28 March 2013

Words With Kids

So, Lego has this thing where you buy a small package with a minifigure, only you don’t know what’s inside until you open it. In the Lego catalog, you can see a collage of potential minifigures you might find in this mystery package, a pretty random assortment of characters such as Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde, a mermaid, a knight, an alien, a man in a chicken costume.

Perhaps most intriguing (to us) is a mustachioed man holding a tray and what appears to be a bottle of wine. He is maybe just a French waiter (or plain old waiter), but when asked by the Doozer what he was, the wife and I both found ourselves describing him as a sommelier.

Thus began another round of a new favorite game, Words With Kids.

It is pretty common these days for the Doozer to ask a barrage of questions—often about words—and then promptly discard the information he’s received or file it away deep in the recesses of his brain for some unknown use at a later, undefined date. And there is absolutely no way to predict what will come back or when it might come back.

So it was a day or two later when the Doozer asked me what we’d called that minifigure.

“Which one?”

“That minifigure.”

“The mermaid? Jekyll and Hyde? The guy in the chicken suit?”

“The sum . . .”


“Yeah. Smelly-A. I hope I get that one.”

“You should tell your mom that’s the one you want.”

And so ensued a lengthy routine of our 4-year-old son talking at length about a Lego sommelier (again, pronounced “Smelly-A”), then pretending to be a Lego sommelier and repeatedly giggling and offering us bottles of wine. And what kind of wine was it, you might ask?

“It tastes like watermelon, cinnamon, and raisins,” the Doozer told us.

Of course it does.

Now, at this point, you might be questioning the appropriateness of teaching a child about an individual whose main professional purpose is to ply people with alcohol. Personally, we find it highly amusing to experience our son going around discussing the work of a sommelier.

Don’t judge us.

More importantly, as I already said, I love watching the Doozer’s language—and interest in language—develop. He’s going around the house now, spelling out appliance names and asking what those words are. He was sitting backwards on the toilet the other night and yelled out a bunch of random letters and asked me what it meant. I had to go into the bathroom to figure it out and discovered he was asking me about the brand name on the underside of the toilet seat.

This is our life now.

His vocabulary seems to be pretty standard for someone his age, but there’s a few outliers there that he’s picked up somewhere along the way. On a recent day at preschool, he was playing blocks with a classmate and said classmate was making a very tall tower of blocks. The Doozer told this kid that his tower seemed “precarious.” The teacher asked if he knew what it meant. And he told her it looked like the tower of blocks might fall over.

His teacher was duly impressed. Yes, parenting win!

Plus, he keeps saying “peculiar.” About us or Little Brother or events or certain circumstances. “Peculiar.” Kills me. Also, I have a set of coasters with hand-drawn images of some of my favorite film directors on them. I taught the Doozer all their names and there is nothing quite like having your 4-year-old take out a coaster for his sippy cup of juice and say, “Noah Baumbach.”

And if he grows up to actually be a sommelier someday, we’ll have a very funny story to tell.

21 March 2013

On My Own

There has been a new development in parenting life. And we are entering uncharted waters. 

Several times since the start of the school year, the wife has had to attend evening meetings for the Doozer’s preschool, meaning I have been left alone with the two kids for some combination of dinner, nighttime feeding, and bedtimes. Which is typically a two-person operation and flying solo can be (especially for me, apparently) a rather trying experience.

And all I’m looking for is a little credit. Is that wrong?

It’s the same thing when I happen to be out with one or both of them. I am hyper-aware of the picture we are projecting and keenly attuned to how we are perceived. I am positively (pathetically) eager to receive spontaneous compliments or admiring looks from complete and total strangers. Seriously. Why, yes, this remarkably well-behaved and sickeningly adorable child belongs to me. I am as much as 50 percent responsible for the awesomeness you see before you. 

There’s a great Michael Chabon essay called “William and I” in Manhood For Amateurs about this very topic. In it, he finds himself overly praised by a fellow shopper in a grocery store, for simply being alone with his child in said grocery store. For grocery shopping and minding a child—regardless of said child’s condition or hygiene—at the exact same time. And how ridiculous this double-standard is, how no mother receives recognition for doing the exact same thing but, you know, all the time.

And yes, I am seeking validation for something I did for a couple of hours, which my wife actually does constantly, day in and day out. Don’t judge me.

It’s sad how desperate and needy I am when it comes to this recognition. I crave it. On the one hand, I recognize that it’s simply what’s expected of me. It’s part of my life now and that’s fine. The practical version of me is fine with that. But the ego, or whatever it is, just wants to be stroked a bit more.

But also, this is hard. Harder than I work all day. I’m not quite sure how the wife does it sometimes. The two hours or so between coming home from work and getting them ready for bed is always the most hectic, harried part of every day. And there’s so many steps. So many routines for going to bed. It’s definitely a two-person job. When I’m on my own, I feel like I’m being tested. I don’t think we have a nanny cam, but sometimes I can’t help but feel as though I’m being observed.

In fact, one time the Doozer did tell my wife that I forgot an important part of his bedtime routine in her absence. The rat! The fink! I do almost everything correctly and I forgot one tiny part and you call me out on the carpet? How dare you, sir? How dare you?

The bottle, the pajamas. The sleep sack, the white noise, the humidifier. The teeth brushing, the skin lotion, the books, the stuffed animals, looking for the moon. The fact that I get through this thing alone without a written checklist on hand is pretty damn impressive, I think.

And there’s not enough time for all of it. Their bedtimes are typically much, much later on nights when we are alone. Not because I’m the “fun” parent and let them stay up, shoving their mouths full of candy and watching extra TV. I am just literally that inept at the entire process. Simultaneously getting two kids into pajamas? Defrosting breast milk for a bottle? Keeping two kids entertained while doing so? This is a taxing process after which I just want to lie down and rest. But then the baby needs to be snot-suckered. Don’t know what that means? Count yourself lucky. When or if you have kids of your own someday, it will—oh, forget it, I wouldn’t want to ruin the surprise.

Do they make a line of greeting cards for this type of thing? The point Chabon makes in his essay is that it’s simply expected of mothers to not only be good at parenting, but to absolutely excel at it. But with men, it’s the opposite. If you just show up, you get bonus points.

Hey, it’s not me, man. It’s our society. Blame that . . . group of people.

So . . . did I show you my adorable children? And aren’t I doing a remarkable job with them?

(Insert your own specialized—and obviously, genuine—affirmation here. Thank you. Good day.)

14 March 2013

We Form Like Voltron

As a result of Little Brother’s first birthday, we are now the proud owners of a toy collection that has doubled (if not tripled) in size. I suppose you could make a case for this being our fault, as we did choose to throw the little man a party and invite assorted loved ones to it. We knew what would happen, right? Nobody to blame here but ourselves.

And in the Doozer we have ourselves an official quality tester of all new toys that enter the house. He’s very dedicated to this position and he takes it very seriously.

So, when one of those gifts turned out to be a miniature basketball hoop with suction cups for the side of the tub (cleverly named “Bath-ketball”), the Doozer decided it was imperative to set it up and give it a whirl. And even though it wasn’t bath night, he declared that there should be a “brothers bath” in order for he and Little Brother to try it out together.

(Yes, this actually happened. I don’t know how we got this kid.)

It was not the first “brother bath” and certainly not the last. So we now have photos of our kids together in a bathtub. We are those people now. I’ve seen these types of pictures before. Many times. Other people have them. I’m actually in some that I’ve seen. We are people who have pictures of our kids together in the bathtub.

We are a family.

As we pass this milestone of Little Brother’s first birthday, it occurs to me that we are really in this thing now. We are not simply people who have kids (I believe a strong argument could be made when it comes to the parents of an only child), we are now a family. We are knee-deep in the hoopla now. This is a family. Between brother baths and group dance parties and cozy couch snuggles, our home has become a hotbed of regular bonding and unity and community.

We are a team. A unit. We’re like Voltron, except when we combine we just kind of drunkenly stagger around and it’s difficult enough for us to keep ourselves upright and generally moving forward, let alone warding off evil forces and saving the world.

These kids, they’re like appendages now. Part of everything I do. Everything I am. They’re in my head, man. When we’re apart, I wonder what they’re doing without me when I’m away from them. I get home and they’re excited to see me. Seriously. They are excited to see me.

How did that happen?

So as this particularly unwieldy version of Voltron lumbers around, spilling food and stretching out neck holes in T-shirts and tripping over stray blocks strewn haphazardly across the living room floor like a minefield, dancing spastically to that crazy Indian pop song from Ghost World and laughing like lunatics set loose from the asylum, we know we will do it all together.

And we’ll have the photos to remember it.

07 March 2013

This Is 1

Little Brother is not so little anymore. He is a year old.

Finally, I don’t have to do math when somebody asks me how old he is. I no longer have to give the response in months, I can just say, “One.” This is a great relief to me. Because I am so bad at math that it takes me a few moments to work out my response, during which time the person I am speaking to could very easily come to believe that I am a horrible parent who has no idea how old my child is. Which is not completely the truth. I am literally that bad at math.

(Sidenote: Reading a book about the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles with the Doozer recently, there was a section where the Turtles thwart some thugs and then some cops arrive to take them away. The thugs, not the Turtles. Anyway, the picture on the page shows a single police car with two cops in it. But the Doozer tells me, proudly, that there are four Turtles, four thugs, and four police. Pointing to the picture, I tell him there’s only two police. He repeated what I’d just read to him: The book says two police cars arrived. He extrapolated that there would then be four police because he could see two in the car that was pictured, so there must be two in the other car. Yes, my 4-year-old is that much smarter than me when it comes to math. Shut it.)

Of course, he was sick for his birthday. Which was a bummer. We kept things low-key as a result and as a special treat, let him try ice cream for the first time. Nothing fancy, just some plain vanilla bean. He took only a couple bites and then made a face and refused to have anymore.

Yes, he thumbed his nose at ice cream. Not sure if I should be proud or horrified. Strangely, the next night at dinner, he thumbed his nose at macaroni-and-cheese, while furiously stuffing his face with as many green peas as he could get his tiny hands on. Parenting success?

So, one is loving peas and not loving ice cream. But it’s also much more.

One is dancing like a maniac to the Black Keys and the Arctic Monkeys. Until the moment the camera comes out to record this awesomeness and you suddenly turn into Michigan J. Frog.

One is having an insatiable desire for all the experiences life has to offer. Like gulping down milk so furiously from a sippy cup that you overfill your tiny mouth and excess milk cascades out like a rushing waterfall the moment you take away the cup.

One is waving to yourself, instead of outwardly, when someone says good-bye to you.

One is waking full of energy at 6 a.m., ready to smile, laugh, and play.

(One is being kind of an insensitive jerk.)

One is pulling every single book and DVD off the shelf and piling them all around the room. (Sure, it’s hilarious to see you so intently examining Waiting For Godot and Eyes Wide Shut, but I’m ready for this phase to be over.)

One is completely refusing to lay still for a diaper change. There’s plenty of time, man. Just relax. You have your whole life in front of you to run away from us. Give me the next 30 seconds.

One is hearing your older brother’s voice, singing through the monitor, and having your face light up like the Fourth of July.

One is attempting, oh so amusingly, to imitate the ZZZs of a snoring owl in your favorite book.

One is impersonating Godzilla as your favorite activity, wreaking havoc and raining down destruction upon pirate ships, block towers, and your brother’s Lego sets.

One is true love.

We had a rough go of things at first. This little guy’s first week in this world was spent in a NICU, hooked up to machines, fighting to breathe. Knocked us for a loop and almost knocked us down. But not him. He hasn’t stopped moving, yelling, crying, laughing—living—since.

And one is only the beginning.