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.

09 May 2013

Time Out

There’s this mythical experience I’ve heard about, but I wasn’t quite sure it was real: The weekend away. Something like unicorns and cave trolls, while possible it’s real, it seemed unlikely that I would ever experience it. But now, huzzah, I know it exists. I’ve been there.

And it’s amazing.

For the first time since we’ve had two children, the wife and I went out of town. By ourselves. For a whole weekend. That's right. That happened. We visited Portland for a friend’s wedding. I’m not gonna lie. There was drinking. There was cavorting. There was karaoke sang. But there was also wandering aimlessly without a schedule and meals that could be savored, slowly consumed at leisure, as opposed to at the competitive speed of an Olympic event.

It’s weird the things you miss. Or that you don’t realize you miss until you re-experience them. Oh, this is what it’s like to actually taste my dinner. Or, This is what it’s like to walk down the street and not worry that the human you’re with is suddenly going to run out in front of a moving car. And, So this is what it’s like to stay up late and sleep in without being badgered by the plaintive moans of “Mama” and “Dada” harassing you through the monitor.

But in the end, it turns out there’s nothing you miss more than your kids. That’s right, thousands of miles away, and the little ones are still in control of our entire weekend. Pop quiz: How much time do you spend thinking about your kids when they’re not there? If you answered the whole time, then ding ding ding! You win a prize! Perhaps the lamest prize of all time.

So, yeah, that happened too.

We spent a good part of the weekend calling for updates. And trying to talk to them. (The one who can talk, at least.) But getting ignored. That’s right. The Doozer was having way too much fun to come to the phone and talk to us. Whatever, jerk store. See if we care. We’re staying out late, drinking, sleeping in. Wishing we were snuggling with you. Worrying. Wondering. How are you doing without us?

But apparently, you don’t care. Here we are, spending our time looking for awesome souvenirs to bring home to you and thinking about you and missing you and—seriously, all the time, for you, scouring the city for trinkets you’ll enjoy. What about us? What about what we want?

Apparently we want to know how they are. And what they are doing. Right now.

And so we talked about them. To friends and fellow wedding guests. If we wanted to, we could show off photos of them. In real time. (We refrained.) But this is who we are now. These are the people we’ve become. It isn’t pretty. At least we’re here, I kept thinking. At least that. We could’ve been so helicopter-ish as to just stay home with them.

But what fun would that be? We’d miss all the karaoke and the drinking and the sleeping in.

Who am I kidding? It would be the best kind of fun.

02 May 2013

Back to the Future

Last night, the wife and I activated our very first iPhones. Yes, yes, we’re very, very late to this party. We’ve wanted to do it for a long time and it’s hard to say what exactly—if there was even just one thing—that finally tipped the scales. But I do think a big part of it is our children. Their technological savviness is so far beyond ours that it was time for us to start catching up.

I’m not kidding. They are so far ahead of us. They live in this completely wired world where visiting the Lego website is an actual activity that the Doozer regularly requests, having even standing with books and toys and the outdoors. He has learned to navigate and operate tablets, smartphones, and laptops. He knows all about the iPod and the Internet. And Facebook.com.

And the younger one is right on his heels. Perhaps one of the most surreal moments in all of parenting occurred recently, when the Doozer opened up iTunes on our laptop as it sat on the coffee table, and seeing all the little album covers onscreen—no music yet, just the very small images of album covers—Little Brother began to dance. The sight of iTunes on a computer screen and the promise of sound it portended set him to grooving. No, seriously.

I own records. Actual LPs. What will they make of them when I finally pull them out of storage?

Now, along with all the wonder and excitement our new devices offer, we are also faced with something of a moral quandary. Do we allow our children to use the iPhones? It’s not like we can hide them forever or even pull the old Jedi mind trick of “Hey, look over there at that brightly colored object—what? I’m not holding anything” anymore. They’re going to notice the phones. They’re going to want to use said phones. It’s inevitable.

But what do we do about it?

There’s this term we’ve heard a lot lately: screen time. It’s one of those recent developments in parenting (maybe not terribly recent), that was unheard of when we were children. When I was a kid, there was one screen in the house. If you wanted to see any others, you pretty much had to leave the house to do so. Now, we need to monitor the multitude of screens our kids can be viewing and how much time they spend on that viewing.

And it’s kind of hard to be the screen police, when you’re kind of addicted to it yourself. With a DVR queue a mile long, a tendency to surf the Internet and watch TV simultaneously, plus an obsession with movies and a growing addiction to Facebook Scrabble, how do I disconnect in order to set a better example for my kids? I would much rather be plugged in and online than outside doing, well, pretty much anything one could be doing outside.

Do we include them? Or not? Do we have a choice?

For now, I’m just going to ignore their tiny pleas while I play Angry Birds and listen to the latest WTF and make a grocery list and check the weather and take a picture of me doing all that (seriously, this thing is amazing) until this phone is out of juice.