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.