s jam and he is mesmerized by that girl whenever he sees her. And that’s nothing compared to watching him bust a move while listening to John Lennon’s “Oh Yoko!” off my Rushmore soundtrack. Seriously, this kid has moves. And we don’t, so I have no idea where they even came from. (I know you dig this tune and all, but wait until you hear what she did to your and your brother’s beloved Beatles. Apologies in advance.)

And for every moment that his natural rambunctiousness has drawn him dangerously close to mortal peril, there are other, simpler occasions when he takes my breath away for entirely different reasons. 

A few nights ago, I sneezed. And he stopped what he was doing and looked up at me from the floor and said (approximately), “Bless you.” Then smiled. I’d never heard him say it before and had no idea he even knew this phrase or when it was appropriate to use it. Naturally, I had to immediately leave the room and put some distance between me and that cherubic face lest I begin sobbing uncontrollably.

Sometimes I’d just like to get off this emotional rollercoaster. But it never even slows down enough for me to jump off, let alone come to a complete stop so I can step gracefully onto the platform.

Here’s hoping I don’t get motion sickness. Or whiplash. But that’s probably wishful thinking.

20 October 2013

My First Wedding

Don’t mind us. We’re just those people who brought their kids to a wedding. Yep, that’s us. (Relax. They were invited.) And they weren’t the only kids there. But two minutes into the reception, the wife turned to me and said, “I think we should’ve left them at home.”

You think?

So, in the end, it turned out to be the shortest wedding ceremony I’ve ever witnessed. I feel as though it could be counted in seconds, rather than minutes. Insanely, it still wasn’t short enough to get the Doozer and Little Brother to sit still for its duration. After a seemingly endless loop of chasing and picking up and chasing our 1-year-old across the community center lawn (run, scoop, repeat), we resorted to strapping him into his stroller and taking him for a cruise.

(I say “we,” but what I really mean is “I.” Because the very first time he bolted away from us, my wife said, “I wore heels. I can’t chase him. I didn’t think about that.” To which I thought, “Sure you didn’t think of it. Or maybe you planned on exactly that.”)

Anyway, it was during that stroller ride that the entire wedding ceremony happened. I didn’t even see the bride go down the aisle. I wheeled Little Brother maybe 25 feet away and turned to wheel him back when suddenly the entire gathering burst into applause.

Thanks, kid. You made us miss the whole thing. All he said was, “Cho-cho!” (In other words, demanding that I make quick with the snack cup full of Cheerios stashed beneath his ride.)

As we made our way into the reception, I overheard someone say that dinner would be served at 5. I glanced at my phone. It was a few minutes after 4. Panic set in. We are never going to make it, I thought. These maniacs are going to destroy this lovely event and an entire roomful of people, hundreds of people, are going to have their evenings ruined by us. They’ll hate us.

Maybe we should leave, I thought. But the catering was from a really good restaurant and I really wanted to eat. Plus, there’s always cake at weddings. How can you leave before cake?

It was about that time that the wife made her comment about leaving the kids at home.

Little late for that now.

At least there was music. The music was pretty much our salvation. We got the tiny terrorists—I mean, our children—to sit still for a few moments only and munch on some appetizers. But then they got restless. The Doozer at least acts restless before actually doing anything about it. Little Brother just hops to the floor and takes off like Usain Bolt, headed for the exit or just anyplace that isn’t where we are.

But like I said, there was music. And soon enough, our two necktie-clad boys were the sole inhabitants of a small dance floor, rocking out like they were in our living room, oblivious to the roomful of wedding guests that was their unwitting, impromptu audience. At one point, Little Brother was bopping to some song or other, while double-fisting sippy cups of milk and water. It was quite a sight to behold. Don’t get me started on the poor little girl in the blue dress who he became infatuated with, following her around, making puppy dog eyes, and offering her a swig from his milk. (Or maybe it was the water.)

I had no idea he was going to be interested in older women.

In the end, though I didn’t count, I think there were more compliments about our children than icy glares or rude remarks. Of course, we spent the entire time being absolutely mortified about every noise they uttered, every move they made, paranoid that we’d be held responsible for ruining an entire wedding. I did have to carry Little Brother outside during one of the toasts. Apparently he wanted to give his own speech, loudly, made up of completely incoherent babble.

I think he was drunk. Cheers!

10 October 2013

This Is Only a Test

Kindergarten. Month 2. Are we having fun yet?

So, what is kindergarten like these days? Well, as the father of a new kindergartner, I’m here to tell you . . . nothing. Well, almost nothing. Because I have no idea what it’s like. When we ask about the Doozer’s day, we get maybe two random, half-pieces of information out of him. That’s a victory. If he tells us three things it’s a banner day in our house.

What is he doing there? Who are his friends? Is he having fun? I swear kindergarten is like five-year-old Fight Club, that’s how tight-lipped he constantly is about the whole enterprise.

I can tell you that there’s homework. Of course, we often have to go directly into his backpack to learn what that homework is. I feel like we’re searching through his stuff for drug paraphernalia.

“He’s been acting differently since he started school. Have you noticed?”

“I thought I was imagining it.”

“Thank god it’s not just me.”

Now, we don’t want to do homework. But he can’t very well do it on his own. We need to participate. But really, I’ve done enough homework in my life. I thought I was done with homework forever. This isn’t fair. I’m getting tired just thinking about it.

Speaking of tired, mornings are now the worst in our house. The worst. I thought I had more time before this happened. I thought I had years before this happened. But a few weeks of kindergarten have transformed our adorable, perky, lovable 5-year-old into a sullen, moody, irritable teenager. He’s basically that kid from the Zits comic strip now. Every morning I try to gently wake him from his slumber and he goes from being asleep to being Chris Farley in the Gap girl sketch in no time flat (“Leave me alone, I’m starving!”).

Getting him out of bed now requires cajolement, harassment, threats, intimidation—sometimes a variety of these tactics together. And most of the time I end up having to physically drag him out of bed and carry him downstairs over my shoulder. Where he promptly flops on the sofa and pulls a blanket over his head.

Good times.

I am not at my best in these moments. I’m not that awake yet myself, I haven’t had enough coffee. Plus, I’ve got my own problems. I’m trying to get out the door too. He’s not the only one who needs to be somewhere at a particular time every morning.

All this, the homework and the early morning wake-up calls, the lunches and snacks, the communication breakdowns and hostile negotiations, is beginning to make me feel that kindergarten is just all one big test. For us.

Forget about parenting in general. That’s its own kind of test, an evil method of trying to root out what you’re really made of, an exhaustive investigation into the true nature of your character, a constant interrogation along the lines of, Do you have the mettle and the fortitude to contend with all this? Kindergarten just amplifies that shit and suddenly your difficulties go from 0 to 60. You had it easy before, my friend. You fool. You never saw this coming.

I feel like I’m being watched and judged all the time. (I mean, more so than usual.) Can you handle this? Who will be the first to break? Will they snap at each other, or their kid, or random strangers on the street? Yes, will you just lose it on complete strangers?

Which is why I am dreading parent-teacher conferences. I imagine it to just be a referendum on my parenting skills and by extension, my usefulness as a human being on this planet.

And no amount of studying can help me pass that test.

19 September 2013

Boy's Life

Kindergarten. Week 2.

I have a lot of concerns about kindergarten. A lot. Like, will the Doozer like it? Will he be happy? Will they be nice to him? Will he be one of the smart ones? Another one is the exposure to a whole lot of boys. I’m concerned about an excessive amount of boyness. And archetypal masculine crap.

See, we watched Tangled recently. If you don’t know it, it’s a Disney cartoon, a musical, a re-telling of the story of Rapunzel. We’ve worked our way through most of the Pixar flicks at this point and The Nightmare Before Christmas and even Madagascar. (The less said about that one, the better.) And right now, to him, they’re all the same thing. He doesn’t discriminate or distinguish. They’re just movies.

Here’s a kid who loved Dora the Explorer and, more recently, Doc McStuffins (though now he seems to have moved on to Scooby-Doo). So recently, we watched Pocahontas. And now Tangled. (The Princess and the Frog is next up on the DVR.) I don’t want him to lose this. This openness. I hope we can avoid the rigidity of gender roles. Boy stuff and girl stuff. It’s just stuff. Let’s keep it that way.

Because honestly, Tangled is kinda awesome. I’m not sure he was completely down with the love story and the whole thing with the princess being reunited with her true parents. He liked the action and the humor (there was an old drunk bandit who went over big—I tried not to think too deeply on that). But still. It’s not like he said Ugh or Gross or wanted to turn it off. And it wasn’t all adventure and comedy all the time. He was with it.

I’m afraid this is going to fade. Sure, it might come back when he gets older. But I like this right now. Where we’re not locked into boy stuff. Yes, we have a house full of superheroes and race cars and books about superheroes. And yes, I turned him on to Star Wars. But this is also a kid who likes playing with a dollhouse sometimes and who is just as apt to cuddle with me as try to wrestle.

I like to think of him as an ambassador of this openness. There was at least one girl in his preschool class that he got hooked on Star Wars. (Note to Doozer: You might want to remember her name even though she no longer goes to the same school. I mean, a girl who’s into Star Wars? You might want to marry her someday.)

One of his other favorite things at this moment is the song “San Francisco” by The Mowgli’s. Who look like a bunch of hippies and spend the entire video being all blissed out about love and all that mushy stuff. It’s super-gushy. And he loves it. I hope this is the kind of thing he continues to gravitate toward. I hope this is a sign that he’s going to be this sweet, sensitive kid for a while.

And if any of those kids with the light-up sneakers and the Ninjago T-shirts try to initiate him into a world of wrestling and G.I. Joe and No Girls Allowed, I’m going to punch them in the face.

Okay, okay. So I’m not going to punch little kids in the face. Unless they’re mean to my kid. And then they’re totally asking for it. 

12 September 2013

Kindergarten Confidential

The Doozer started kindergarten. He is officially a kindergartner. We were not prepared.

I mean, we just hand over our kid to strangers for an entire day and have no idea what he’s doing or who he’s with unless he deigns to tell us when we bring him home? And it’s all okay because he’s got a new backpack and a lunch bag and a Darth Vader water bottle? And because we call it “school”? We’re just supposed to place blind trust in the universe that everything will work out for the best? Screw that.

There’s just all kinds of stress. Would he like it? How would he handle it? Is he eating his lunch? Does he like the other kids? Do the other kids like him? I mean, kids are jerks. Other kids, especially.

Reports from the first week were very sporadic. We knew he’d been somewhere, we knew he’d done stuff, that he’d been around other kids. That he had a teacher. But there was also fatigue. Almost instantly. It’s like he wasn’t in kindergarten, but rather had started high school and most afternoons came home as a sullen teenager offering nothing more than one-word responses and vague hostility, preferring solitude and distance, seemingly annoyed by all the eager questioning.

And then out of the blue, an enthusiastic announcement: “We did yoga!” Or when he informed us that there was a girl named “Hyper” in his class and he met his music teacher, “Crabcheeks.” How I wish these were really actual names.

When we attended a thing called curriculum night after that first week of school, we learned a whole slew of things about the school day that we knew nothing about. “He’s not telling us anything,” my wife whispered to me during the proceedings.

Hearing about things from his teacher was like gaining entrance into a difference place. His secret world. The missing pieces of the day, a way for us to fill in the gaps of what was going on with him when we were not around.

And one thing that stood out to me was about writing. Apparently, there’s a whole portion of the school day devoted to writing. They encourage the kids to write in a variety of forms and mediums. To tell their own stories and just make stuff up. And this was a part of his day he definitely hadn’t mentioned. And maybe if he knew something that I know, he might have brought it up.

I’m a writer. That’s how I define myself. That’s who I am. And yet, this is something my son doesn’t actually know. Who am I? What do I do all day when I go to that office? I write. And after he goes to bed? I write. But he doesn’t know anything about this.

My secret world.

Is this our chance? For our spheres to intertwine? To connect over creating art. For me to explain to my kid who I am and for him to actually, maybe, kind of understand it?

I can hear the NPR interview where the Doozer talks about his father’s influence on his own work. But he never turns to me for editorial advice or anything like that. We are very different. But inescapably the same. We are storytellers.

In fact, just recently, he made up a whole story, a fake movie, called Justice 1, a bizarre, epic tale of aliens and zombies, which Han Solo, Luke Skywalker, and others, watch when they have movie night aboard the Millennium Falcon. I am not making this up. He quickly went on to describe the plot of Justice 2 and then told us Justice 3 was also coming up—in about a month or so.

And while it wasn’t exactly Wuthering Heights, I’ll take it. 

We all start somewhere.

05 September 2013

Hoarding For Kids

In my weekly dispatches from Baby Center, that intrepid outfit that is with me every step of the way to encourage me on my journey of parenting—or rub it in that I’m not doing as well as I should be, I’ve never quite figured out their exact m.o.—I recently noticed a transition. The subject line of these emails now no longer refers to “my preschooler” but “my big kid.”

Big kid. Thanks a lot, Baby Center, way to rub it in.

Anyway. This particular installment was all about collecting. And it was something I could immediately relate to. I’m a collector. Of everything. This is well-documented. So this is totally a bonding experience for me. I love it. More than I should, probably. The desire to amass large amounts of something, anything, put them on display, show them off to others. This is right up my alley.

We have superheroes and Matchbox cars, Star Wars figures and Legos. That’s the big one. That’s the “major collection” that Baby Center was referring to. They’re so prevalent, in fact, that “Lego” is one of the first, most intelligible words that Little Brother can say. True story.

But it’s bad. We’re running out of room because of Legos. We’re going to have get a new house with an entire wing devoted to these tiny bricks. Maybe the Doozer could just build us a new house out of Legos. I’m pretty sure that we have enough.

Of course, he’s totally sucked me in to this activity. I’m way into it. I’ve reverted to the kid version of me who used to do Legos. The sense of accomplishment that I get from helping to assemble a toy that has been designed for the intellect and motor skills of 7- to 12-year-olds. Pathetic. Truly pathetic.

Sometimes these collections merge. And interact. The Doozer is genre-agnostic, apparently. We’ve seen a variety of action figure mash-ups. Scooby-Doo characters versus superheroes. Ghouls and ghosts invading the Star Wars universe. One day there was even a skateboarding George Washington minifigure visiting a Lego house. (The Doozer’s totally going to grow up and write for The Simpsons, isn’t he? That’ll still be on the air then, right?)

Is it wrong that I want to perpetuate this? Jamie Oliver recently posted a photo on Facebook of his own Darth Vader action figure case, saying he was bequeathing his collection of action figures, now that he’s 38. (I took this to mean that I still can hold on to mine for a few more years.)

Then Simon Pegg revealed to Marc Maron on WTF that he’s a 43-year-old man who has a proper Boba Fett helmet. It all made me feel a bit more normal, even if the wife disagrees on this matter.

But does she have a point? Do I actually have the personality of a 5-year-old?

Don’t answer that.

But again, seriously, space is an issue. Now with two kids, pretty much every room is a playroom in our house. This is not right. We need a new place. With a dedicated space where we can lock them in. Kidding, kidding. We wouldn’t do that. All the time. We’d let them out.

On occasion.

22 August 2013

Warning: May Be Hazardous To Your Health

Our home is a house of sickness. Of plague. Enter at your own risk.

The interesting thing (one of many) about being a parent is how things seem endless. Having kids is weird. On one hand, time is flying by and your baby—who was just born—is suddenly entering kindergarten and getting ready to go off to college. But at the same time, bizarrely, many things seem to stretch on for so long you think they will never end.

I used to live in New York and I remember being in subway stations very late (or very early depending on your point of view) and waiting a very long time sometimes for a train to arrive. And there was a part of me that always thought, I’m going to be here forever. This train is literally never going to come. I am stuck here now. Forever.

That’s kind of what it’s like to be a parent.

Sleep, for instance. It’s easy to believe you will never again get a proper amount of sleep. Ever. That you will just continue along on your days, in an ongoing haze of sleepiness, never quite knowing if you’re awake or if you’re dreaming. It’s like Inception, only the really boring version without any ceiling acrobatics or snowbound hideouts.

And now illness. Pestilence, etc. For the last several weeks, at any given moment, at least one member of our collective has been down for the count with some form of fever or wheezing or sneezing or whatever the ailment du jour happens to be.

And it’s a vicious cycle, it just keeps going. The kids get well and the parents go down. Parents start to feel like they’re on the mend and the Doozer starts complaining of an earache. A stomachache. Little Brother has a coughing fit at 3 in the morning and then he’s wide awake and wants to play.

Stop it.

I’m coughing as I type this. Like I’m some Romantic poet dying of consumption as he composes these final lines. Hopefully they’re worth it. We’ll see.

Kids get sick. It’s a thing you hear about, something you just kind of know. But like so many other things, you can’t really comprehend it until you’re in it. I mean, they get sick. Like crazy. And then they make you sick. Because they’re so thoughtful. It really is the gift that keeps on giving. And the Doozer hasn’t even started kindergarten yet.

We’re screwed. We’re just going to be sick in some form for another decade. I’m going to have to start wearing one of those medical masks. Like Michael Jackson. We all thought he was crazy, but apparently he was on to something there.

15 August 2013

The Big 0-5

Ed. note: This post was initially drafted well over a week ago, so all references to childs age are in the future tense, which is no longer accurate. Birthday prep was so time-consuming that it prevented the author from completing this essay in a reasonable amount of time. So instead of turning 5, the authors son is now actually 5 years o--oh my god, how did that happen?

Dear Son,

I’m not great at dispensing advice. I’m usually somebody who’s seeking advice from other people. But now that I’m a dad and you’re in the picture, I think I’m going to have to step up my advice game. So here’s something that might not make sense now, but will someday:

Time is not your friend.

It’s true. It’s not. It’s more of an adversary. If you’re Spider-Man, time is the Green Goblin. If you’re Luke Skywalker, time is Darth Vader. Right? Time is not your friend. In fact, it’s really one truly evil mofo.

The occasion for this bolt of wisdom is your coming birthday. You’re turning 5. But you know that already. You’ve been counting down the days. I’m not sure if you’re so much excited about getting older, or the fact that you’re having a party on that day. Probably the latter. And it reminds me of a line of dialogue from one of my favorite movies. You don’t know it.

“I have glimpsed our future and all I can say is, go back.”

You don’t get this reference now. But maybe someday you will. Maybe we will share a love of Cameron Crowe movies. I mean, I already got you into Star Wars and Elvis Costello and The Muppet Show. Cameron Crowe and Wes Anderson movies can’t be too far behind.

But that’s not for a while yet. I don’t know why I want you to be old enough to watch that stuff. Because I mostly don’t want you to be any older than you are right now this very second. It’s too much fun right now. And I’m already nostalgic for these days. I don’t want them to be a distant memory. I want them to just continue and not to end.

Here are just a few reasons why right now is such a great time.

Reading lessons. Dance parties. Music in the car. Kinda, sorta helping in the yard. Brother baths. Tickling. Piggyback rides. Milk-drinking contests. Making up words. Playing tag. Your epic joy when playing tag, perhaps the silliest game anyone ever invented. “I’m running in slow motion.”

That’s an inside joke. We have inside jokes. And you don’t even know what an inside joke is. You can’t beat that.

Sure, you’re not always a barrel of monkeys. I’m not going to lie to you. But for the most part, you kind of are. Not so much when it’s 6 a.m. or when your nose is hemorrhaging at 2 in the morning. But otherwise. You’re kind of more fun than I ever could’ve imagined you to be. There’s pretty much no way to fully convey to you or anyone else what it’s like to hang out with you these days. It’s just awesome.

Happy birthday, Doozer.

Your Dad

25 July 2013

Life Among the Savages

“Our life is over.”

This phrase appeared in a recent email from the wife, describing the discovery that Little Brother (at all of 16 months old) was actively attempting to climb out of his crib. Like he was a Cirque du Soleil gymnast. Of course, it shouldn’t have come as a surprise. It is quite possible that our children are trying to kill us. And I’m pretty sure our lives ended the moment the first one was born.

As for Little Brother, he’s already tried it with the portable crib, plus managed to clamber up onto a sofa, an armchair, a toddler piano, his older brother’s bed, the kitchen table. But still, we thought we had more time. Because the Doozer, on the other hand, never tried climbing out of his crib. Maybe once, but the wife put the fear of God into him and he never tried it again. That’s good parenting.

And I know it’s wrong to pick favorites, but that little one is really testing my limits.

Even the Doozer knows it. “He was a real pain in the patoot today, wasn’t he?” This, to his mother, one night at bedtime. "I think I just got Eddie Haskell’ed,” she said when she came downstairs. Sure, they’re turning on each other a bit. Little one bit the big one on the cheek. Big one rats out the little one every chance he gets. And soon enough, they’ll abandon their war of attrition and just completely join forces with one another like Voltron and turn on us. And then it’s all over.

Why do we have kids again?

Oh, that’s right. Because when we asked Little Brother to give the Doozer a kiss, he approached it like eating a peach, wide-mouthed and slobbering, tongue darting everywhere. We practically fell out of our chairs laughing at this. I guess that’s why we have kids.

Is that enough?

I’ve been reading a lot of parenting books lately. Not the instructional types, but the anecdotal, memoir-types. I just finished Drew Magary’s Someone Could Get Hurt. And Jim Gaffigan’s Dad Is Fat. And it’s nice to know that at least we’re not alone. That this tornado of madness and destruction and occasional hilarity is afflicting everyone with children, apparently. I find it comforting to read about other horrifying parenting experiences. Or witnessing them in person. 

Trust me. You could want to kill your children, but spend five minutes in a grocery or a big box store and you’ll see at least seven children more worthy of strangling than your own. And that can make you feel a little bit better. For at least one more day or so.

Your life really does become unrecognizable to you. It is that different. This is not an exaggeration. Then if you spend any amount of time with friends who don’t have kids, you start to see your life through their eyes—and it looks even more insane than it does from the inside.

I mean, they’re awake so early. And they’re so full of energy. Just give us a break. Give it a rest. I’m not sure if this was originally said about parenting, but you know that phrase, Sleep when you’re dead? What is that? Why would you say that? Why is that something to look forward to? I don’t want that. I want to live. And get a little bit of sleep while still living. Is that so much to ask? Won’t these kids just grow up already and get out of our hair? And let us f’ing sleep?

Okay, so I don’t entirely mean that. The Doozer starts kindergarten this fall. And I am not prepared for that. I don’t want him to be that old. Or any older. Sure, with age comes wisdom and maturity and all that and I won’t have to deal with all the same bullshit he throws at me now. But there’s just going to be more bullshit. Older kid bullshit. Teenage bullshit. (He shudders.) Maybe he’ll at least sleep in. And I’ll feel more comfortable letting him wander away from me and do his own thing. Without keeping tabs, worrying about him all the time. Who am I kidding? That’s probably never going to happen.

Right now, I have a number of friends who are pregnant. For the first time. So to them, I offer this brief preview of how their life is about to change. Irrevocably. Unimaginably. And forever. Here it is:

Our life is over. It was fun. Perhaps we can be a cautionary tale of what it means to have children. In fact, that’s going to be the title of my own parenting book, I think. Welcome to Parenting: Your Life is Over.

Happy reading.

25 June 2013

Choose Your Own Adventure

There are patterns that emerge when raising one’s children. Routines that get established and adhered to with a bizarre fierceness. In fact, after watching him arrange things just so last night on his shelf before going to bed, I called the Doozer “Particular Pete” for his insistence on making the world around him conform to his very specific desires. He was not a fan of the name.

But then there are surprises. Things that don’t go the way you expect them to. Just when you think you’ve got your kid figured out, they go and throw you a curveball. And so it was that our very own Particular Pete, who has ideas and opinions about everything that goes on in his world and around our house, told us he wanted to be surprised by his upcoming fifth birthday party.

(Our kid is five. This in itself is a surprise. The wife and I cannot quite figure out how this has happened. But I digress.)

We’d been talking about what kind of party he might want off and on for several weeks, maybe even months. And then all of a sudden he informed us that he didn’t want to know what it would be. Up until this point, he hasn’t picked out a theme for any his parties, they’ve all been surprises. And so he wants to stick with that tradition (for now).

For a kid who insists on picking out his own clothes—whether they actually match or not—and who is completely at ease dictating orders to his parents about how pretty much everything and anything should be done, this was quite a surprising turn. Not to mention, something of a challenge. I mean, we were just given carte blanche to design a birthday party that he will enjoy.

I’m thinking it might be a test. He wants to see how well we know him, how closely we’ve been paying attention. To suss out if we really know—and truly care about—what he likes.

So, these are a few of his favorite things:

Elvis Costello
Smoked gouda
Cooking pretend meals in a toy kitchen
Running in flip-flops
Reading lessons
Hugging his brother
Complaining about his brother
Milk drinking contests
Card games
The reptile house at the zoo
Vegetable gardening
Watching ants
Asking long streams of questions
Angry Birds
Brother baths

This is a lot of responsibility. There’s a lot of pressure to get this right. Like I said, it kinda feels like he’s testing us. So, how do we incorporate these elements into a fantastic shindig? Let’s see. We serve milk and gouda and vegetables from the garden. Instead of games, we watch ants. And birds. He performs a harmonica solo to “Pump It Up.” Then we let some snakes loose in the house. Ta-da.

Best fifth birthday party ever.

20 June 2013

Happy Father's Day

I’m a dad.

No, really. It’s true. But here’s the thing. It sort of seems like that is all I am now. My identity begins and ends with dad. Everything else seems to have faded away. I was a person before this, right? With a personality, with interests, with defining traits? Where did that all go?

So what brought on this philosophical conundrum you might ask? Well, I’ll tell you. This year, on Father’s Day, we went to Home Depot. Literally on Father’s Day. At which time I became painfully aware that I am officially a dad. And also, maybe the lamest person ever.

Yeah. That happened.

You hear “Dad" and “Dada" so much that you start to forget your actual name. No one else needs you in their life quite the way that they do. I’m not sure I’ve ever had a role quite like this one, a place in the world this defined. I guess I’m not always sure who I was before this.

There was a time where I might sleep off a hangover on a Sunday morning. When Father’s Day was a day to make an obligatory phone call to my own dad. And now I’m the person that this so-called holiday is honoring? What the hell?

They’re there to see me off in the morning, they’re there to greet me the moment I get home. Sad to see me go, genuinely excited to see me return. This is weird. I’m skeptical. What do you want? Like that guy who offered to help me shovel my driveway that one time during the first winter in our first house. What was that about? What did he want? Just being nice? Suspicious.

Why are they so interested in me, I wonder. I am not that interesting. Am I? I don’t think I have ever been that interesting. Maybe just because I’m the tallest person in the room? There’s something to that. They look up at me. Do they also look up to me? For now, maybe. That’s a lot of responsibility.

It’s exhausting.

So, Home Depot was pretty crowded on Father’s Day. This is where the dads hang out, y’all. If we have a scene, I suppose it is there, amongst the lumber and the power tools and all the other DIY household items. I’m not good at any of it. All these “dad” things. Never learned them. It’s weird being a dad. It feels like I forgot to do my homework all the time. No matter how many times I go to Home Depot (yay, homeownership!) there are always things I will walk past and think, What is that? What do you do with that thing? How does that work? No idea.

I still hear “Dad” sometimes and think, who are they talking to exactly? And why are their voices so high-pitched? Who is this “dad” they keep referring to?

Oh, right.

Do you ever get used to it? I mean, this is four years in now, almost five. Which is pretty deep. There must be a point where this becomes normal. I mean, there are people who you absolutely recognize as “dads” whether they even have children or not. But having children must make you feel like a “dad” at some point, right? Or at least an adult? Sometimes I just don’t.

At least there’s the Lonely Island out there to help me make some sense of this new reality. (And in case you’re not already familiar with their work, this is NSFW.)

07 June 2013

The City of Brotherly Love

Ah, summer.

With every season, there comes a certain set of rituals. In summer, it used to be things like drinking outside (often during the day) and making plans around the concert schedule at the local outdoor amphitheater. Today, we know it’s summer because we find ourselves purchasing a new pair of Keens for the Doozer. Now, it’s two pair of Keens, one for each Doozer. This is summer.

And that’s okay. I guess.

This year, on our annual expedition to REI for summer footwear, we selected the pair for Little Brother first and then gave the Doozer a choice of color options for his pair. He didn’t even need to think about it. He saw the pair on his brother’s feet and immediately decided he wanted the exact same pair, the exact same color.

Here I thought the little brother was supposed to look up to the big brother—I mean, that happens, but still. I never had a brother. I don’t know what’s going on here. Little Brother is obsessed with the Doozer—seriously, obsessed—calling out his name all the time when he’s not physically in sight. But there’s a fascination with “our baby” that the Doozer has that seems to be comprised of several different—and often opposing—elements.

There’s love, certainly. But there’s also a bit of jealousy. Maybe resentment. A sense of competition. It must be terribly confusing for a tiny human to show up in your home and usurp some of your position in the place. I can also imagine that it might seem to the first little human that the new little human has actually completely usurped the original’s position in the family.

Which is how we found ourselves over this past winter having to track down a pair of one-piece, footed pajamas for the Doozer. Do you have any idea how difficult it is to find such an article of clothing for an almost-five-year-old person? Do you know how rare it is that one-piece, zip-up pajamas with attached feet are made in the appropriate size for someone about to enter kindergarten? Let me save you the trouble. They are not easy to find.

We recently took a trip to Portland. Before leaving, we asked the Doozer if we brought him something back, what would he want? Not familiar with the concept of souvenirs from exotic, far-off places, he told us, “Legos.” Which we ended up getting him, along with a storybook that highlighted several Portland landmarks, Larry Gets Lost in Portland.

For Little Brother, we picked out a tiny T-shirt from Voodoo Doughnuts, featuring their tagline, which is hilarious, though not altogether appropriate to be emblazoned across a one-year-old’s chest: “The magic is in the hole.” Naturally, ever since our return, we have heard frequently about how the Doozer himself wishes he had his own Voodoo Doughnuts T-shirt.

He’s perfectly fine matching his brother. Footwear, outfits, whatever it is. It’s weird, but it’s also genuine. I don’t think it’s entirely about having equality, or not being excluded from something Little Brother gets to have or experience. I think it’s more than that. Somewhere along the line, I think it occurred to him that they are a team. I’m not sure how that happened, where that notion came from. And for now, it’s kind of a beautiful thing to watch.

There’s lots of hugging. Impromptu brother concerts (or, just banging indiscriminately on vaguely musical “instruments”), giggles and splashing in the bathtub, for brother baths. I’m sure someday they will turn on each other and start going at each other like a bunch of rival newscasters in Anchorman. Or that they’ll band together and use their skills for evil as opposed to good, uniting to stage a serious uprising against the wife and I.

But for now, I’ll enjoy the cacophony and the adorable photo-ready clothing. I will endure getting drenched at bathtime and the challenge of finding coordinating outfits. I will bask in the glow of brotherly love and appreciate my front-row seat for this ridiculous show.

Maybe I’ll even get my own pajamas with feet.

30 May 2013

Sticks and Stones

In a recent New York Times article, I learned about a phenomenon which is apparently much bigger–and spreads far beyond—my own household: parental abuse. That’s right. Grown adults having their asses handed to them regularly by their offspring. Apparently, it borders on being an epidemic.

And I think the Times is right. In fact, we were at the zoo over the holiday weekend and I witnessed a remarkable number of parents being smacked directly in the face by their children. Usually they were picking them up to remove them from the playground when it was time to go and wham-o, right in the kisser.

We spend so much time worrying about the safety and well-being of children (ours, mostly), that we’re not spending enough time considering our own vulnerabilities and weaknesses. We should be fortifying our persons against surprise attacks and blitzes.

The Times piece mentioned this great PSA on the Absolute Uncertainties blog. She’s right, man, we need to look out for this. We need to protect each other.

They don’t even need sticks or stones (and words, well, those are a completely different story), like the old nursery rhyme says. Everyday household objects, pretty much anything can become a deadly weapon in their less-than-dexterous, clumsy hands. Is it intentional? Or accidental? Like most things with kids, I think it’s a bit of both. I’m convinced they know what they’re doing more often than not. We chalk it all up to, Oh, they’re just a child, they don’t know what they’re doing. But I’m calling bullshit. I think they know. They’re just pretending that they don’t.

They’re savvy that way. And they are out to get us.

I have years of this to endure. Being a punching bag. Not just physically, but emotionally. Perhaps becoming a parent just reveals you as a deep-seated masochist, wanting to be whipped, beaten, and abused continuously, and at great length.

Good times.

And now that we have two boys, I get double the amount of abuse and punishment. They’re already tag-teaming the old man whenever I lose my senses momentarily and sit on the floor. Or on the couch. Or a chair. Pretty much if I’m not standing upright, I’m being dragged and pulled and tackled. And choked. And pounced on. Tigger-style.

Have you ever seen Tigger pounce on Pooh or Eeyore or any of the other characters in the 100-Acre Wood? It’s kind of like that. I’m just a giant bean bag chair to my kid. I have taken so many tiny knees to the groin that I’m pretty sure I can no longer even have children, should we want that sort of thing.

When the baby squirms and wiggles and won’t let us trim his fingernails properly, I’m pretty certain it’s because he intends to use the little blades to slice my jugular when I’m not paying attention.

And even when they’re not going at you, fists, knees, and claws out, they’re still inflicting injury. Their tiny bodies are constantly being hurled about like ninja throwing stars, wrecking everything in their path. Poked in the eye, kneed in the groin, slapped in the face. I sort of feel like Abe in that last episode of Mad Men, getting accidentally stabbed by Peggy with that ridiculous homemade spear. They’re totally going to send me to the hospital one of these days, but not even wielding something quite so deliberately dangerous. No, my undoing will come in the form of a plastic plaything or more likely, just their bare hands, like they’re in the Special Forces or something.

They’re just waiting for you to drop your guard. Don’t do it. 

Not for a second.

Watch your backs.

17 May 2013

The Graduate

Preschool graduation. Yeah, that’s a real thing. I didn’t know either.

Until this past week. When our son, the Doozer, became a preschool graduate. After two years, as a 3- and 4-year-old student, it was time for his Moving On ceremony. Instead of a cap and gown, he wore a self-decorated paper crown. And his very best robot/spaceship necktie.

His (amazing) teacher gave each kid a memory book with various drawings, photos, and even a little diploma. One page featured a photo of him from the very first day of 3’s class, plus one taken within the last few weeks. “They grow up so fast,” doesn’t even begin to cover it.

I was reminded of one of my favorite scenes in Noah Baumbach’s Kicking and Screaming (appropriately, also related to the subject of graduation):

          Max: I’m too nostalgic. I’ll admit it.
          Skippy: We graduated four months ago. What can you possibly be 
          nostalgic for?
          Max: I’m nostalgic for conversations I had yesterday. I’ve begun 
          reminiscing events before they even occur. I’m reminiscing this 
          right now. I can’t go to the bar because I’ve already looked back
          on it in my memory... and I didn’t have a good time.

When you’re a parent, especially if you started out as a nostalgic person, that nostalgia gets instantly ramped up to 11. You become nostalgic—non-stop nostalgic—about absolutely everything. (Or maybe that’s just me. If it is, I don’t want to know.) Hence, not a single dry eye in the house during the preschool’s Moving On ceremony.

It’s really the teacher’s fault. Yes, she was amazing and wonderful and we are so completely grateful that our son got to be in a classroom with her two years running. But when she started the montage video, the time capsule of memories from the year, I knew she had it in for us. Her song choices for the soundtrack to this trip down memory lane were evil-genius level manipulative. That Hawaiian version of “Over the Rainbow?” Get out.

And it just went on from there. That video was maximized to turn all of us ridiculous parents into blubbering puddles of unchecked, flat-out embarrassing emotion. And we willingly obliged.

Not that we really need all that much prompting. Having children has revealed to me that I have emotions somewhere inside of me that I did not even know existed. And they like to emerge frequently, often at inopportune or seemingly incongruous moments. Your kids are riding together in a wagon? Suddenly there’s a lump in your throat. What? They’re trying to wiggle away from you like angry eels in the bathtub? Tears are forming in your eyes. Seriously, what?

Following the ceremony, there was a party, where the kids were all super-excited about frosted cookies and juice and miniature pieces of cheese with tiny wheat crackers. Don’t you understand the gravity of this situation? Don’t you know what you’ve just gone through? Do you have any idea how significant and important this event has been? And you’re excited about cheese?

Okay, I see it. Fair enough.

As I found the Doozer to pull him aside and say good-bye so I could depart the graduation festivities and return to the real world—namely, work—I gave him a quick hug and kiss, as we usually do. And as I did so, I found myself telling him I was proud of him. But here’s the thing. I could barely get the words out. They caught in my throat. I felt the wheels turning and the waterworks coming. I was literally overcome by the emotion of my son “graduating” from preschool. Like I was a teenage girl watching The Notebook for the 300th time.

So, yeah, I’m nostalgic for things that happened yesterday. In the last hour. And a few minutes ago. There was a great line in the series finale of The Office last night about wishing it was possible to know you were experiencing the good old days as they were happening, and not just recognize them as such after the fact. I’m pretty confident these are the good old days, happening right now.

And I’m sure I’ll be nostalgic for them for the rest of my days.