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.