28 February 2013

I Learned It By Watching You

I’m about to start crying in the middle of a pancake house. I don’t think anyone, in the history of pancake houses, has ever been moved to tears while dining in one. This has to be a first.

Let me back up.

As our younger son barrels toward his first birthday, life is once again all about firsts. We (not just the wife and I, but people in general, I think) are particularly preoccupied with baby firsts. First time they smile or laugh or sit up or take a step or walk or say something that kind of vaguely sort of resembles Mama or Dada. But as they get older, there’s still a million more tiny firsts all along the way.

And so it is with the Doozer who is 4, but still has firsts. The first time he puts on his own socks. Or brushes his teeth by himself. Or is selected as a husband by a preschool classmate.

The unfortunate thing that I’ve begun to notice more and more is that a lot of these firsts occur when I’m not present. Typically I’m at work and so I am not there for the inaugural step or smile or laugh or absurdist knock-knock joke or new dance move. I’m missing moments.

And when I witness them, finally, I am excited and tell the wife about this wonderful development. “Oh, he did that the other day,” I’m told. “And a couple of times yesterday.”

So it goes. I am there and I am not there. My memories are a first for me, but not the actual firsts. I’m getting the reruns and I didn’t even know this show existed before now.

But this time, I think I was in on the ground floor of something.

Recently, I taught the Doozer the old high-five gag. Perhaps you’re familiar: Give me five, up high, down low, too slow. I’m not sure what compelled me to introduce this routine to him. Perhaps we’d been high-fiving and fist-bumping for long enough that it had become pedestrian and I wanted to shake it up. Also, I love to hear him laugh and as he starts to understand jokes and comedy, I want to feed and sustain that interest as much as possible.

It was a big hit. He immediately started doing it back to me, even if he wasn’t quite fast enough on the “too slow” part or his delivery was off to really sell the routine. It was endearing. Hilarious. It made us both laugh. And laughing with your kid, sharing that . . . amazing.

So, there we are, on a recent Saturday, having breakfast with my dad at a pancake house. The old man, the new old man, and the little man. The Doozer is sitting next to his grandpa and in the middle of the meal, turns to him and does the high-five routine. And I have no idea why it didn’t occur to me until that exact moment, but it was my dad who taught me that routine and used to do it to me when I was a kid.

Now, I can’t be positive this was an actual first. But I’d like to think that this one I was there for. I got to witness this. Sure, it’s possible he was with my dad some other time and it happened prior to me ever seeing it. But I’m going to choose to live in ignorance and assume that this didn’t happen and that I was witness to the very first time that this occurred. I’m choosing to believe that this is genuine. Live, not Memorex.

And so I’m going to lose it in the middle of a pancake house. I am literally choked up watching this. Why am I so emotional? About everything? Why is my life now a heartstring-tugging Purina Puppy Chow commercial? All the f’ing time?

And then we’re all laughing. The whole routine is stale and corny and probably wasn’t all that funny even the very first time it was performed. But in that moment, it give us all more joy than you could possibly imagine. Or maybe that’s just me. Laughing hysterically, yet on the verge of sobbing uncontrollably. In a pancake house.

There’s a first time for everything.

21 February 2013

An Open Letter to Emily Spivey

Dear Emily,

Can I call you Emily? I know we don’t know each other, but I do feel as if we could know each other. Look, I don’t normally do this sort of thing. But I’ve been following all that’s been going on with Up All Night and for some reason felt compelled to reach out.

From the moment Chris and Reagan woke up to their first hangover with a kid, my wife and I were hooked on your show. Because it felt—weirdly—like us. I got the chance to interview Judd Apatow several years ago and half-jokingly accused him of bugging my first apartment in LA to craft the dialogue for the Seth Rogen character and his friends in Knocked Up. I felt the same way when watching your show. How does she know? we’d say to each other. This doesn’t happen.

Finally, somebody was telling it like it is.

We enjoyed the accurate depiction of the questioning, searching, doubting nature of being a parent in today’s world. Inundated with advice and information, yet trying to chart your own path. Be your own brand of parent. To do it your way. Finally, something that reflected the reality of our lives as parents.

There were real insights into balancing work and home life. Of staying true to yourself and seeking out your own fulfillment, apart from being a parent. About still being somewhat selfish and self-interested and how it was okay sometimes to be that way, even if you’re supposed to be pouring 100 percent of yourself into this moppet. Who are we know that we have a kid? A question we asked ourselves a lot. And it was great to see somebody else explore it—and even laugh at it.

And judging other people. Perhaps more than we would want to admit, but we do that. 

Maybe I chose to ignore the signs. That things weren’t right. I mean, if you were looking, it seems there were signs. Of interference. Of tinkering. Of input from someone who didn’t really know what it was like to be a new parent. A voice (or voices) that was somehow starting to block out your voice, that real, honest, truthful voice we’d been drawn to in the first place.

For instance, even though I have only been a parent for a short time, I have never started a new contracting business with my hirsute brother-in-law who literally nobody even knew existed before this (which is nothing against Luka Jones, who is extremely talented and I could watch in anything and was great in Best Friends Forever, which was smart and hilarious and . . . also on NBC until it wasn’t—seriously, guys, what is going on over there?).

I can only hope that in your next endeavor, you continue to spread the truth about parenting. The honest, raw reality of what it’s like to contend with miniature human life.

We have two kids now. And I was looking forward to seeing that experience mirrored in the lives of Chris and Reagan. How they’d deal with a second kid, how little Amy would react to her new sibling. That fascinating love/hate relationship that springs up immediately, that as parents you are alternately amused and horrified by. Our older one loves the little one more than anything in the world. And then moments later, they are mortal enemies when a small corner of one page of a Lego catalog is torn off. If that’s not comedy, I don’t know what is.

And now it is no more. Or at least, not the same as it was. Sure there are other dad role models on TV that I can still look to (I keep leaning toward Don Draper, though I’m never sure if it’s appropriate to model my own parenting after him).

Now I guess I have to return to the show going on in my own house. The lighting’s not as great and the guest stars not always as entertaining. But the show goes on. It continues to be weird, funny, sad, frustrating, but mostly awesome, and maybe someday, I’ll see something like it on TV again.

Thank you for making us laugh and sharing your truth (everybody’s truth) with us.


A Dad and a Fan

P.S. This blog would make a pretty great show, right? Right?

P.P.S. Sorry. That was shameless. Truly, pathetically, embarrassingly shameless.

P.P.P.S. I’m not wrong, though, right?

14 February 2013

My Funny Valentine

The Doozer had a Valentine’s Day party at his preschool this week. This is what he gave to his classmates:

Yeah, we did that. Our major project this week. Apparently, like so many other things I’ve discovered, this is what we do now. Elaborate projects that require time, effort, mental agility, a cash expenditure, and several paper cuts (okay, so it was mostly the wife, but I was there for support), only for our kid to get all the credit and the glory.


I remember the days of store-bought valentines featuring whatever kid-centric icon was adored in pop culture at the time and maybe a handful of candy hearts. Not to get all back in my day about this sort of thing, but it’s a weird shift. Now it’s like a serious competition for parents to outdo each other, see who can rip off the best approximation of something you saw on Pinterest.

And for the kids, this is just normal. Pedestrian. I mean, of course we have elaborate, handmade, Star Wars-themed valentine cards—why wouldn’t we? I’m starting to think that this is a dangerous precedent, that we are just flat-out not preparing them for the world of hurt that is in store for them, the increasingly awful series of disappointments that will befall them as they continue to grow older.

Oh well. At least they got a couple of Pixy Stix out of the deal.

So let me just apologize, kid. For failing you. Again. Speaking of that, the other thing I noticed about this particular Valentine’s Day is how, now that our older son is 4, this is just another holiday, another day on the calendar, part of an elaborate, year-long routine in which we’re engaged. But then someone sent us a first Valentine’s Day card for Little Brother, and I realized, Oh, yeah, his first Valentine’s Day. And his first Christmas. His first everything.

But at the same time, we’ve been through it all before, so that it just seems like nothing terribly special now. Like everything’s an afterthought. Oh, right. It’s not just another thing. Which worries me. I think this new kid is kind of getting the shaft. But maybe this is just something that happens. Do all subsequent kids after that first one end up in this exact same situation?

No wonder we all grow up to resent our parents.

I mean, Happy Valentine’s Day, boys! Yay . . . 

07 February 2013

Worst. Friend. Ever.

If there’s anything I’ve learned in the last few years it is this: Becoming a parent (possibly even a good one) turns you into a terrible person.

This realization dawned on me one day this week (the first week of February) right after it dawned on me that an old friend I’d tried to meet up with over the holidays—more than a month ago now—called me to talk during the last week of December, I believe on the day after Christmas. And as of now, I just realized, I haven’t called him back.

Because I’m an a-hole. Wait, no. That’s not it. It’s because I’m a parent.

Who also happens to be an a-hole.

So, this raises the question, which came first? Did becoming a parent turn me into a jerk store? Or was I a latent jerk store before and parenting just brought it out of me?

Some of you may be aware that I made this mea culpa before, in my HIMYM-swiping post, “Eight or Higher, Bro.” But perhaps I just feel the need to further make amends. And explain my jerk store behavior. Perhaps my guilt cannot be overstated.

On a semi-related note, we have a friend getting married on the other side of the country in a few months. We are desperate to attend this wedding for a variety of reasons. I mean, sure, we want to see our friend tie the knot, that’s exciting and all, but at the same time, it represents an opportunity to get away from our kids for an entire weekend and act like real grown-ups again. Which is why it was hilarious when our friend tentatively—sheepishly—informed me that they were hoping their wedding would be an adults-only affair and he felt incredibly guilty about this, in light of the fact that we have two small kids and he hoped this would not deter us from trying to attend.

We laughed. Correction. We laughed hysterically.

We have no intention of bringing our kids across the country for somebody’s wedding. Why would we do such a thing? But again, there is obviously this disconnect between people with kids and those without. And sometimes it works in strange ways. As parents, collectively, we must be projecting the image that we are somehow inseparable from our kids. I mean, I get it, I would certainly imagine it could seem that way. This same friend and I will often lose touch, for months at a time, simply because my life is so kid-centric all the time (and shit, they’re not even into organized sports yet) that things like emails and phone calls—real, lengthy, talk-about-life-and-all-that-shit phone calls—just kinda disappear from your life. It’s sad. But we appear to be powerless to stop it.

There’s this guy that I work with and for the past few weeks his primary concern in life is acquiring Pearl Jam tickets at Wrigley Field this summer, as if he’s a character out of Dazed and Confused. (“Now me and my loser friends are gonna head out to buy Aerosmith tickets. Top priority of the summer.”). I have been watching this unfold with a strange mixture of immense confusion and outright jealousy.

Again, I can only imagine what this parent thing looks like from the outside. I mean, here I am, I don’t answer your emails or your phone calls, sometimes for months, and yet there I am, posting something on Facebook about some funny thing my kid did. If I saw that, I’d be like, “Geez, what a dick.”

Plus, I’ve got a lot of stuff on the DVR. These episodes of New Girl and Justified and Bill Maher are not going to watch themselves, are they?

When it was time to make New Year’s resolutions this year (you know, those grandiose ideas you have in early January that fade to specks of nothing, usually by the end of February, right, those), I thought, I should try to stay connected to people more. My friends are scattered all over the country, I rarely get to see anybody, the least I can do is keep up an active bit of online communication. It’s not that I don’t care or that I’m uninterested or think that my life with my kids is so amazing that I have lost interest in anything that occurs beyond the four walls of my home. Not at all.

It’s just that, these kids (all kids, I’m certain, but I’ve already got my hands full with these two) require a lot of attention. Sometimes that’s great, sometimes I can get lost in time just by being with them, watching them, listening to them. Playing I Spy and making up nonsensical knock-knock jokes and dancing around the living room to the 900th spin of “Pump It Up.” Constructing the Trio block Bat Cave or learning the names of obscure Star Wars characters or just watching the little one take an extra step away from the coffee table or bouncing on his knees on the floor and clapping along when “Pump It Up” comes on for the 901st time. All of that is great.

And then it’s time for them to go to bed and after work and dinner and baths and books and pinning one or more of them down to try and extract snot from their nose with the use of that medieval torture device, I mean, bulbous rubber suction thing, it feels as though I have lost many brain cells and copious amounts of energy and for a few joyous moments, we are alone and there is silence in the house and there is a bottle of wine open and I finally got that Mike Birbiglia movie from Netflix since it only played at art theaters last summer and only then for a very short period of time and who has the time or ability to get out to see everything you want to see, especially if it is not playing on several multiplex screens for many, many weeks in a row?

And then it’s time to try and get some sleep and prepare to do it all over again tomorrow.

Tomorrow. Which is exactly when I will call/email/text/Facebook you back. I promise. No, really. For real this time. I promise.

Maybe the next day.