13 November 2014

The Mom Scene, Part 2

Apparently, there was more. Here’s a further dispatch from my wife’s adventures in the land of motherhood . . .

3:30 pm: Everyone’s awake. Everyone has more energy than I do. Way, way more energy. I swear they’re doing crank when I’m not looking. The constant attempts at flying off the couch. The violent mood swings. The nosebleeds. It’s all starting to make sense.

3:45 pm: Provide a healthy snack.

4:00 pm: Wipe, sweep, and/or vacuum snack detritus from every surface of the house, including rooms they didn’t even enter. It’s like a really bad magic trick. They are Uri Geller with apple slices. More often than not, I find Cheerios inside the feet of the little one’s pajamas. What?!?

4:15 pm: Head outside. It’s gloomy and everything’s still wet from the previous night’s rain, but the walls are closing in and at least one out of three of us is not going to survive inside any longer.

4:17 pm: Wonder how anyone can be so singularly obsessed with ants.

4:19 pm: Wonder how a person who has only been walking for a little more than a year can toss a Frisbee at the exact angle necessary to wholly decapitate a large, lush, flowering plant.

4:35 pm: Play tag. Their legs are so short, how can they be so fast?

4:36 pm: Oh, right. The crank.

5:00 pm: They want the Stomp Rocket out of the garage. Only three out of five rockets get stuck in trees and/or the roof, and of those three, we manage to shake two down. The last one will require hurricane-force winds or a ladder. Either way. Not. My. Job.

5:25 pm: The husband is home. I go into the bathroom to do a shot of tequila pee.

5:28 pm: Enter the kitchen to find he has brought flowers. And beer. And wine. He’s not Dave Grohl, but he ain’t half bad.

5:37 pm: I put some music on, the beer is good, dinner’s going. My kids are pretty cute when we’re separated by a sliding glass door.

5:54 pm: Pretend like the dandelion I’ve just been given is the most special thing in the world, even though it makes me sneeze. And it’s the fifth one I’ve received this week. And when they opened the door to bring it in, 5,000 dirty leaves blew in with them.

6:00 pm – 7:30 pm: A list of sentences uttered during the hour and a half that spans dinner and bath time, in no particular order:

“No feet on the table.”

“No feet in your mouth.”

“We do not spit our milk onto our plates.”

“Stop laughing at him.”

“Do not touch your brother’s penis.”

“Do not touch YOUR brother’s penis, either!”

“Yes, I suppose that piece of potato sort of looks like a TIE fighter.”

“Yes, your potato looks like a TIE fighter, too.”

“He doesn’t need help getting his sock off.”

“Or the other sock.”

“That’s gross.”

“Are you guys asleep yet?”

“I pee-peeing in the baftub.”


7:47 pm: The four of us are piled up on the couch. Their hair is damp and combed and smells of baby shampoo because I will never stop using baby shampoo on them, not ever. They insisted on wearing matching pajamas tonight, and I am wrecked with their cuteness.

8:01 pm: Without warning, the little one grabs my cheeks, smushes them toward my lips and says, “Mama fish face!” and laughs hysterically. He stops just as suddenly, hugs me with all his tiny might, and says, “I love you, Mama. You are mine best buddy.” I kiss his soft little forehead and make a mental note to buy him more blue dishes.

8:25 pm: We are looking out the window at the top of the stairs, saying goodnight to the moon. The big one: “Goodnight, everything in the whole entire universe.” The little one: “Goodnight, everything in the whole tired universe.”

9:00 pm: They’ve been in bed for less than an hour and I’m looking at pictures of them on my phone. “What are you doing?” the husband asks. “Look how cute they are,” I reply. “I miss them.” He rolls his eyes more than is necessary and hands me a glass of wine.

Ed. Note: There was an appropriate amount of eye-rolling.

06 November 2014

School of Rock

When you’re a parent, you learn time is not on your side. On a regular basis, in a variety of situations, you find yourself thinking, This, like all things, will end. For me, lately, it is driving the Doozer to school. Someday he won’t need me to drive him anywhere. Or won’t want me to drive him anywhere. Which will be worse. So for now, I’ll enjoy it.

And spend that time talking about Legos. Top five Lego Movie Lego sets. And Hobbit Lego sets that he doesn’t own, based on a movie he’s never seen. But they are online and in the Lego catalogue, so obviously he must know all about the backstory of those Lego sets, so I find myself recounting entire plotlines from Peter Jackson epics.

Ad nauseum.

But then we listen to music. This is our time to rock out. It’s one of the things that always takes me back to being a kid myself. Riding in the car with my dad, listening to the oldies station. He knew every word to every song and I know I’ll never forget those times with him.

And now the Doozer and I have our own music in the car tradition. Recently, he requested, nay demanded, to hear more rock-and-roll songs. You know, the ones with the drums and air guitar. Not sure how it started, what song he heard that prompted the request (might’ve been a Green Day tune), but who am I to deny such a request. I will create a playlist of rock songs.

(And yes, no matter what type of guitar we hear, it is always an air guitar. Also, the kid plays a pretty mean one himself.)

He already loved the Foo Fighters and Jack White and Pearl Jam. (Yes, you are correct, I am absolutely doing a fantastic job as a parent. And then some.) But of course I will take this valuable opportunity to further his education and shape his young mind. I am more than happy to be the Lester Bangs to his William Miller.

We’ve never gone in for the kiddie rock, with very few exceptions (Elizabeth Mitchell’s family sing-a-long version of “Three Little Birds” is lovely and one of our favorites). Our kids are going to like what we like. It gets harder the more they comprehend, the better their awareness becomes. And their ability to repeat things. Finding songs without inappropriate lyrics we don’t want him repeating in his first grade classroom can be a challenge. But this is one parenting challenge that we are comfortable with facing. And conquering.

Of course, there are still questions.

“Why does that guy scream like that?” he asks.

That guy is Julian Casablancas.

“It’s a type of singing,” I reply. “The guy from Pearl Jam does that sometimes.”

“Not like this guy,” he says. He seems equally impressed and baffled by the shrieking lyrics of The Strokes’ “Juicebox.”

I mean, really, what 6-year-old sings along to “Fell In Love With a Girl” at top volume? Or Weezer? Or the Stiff Little Fingers? (Thank you, High Fidelity.) The Yeah Yeah Yeahs. The MC5. The Darkness. (Of course, it’s easier to hit that falsetto when you’re his age.)

He is particularly impressed with Lenny Kravitz’s shredding skills. So, every morning, we’re taking it all the way back to 1993 in that car as he bounces gleefully, plays his air guitar, and sings along to “Are You Gonna Go My Way?” with a giant grin across his face.

And he’s right. That Lenny Kravitz is pretty damn good at air guitar.

23 October 2014

The Mom Scene

On a recent afternoon, I texted my wife to see how her day was going. And this was her response.

6:38 am: 6:38, 6:38, 6:38. Everyday this kid wakes up at 6:38. It’s like we’re in a ratings-desperate spin-off of Lost and the numbers 6-3-8 are super important but no one knows why. Not 6:37, no thank you. 6:40? Poppycock! I will rise at 6:38 every morning, regardless of the time I fell asleep the night before, and you will begin catering to my every whim. Got it, lady?

6:38 and 29 seconds: I scoop up Little Brother and hurry him out of the room before he wakes his big brother, who occasionally and awesomely sleeps ALL THE WAY UNTIL 7:30 AM.

6:39 am: Consider the alternative, to let him wake up the Doozer, lock them both in the room with a box of cereal and go back to bed. Decide that this is probably bad parenting, no matter how tempting.

7:00 am: We settle down with a large mug of black coffee and diluted apple juice in a sippy cup for a thought-provoking episode of Max and Ruby, in which Max derails Ruby’s attempt at organic, artisanal beauty products by eating her supplies. Ponder a business venture (run by cartoon bunnies) in which a locavore and a craftswoman could work together harmoniously.

7:12 am: Recall that when I was first pregnant, I thought I wouldn’t let my kids watch television. Snort audibly at my prenatal naïveté.

7:30 am: Shower. Alone. With the door closed. A cherished luxury made possible only because my husband’s new commute is shorter than the old one and he no longer leaves the house by 7.

7:45 am: Exit the bathroom to find the Doozer awake. I begin warning them both that we will have to go to Target this morning. Words I will repeat 300 times over the next hour and still, they will both act shocked and horrified when I herd them upstairs to get dressed after breakfast.

8:00 am: Make breakfast.

8:05 am: Call the kids to breakfast.

8:06 am: Call the kids to breakfast.

8:07 am: Call the kids to breakfast.

8:08 am: Call the kids to breakfast.

8:09 am: Pee.

8:11 am: Call the kids to breakfast REALLY LOUDLY while physically prying toys from their chubby little fingers.

8:13 am: Unload the dishwasher and try to explain to a 2-year-old why he can’t have the blue plate for every meal and that his breakfast will taste just as good on the orange plate. Continue this conversation throughout the duration of breakfast, getting washed up, brushing teeth, getting dressed. Try to decide if we could avoid future iterations of this conversation by eliminating all the blue plates from the house, or by getting only blue dishes forever and ever until we die.

9:50 am: Load everyone into the car with the 900 things they need to take a 1-mile trip and realize I forgot to eat breakfast. Hunger is totally fine. I don’t need food.

9:57 am:   Head into Target, where we [REDACTED] until we agree to [REDACTED]. Continue our shopping trip when [REDACTED] and I plead for [REDACTED] until I give up, drive home, and try to decide which neighboring town’s Target is closer, since we’ve been [REDACTED].

12:11 pm: I sit down at the lunch table with the boys. Not to eat, mind you. I don’t eat meals sitting down LIKE A HUMAN BEING anymore. Just to sit down, while the one who likes food is distracted by a plateful of it and the one who doesn’t care a whole hell of a lot for food (not my child) is physically strapped to his chair for the next 20 minutes.

12:14 pm: A carefully sliced grape-half tumbles to the floor and bounces off my big toe. I ignore it.

12:15 pm: "Mama! A gwape! On the floor! Mama!! A gwape is on the floor!" I am stone-faced. I welcome and appreciate the opportunity to ignore your ridiculous emergency.

12:17 pm: The clouds in the sky today remind me of one of our wedding photos, taken almost 9 years ago. I think about that perfect fall day in Michigan, crisp and sun-warmed all at the same time, friends and family and love and food and drink and promises of family and unity and TOGETHERNESS.

12:19 pm: Regret it. I could have been a nun! I could have gone to culinary school in Paris! I could have toiled on a fishing boat in Alaska, which probably includes the added and totally awesome bonus of never having to shave one’s legs! I could have slaved away at an unassuming desk job for an a-hole boss for a hundred years until I died without fanfare, but at least I could have EATEN MEALS SITTING DOWN.

12:22 pm: The big one gets the little one’s grape from under the table and asks me in earnest whether it can be rinsed off or if I can get him a new one. (The big one’s a good person. He’s my child. This other one fell off a turnip truck and rolled onto our front lawn. “Please, can we keep him, please? PLEEEEEEEEASE?” “Uh, he’s kinda cute. Sure.”)

12:23 pm: That would be funny if it was my actual birth story.

12:24 pm: Slice more grapes in half, wash knife. My life is repeating itself, only not in a cool Groundhog Day sort of way, just in a really mundane, no one enjoys halving grapes THE FIRST TIME kind of way.

12:35 pm: Wash. More. Dishes. Again.

1:00 pm: Read, cuddle, coerce, threaten the little one to take a nap. Promise the big one I will play table hockey with him if he gives me ten minutes to relax first. Ensure ten minutes of quiet time by letting him play Angry Birds on my phone.

1:50 pm: Check email, Facebook. I learn that if I had not quit my previous job when I was pregnant, I would currently, at this very moment in time, be hanging out with the Foo Fighters at work. This was the kind of job where, if you were having a craptastic day, someone would grab a bottle of whiskey and a couple of glasses out of the kitchen, and shortly you’d have obtained enough liquid perspective to get through the rest of the day.

2:00 pm: Settle in for the fifth consecutive day of our Naptime Classic table hockey tournament. Try not to sob openly about my parallel life, the one in which I’m presently shooting the breeze with Dave Grohl and Pat Smear.

2:25 pm: I declare the Doozer champion, magnanimously neglect to tell him that I let him win, and set him up with some Legos so I can get some work done in the brief but wondrous window of time that is the Afternoon Nap. When the little one gives up his Afternoon Nap, you may just find me wandering under a freeway overpass, half-dressed and disoriented. Don’t send help. It’s better for everyone this way.

2:26 pm: You texted to ask how my day was going.

25 September 2014

I Believe the Children Are Our Future

It’s true. They are. I don’t quibble with that. The late, great Whitney was onto something. It’s the second part of her sentiment that troubles me.

Teach them well and let them lead the way.

Here’s the problem. As a parent, I spend a great deal of time feeling like Nick Burns, your company’s computer guy.

Now, I’m aware that teaching kids is an important part of being a parent. It might be the most important part. And it’s supposed to teach you about patience and empathy and understanding. None of the above. If anything, I feel like it’s made me less patient. Less understanding.


They’re just so slow. And sloppy. And erratic. All the time.

They’re doing it wrong. To my mind, they’ve taken “You’re doing it wrong” to a whole new level. Given it a whole new meaning. You’re doing everything wrong. Their incompetence, inability to follow simple directions (or even to just hear, sometimes), frustrates me to no end. 

Also, I'm just kind of lazy. Teaching is annoying and I have no interest. But also, they don’t want to learn. They just want to screw around and smack me in the face.

Yes, I will feed a kid to avoid picking up spilled food. I will pick up toys because I’m tired of the room being cluttered. I will tie shoes rather than instruct how to tie shoes.

It’s like that old saying, if you want something done right . . .

“They are children,” my wife constantly reminds me.

“I don’t care,” I reply. “They should know better.”

My expectations are not that high. I want them to remain adorable small children who possess the grooming habits and basic life skills of fully functional adults. Is that so much to ask?

Never mind, I have to go organize 900 bins of toys.

18 September 2014

Me Time

When you’re a family, you share everything. Space, meals, the TV. Good times and bad times. And sickness. Oh, the humanity. The sickness.

Like the world’s worst game of tag, illnesses pass between kids, from kids to parents, from parents to kids. They just tear through the populace like a plague. Literally. You spend so much time teaching your kids to share and then all of a sudden you wish you could make it stop. 

And you can’t.

We had our share of sickness this summer. Having sick kids is pretty horrendous. I mean, more than usual. But at the same time, I am always amazed by how quickly they bounce back from it. Perhaps the clearest indication of a sick kid is watching their energy go from a level of about 5,000 to zero. Immediately. Then it’s always incredible when you are able to give them some relief from their predicament.

Just one dose of Tylenol and suddenly they’re flying off the floor like Uma Thurman in Pulp Fiction, ready to run around and take on the world again. I wish that a single Tylenol did that for me. Maybe I just need to take more of them.

The other amazing (and by amazing, I mean pretty horrible) thing you witness is when your child throws up the first time. Another milestone! But this one you won’t want to document. You’ll want to forget it ever happened, but like a scene from American Horror Story, it’s etched into your brain and you’re unable to banish it.

The horror and shock that comes over a kid when they get sick for the first time looks like it is powerful enough to break their brain. They’re just so . . . surprised by the whole thing.

What is this? their pale, desperate faces seem to be saying. This is possible? Why didn’t anybody warn me about this? I will kill you for allowing this to happen. Oh, look, a squirrel.

Of course, there was one good thing about getting sick this summer. (Or so I thought.) When I came down with something particularly nasty (and it hadn’t come from the kids in the first place), the wife made an executive decision to get them out of the house and away from their ailing father. Protect the children!

Sure, I was laying on the couch under a blanket wishing that I was dead, but at the same time, I suddenly found myself experiencing something I’d almost forgotten existed, something that I was certain had entered the realm of myth, akin to spotting a unicorn or Nessie.

Alone time.

No whining, no diapers, no tugging on my beard. No excitable 2-year-old smacking me in the face. No Nick Jr. or Disney Jr. or insistent pleas to run myself ragged playing our 1,273rd game of tag. The chance to put on an R-rated movie in the middle of the day. Which I promptly did.

And then I noticed something. Or rather, heard something. There was a strange sound that I couldn’t quite place. Something spooky. Eerie.

It was quiet. The house empty. I was alone. And then something even stranger happened. I realized I missed them. I missed them.

Really? I thought. Really?

Little jerkstores. Be glad to be rid of them, don’t count the minutes until they return. But that’s what happened. I’m stuck with these people. And yes, they make me crazy. But I can’t imagine a single day without them. And when they’re not there, I feel kind of lost. Aimless. 

And then of course they’re back and the whole vicious cycle starts all over again and I find myself hoping, wishing again for some kind of terrible illness, the enduring of which seems worth the brief respite of peace and quiet it will afford me. Because I’m a terrible parent. Or maybe just a parent.

I’m going to go with the latter. 

11 September 2014

When I Grow Up

Not long ago, just before the school year began, the Doozer and I were out in the yard, playing around, when he stopped and asked, “What did you want to be when you grew up?”

At first, it seemed like it was out of the blue. But it was clearly something that had been on his mind, something he’d earlier discussed with his mother. And his question was innocuous enough. Just curious, not cutting. But still. It could easily be interpreted as, This isn’t what you really wanted, is it? You have to have had other ideas.

Tell me you had other ideas.

I thought for a moment about how to answer. I mean, here’s the thing. I used to have hopes, dreams, ambitions, aspirations. Now I look forward to a day when I don’t have to wipe another person’s bum.

So I told him my dream. About being a writer. And then something occurred to me, which I hadn’t necessarily thought of before, or thought of in these terms.

I’ll tell you a secret, I added. Your mom and I. We’re not really grown up. Not yet.

He didn’t entirely understand. Gave me a quizzical expression. For his experience of the world, the wife and I are as old as the moon. How could we not be grown up? He said as much.

I tried to explain. Life is a process. Ongoing. Things change every day. People change every day.

More quizzical looks. And then a plea to play tag. Our entire conversation forgotten.

But still, that conversation got me thinking. What kind of parent would I be if I didn’t dream? If I didn’t have desires or ambitions or crazy hopes? How do I inspire him and his brother to have dreams, if I don’t at least try to demonstrate what it looks like to dream?

On the first day of first grade, just like on the first day of Kindergarten, he told us he wanted to be a Lego designer when he grew up. I’m thinking if you take a gander at your Facebook news feed and check out the signs other kids held up on the first day of school, you would not see this one. Firefighter, maybe. Or cowboy. Princess. But not this.

His obsession with Legos has led him to the Lego website, where he spends a lot of time watching videos and looking at images of sets he would like to own. But his favorite part is the videos where the designers discuss their process and show off all the details of their sets.

He’s interested in a process, not just a thing. That spark needs to be nurtured. Of course, will Lego designer even be a job when he grows up? I don’t know. And he’s 6, so obviously he might change his mind. He will probably change his mind. But this seems like an important part of being their dad. To encourage them to dream. To reach for the stars. And think big. Maybe that’s my whole job, actually.

Apart from that whole stupid wiping bums thing. God, I hate that part. 

04 September 2014

What Happened on My Summer Vacation

I am not a man. I mean, based on conventional meanings. 

As far as I understand them.

Being the father of two boys has cast a bright light on my masculine shortcomings, my deficiencies in all things male, at least in any traditional sense. This thought (which I have often) returned to me when we were on vacation last month and it suddenly became my job to build a campfire. And I realized I had never built one before. By some miracle, I managed to do it.

Also, I chased a bat out of the kitchen, as well. Yeah, that happened. Although I’m still not convinced these things make me a man. (Subject for another time perhaps.)

You could trace this back to my own childhood. After our first son was born, old toys started to be excavated from our childhood basements. And our relationship, outlooks, personalities, etc., can be pretty well summed up by the fact that as a child, my wife played with a Fisher-Price camping set, while I had a Holiday Inn playset (which is apparently a thing they used to make).

I’m all for the outdoors. Through the windows of a passing car perhaps. Or from the balcony of a nice hotel room with room service and premium cable channels. But we have boys and they like to be outside. No matter how many books or movies we I push on them, the siren call of grass and sand and dirt and water is simply too much to resist.

Of course, they didn’t notice any scenery outside the car window. Someone loaned us portable DVD players to keep them entertained on the long drive. The psychological impact of this, how quickly they became acclimated to this set-up, was astonishing to behold. Our older son has spent six years in a car never once seeing a TV. But now he and his brother don’t understand why TV isn’t on in the car all the time. It changed their entire outlook on the world. If TV is in cars, imagine all the other limitless possibilities of the universe.

Or more aptly, what other awesome things are our parents keeping us in the dark about? Nothing. We swear.

Go to bed.

I find that vacation can be a lot like it was for the Griswolds. Stretches of fury and frustration punctuated by moments of beauty and harmony. Such as watching your kids splash in a lake or get melted marshmallow all over their face. Their expressions as they watch horses clop down the street or giant container ships pass before them.

Or like when your 2-year-old invents a new way to eat an ice cream cone. Just when your cynical mind thought it had seen everything in life, your kid starts eating ice cream bottom up, cone first. Now, if you have even a passing familiarity with how an ice cream cone functions, you’ll know instantly that this is not an effective strategy and there’s a reason people don’t eat them this way.

Of course, try being logical and explaining this all to a 2-year-old. They look at you with those f-off eyes like you’re the world’s biggest idiot.

Ahh, it’s good to be a dad.

Watching them on vacation frequently took me back to my own childhood vacations. Not that I remember them all that clearly, but I’ve seen photos. Actually, slides. (“It’s not called the Wheel, it’s called the carousel.”) Entire vacations would be documented, minute by minute, to replay ad nauseum for disinterested relatives and neighbors. This practice has of course been distilled now as we try to find that one perfect moment, that one all-encompassing shot to post on Facebook that will make our life look fabulous and make us the envy of all our friends and acquaintances.

Someday, will our kids go through old Facebook posts to remind them of times gone by? Will there even be an Instagram? Will the images jog their memories and be pleasing to recall? Can one image really conjure up all the magic of a childhood journey to a new, exciting place?

If we did our job right, and didn’t go all Clark Griswold and punch an animatronic moose in the snout, maybe they will just remember. I know that I will. I’ll remember all those moments, the ones not recorded for posterity or shared with the world via the Internets. Small, quiet moments that exist now only in my memory. Like the moment where – no, on second thought, never mind.

That one’s just for me.

21 July 2014

Summer Hiatus

I heard recently that the stories of my adventure in fatherhood had been missed. And I found that heartening. (Okay, so one person mentioned to my wife that I hadn’t posted in a while, I’m not comparing myself to George R.R. Martin.) And it’s true. I haven’t written in a while. It’s not because my kids have not been entertaining or amusing, that there hasn’t been anything to write about. But I’ve been busy. Preoccupied.

With making time stop.

Spoiler alert: So far, despite Herculean efforts, I am not succeeding. Now, why would somebody want to do such a thing? Okay, so it’s not that big a mystery. Most people want the same thing. For time to slow down. But what was the impetus in my case?

The Doozer finished Kindergarten.

It was a month ago now. More. I mean, he’s officially a first grader. And I can’t handle it. I don’t know what to do with a first grader. I can remember what it was like to be one myself! I’m not ready to have one in my house. What do I do with a first grader?

But the world doesn’t care about that. It’s indifferent to my suffering. I can catch up or not, it’s going to keep turning. And time is going to continue to march forward.

I just want this moment to last forever.

And this one.

And this one. (Bubbles!)

I am afraid that fatherhood has made my heart fragile. The Doozer got a medal at the end of his soccer season. And there were tears. Little Brother brushed his own teeth. More tears. I think I might be too sensitive to be a parent. It seems difficult to believe our parents’ generation was like this. And definitely not their parents’ generation.

I don’t want them to grow up because I worry about the future. Their future. College, jobs, the world itself. Will it even be here? Have we doomed them simply by bringing them into the world? I don’t think I used to think this way. Why do I now?

I can’t see Boyhood. I mean, I really want to see Boyhood. I’m going to see it. But I know full well I will bawl my eyes out the entire time.

So I want to hold onto every moment from this summer and live in each of them just a bit longer. Little Brother’s ridiculous excitement over seeing his first fireworks. (Or just being up past his usual bedtime.) Eating dinner on the patio and flipping out about planes flying overhead, like he’s Tattoo awaiting the guests at Fantasy Island. The two of them talking to Siri, saying things like “Hamburger” and “Monster” just to see what she’ll do.

And giggling. My god, the giggling. The pure, unadulterated joy of it. And hearing a 2-year-old demand to hear Foo Fighters when riding in the car. Dancing like a maniac to Jack White’s Lazaretto. Thrilling at the sight of fireflies from the upstairs window at bedtime. Saying good night to trees. Trees. Pretending the kiddie pool is a dunk tank and falling backward into it. Again, with great peals of laughter.

The giggling. If it could just go on forever.

Okay. I have to stop. I can hardly see through the tears as I sift through these memories. I told you, fragile heart. And complete inability to stop time. So I will try to capture these moments and hold them. Like fireflies in a jar. Let them stand still. For a moment. Forever.

God, parenting really sucks.

01 May 2014

Kicking and Screaming

The Doozer had his first soccer game. So far, Pelé, he ain’t.

Also, they played their first game after only two practices. What does anybody expect out of this operation? Of course, they did manage to win. 2-0. Yes, after approximately 50 minutes of mass chaos, the Doozer’s team emerged victorious with their first shutout.

Not that our son had anything to do with it.

Sure, he was rotated through different positions. He played defense, midfield, and forward, where he even got to kick off the ball at the center. And then he just watched it go, while every single other kid on the field chased after it. And he turned and waved at his family.

He didn’t so much run up and down the field like the others, as much as skip. And watch the ball as it rolled around. And right past him.

Multiple times.

As I watched this all unfold (in between tag-teaming Little Brother and chasing him down across vast green fields), something strange happened. I started to feel self-conscious. On the Doozer’s behalf. Which is weird, because he certainly wasn’t feeling that way. He was having a blast.

But suddenly, the world was split into jocks and nerds all over again. I started to worry what the other kids, the other parents, the coach would think about our son.

“Is our kid the team space cadet?” I asked my wife.

She rolled her eyes (as she is wont to do). “He’s having fun.”

And she was right. He was. But still. I worried. I want the whole world to love and adore my kid as I do. I don’t want him to be laughed at or dismissed or judged. Now or ever. It dawned on me that I never really figured out how to be a real grown-up before I went and did something really grown-up like have kids. Probably should’ve worked on that.

There’s nothing I want more than to teach my kids how to be confident. And self-assured. Be true to themselves. And let their freak flag fly. But how do you do that when you struggle with it yourself?

As I continued to watch, I began to think, What does this matter? This ridiculous soccer game being played by maniac children. It doesn’t matter. Right? In the grand scheme of things, in light of everything going on in the world, in this crazy, mixed-up universe, what does this matter? And how my kid chooses to play—or not play, as it were—in said game. Sure, it’d be nice if he was the next David Beckham and strangers came up to me to applaud his otherworldly performance. But he’s not. So what? Who cares? 

Why am I still thinking about this? Days later. What is wrong with me?

At the next practice, when the coach was assigning positions, he asked the Doozer where he wanted to play.

“Defense!” the Doozer replied, with surprising enthusiasm.

“Okay, go,” the coach told him.

And with that the Doozer ran—or possibly skipped—downfield toward his position. But then suddenly, he stopped. And turned to me.

“Dad, what’s defense?”

It was the best moment of my week. Or maybe of my life. I mean, I created that delightful little human being. And he is perfect as he is.

I was wrong about everything. Suck at soccer all you want. And please don’t ever change.

24 April 2014

Of Soccer, Schedules, and Seven Kingdoms

Parenting is a lot like that 8 a.m. class you had in college. 

You’re never going to be on time. And when you do manage to show up, you probably won’t be able to stay awake the whole time. When the final comes, you’ll be lucky if you get a passing grade and if it doesn’t completely wreck your grade point for the semester. And you might very well have to repeat the class. But odds are, you won’t do that much better the second time around. 

We’re adjusting to a new schedule. The Doozer started soccer. Which is great in a lot of ways. Except for where it makes being his dad even more of a time suck than it was before. And still there’s only one hour of practice and one game (also an hour) per week. Two hours out of seven days. Which doesn’t seem like a lot. But it is. Really.

There goes reading that new Dave Eggers book. Ever.

If I can’t handle this, how can I handle it when he’s really, truly involved with stuff? And I have to drive him everywhere? Maybe we should just lower the driving age. Parents have stuff to do to, you know. We are still our own people. Mostly.

Remember eating pizza at 3 a.m.? Sleeping until noon? That happened. That was our life once. Man, we had it good. And I’m sure none of us really appreciated it. Because we’re all big, fat jerks.

It occurs to me that being a parent doesn’t make you a grown-up. Sure, it can accelerate that process. but you’ve got to be open to it. Nobody can rush it, it happens at your own pace. Or maybe not at all. 

How do you find the balance? Between everything your kid needs, all the time and attention, and the few things left that you need. I’m terrible at schedules. Structure. Formality. You know, once upon a time, kids were raised on hippie communes. How did that work? 

Wait, where was I?

Right. Soccer. Which now has to be worked into our life alongside everything else. Sleep, meals, baths, homework. I’ve got stuff to do to, you know. These comedy podcasts are not going to listen to themselves. And Game of Thrones is just going to pile up on the DVR if we don’t keep up. Actually, I guess we could watch that together. You like dragons, don’t you, kids? 

Okay, so maybe that’s not the solution. I caught myself. I’m not the worst parent ever.

Shut it.

I feel like I keep losing my train of thought. Oh, right. My mind is fuzzy because I’m worn out from all the scheduling. And soccer. Have you seen tiny people play soccer? No? Don’t. Trust me. Your life is better off without that in it. Okay, that’s not entirely true. Our son scored his first goal. That was sweet.

Maybe they’ll turn that Eggers book into a movie. I can see it on DVD. 

In 2041.

17 April 2014

Toddlers, Tantrums, and True Detective

Here we go. Again.

Welcome back to the Terrible Twos. I hate it when these things come true. When your kids sink to that level. When they are predictable, giving credence to the tired clichés and worn-out tropes of parenting. So disappointing, so pedestrian. Come on, you’re better than that.

Aren’t you?

This is not an original theory, but I say that the Terrible Twos are a misnomer. They start before age 2. And they can definitely last past age 2. The only consistency is that they suck. Hard. Regardless of when they occur. Of course, that makes this no different really than any other stage of being a parent.

But this time, it’s different. This time, there is an additional element in the mix: the Doozer. When he was 2, he only had us to emulate and pattern his behavior after. And we’re pretty mellow. I mean, we’re adults. We don’t throw temper tantrums or yell for no reason or smear food all over our face and hair at every meal. We are civilized. Children—toddlers, specifically—are bloody savages.

And the weirdest part is that the Doozer is pretty mellow himself. He’s cautious, he’s a rule follower. Sure, he’s 5, so he can be rambunctious. He has more energy than my feeble brain can even comprehend. But mostly, he is very well-behaved, thoughtful, considerate. Relaxed.

Here’s the thing, though. A 2-year-old emulating a 5-year-old is very different. Little Brother’s interpretation of the Doozer’s behavior is like the death metal speed freak version of being a 5-year-old. Seriously, the Doozer jumps around a little bit and when this behavior is modeled, Little Brother turns into Alien from Spring Breakers, crazy-eyed and waving guns around, flashing his gold grill with his middle fingers in the air, all like, “F you, guys! Spring break for-eva!”

I will never forgive you for this.

It reminds me of that old Bill Cosby routine where he threatens his children over their unruly behavior. “I brought you in this world, I can take you out!” This sounds great on paper, but would never work in real life, Mr. Cosby. Kids are immune to threats. Have you ever met one? You had a whole show about all the darned things that they say.

Maybe our kids are just built that way. But you cannot reason with a kid in the throes of the Terrible Twos. Little Brother’s favorite word is “No!” And his second favorite word is “No!” His favorite phrase is “I do not want that!” Okay, we get it. You’ve gone all Ed Harris in the The Rock on us and you’re not going to back down. Fine. But could you at least try to dial the volume down? A little?

You’re killing me. Stop wailing like some distraught socialite watching her husband be taken to jail for securities fraud in a TV movie. Enough with the histrionics. And the sudden, random crying jags. And really, stop with the whole thing where the crying just stops and you turn on a dime into the world’s sweetest, most smiliest kid who looks at us like, What? Like nothing happened. Like we’re the crazy ones.

We’re on to you. We see how you strategically deploy your arsenal of cuteness and sweetness to keep us off our game. Very crafty. But really, we are on to you, sir.

And for the love of god, just go to sleep already. When we put you in your crib and turn out the lights, that is not a signal for you to start spewing out some nonsense monologue like you’re the lead in some Ionesco play. Keep it down and go to sleep so that your mother and I can continue binge-watching True Detective. (So that when you do get quiet, we get spooked about your whereabouts and worry that the Yellow King has snatched you up. Man, was that a vicious cycle.)

If I can offer you anything, it is this: Listen to your brother. You know, that Kindergartner who lives in our house that you are completely obsessed with? Like he’s the Beatles? Right, that guy.

When your 5-year-old brother wants you to quiet down and give it a rest, there is something wrong. It is time for a long, hard look in the mirror. It is time to think about your behavior and maybe start to analyze how well it’s working for you. Take a personal inventory, kid.

And an actual nap wouldn’t hurt either.

03 April 2014


We’re more than halfway through the Doozer’s Kindergarten year. And it was time for a school visit. That’s right, parent-teacher conferences.

We are so old.

Anyway, conferences were actually called “Celebration of Learning” and they took the form of our child acting as a miniature tour guide (with a clipboard and a checklist) leading us around his classroom and pointing out the highlights. He was very officious with that little clipboard and very dedicated to the operation.

The first stop was the spot where kids check in when they arrive in the morning. A large touch-screen at the front of the room has two columns marked Home and School. Beneath the headings are all the names of the students in the class. The Doozer went right up to his name and with one quick finger-swipe, moved his name from the Home column to the School column. It was awesome. I want one.

No, really, it was cooler than anything I had in 12 years of school. And college. Okay, so there was beer in college, that was pretty cool, but other than that . . .

So we worked our way through the rest of the checklist. The Doozer showed us his journal full of stories (lots of memoir-esque pieces about times he played toys with Little Brother and went out for ice cream), a science station where we experimented with the waterproof-ness of various pieces of fabric, his mailbox, his cubby, his locker – no, really, his locker. What is this, high school?

Not long after this visit, we received his report card. Correction. We didn’t receive anything. Report cards are not mailed home as they once were. We received a notification that said report card was available for viewing online.

Seriously, so old.

Anyway, he received high marks across the board, proficient in every subject. Except one. The only less-than-proficient mark was in math.

That’s my boy.

Apparently we are not only united by our love of Star Wars and the Arctic Monkeys, but also our inability to handle the simple concepts of addition and subtraction.

Of course, there are some things that can’t be measured by a report card. Proficient is an insufficient descriptor when it comes to the full character of your kid. It was just this morning when I was negotiating with the Doozer about balancing reading and screen time this evening. We made a plan to spend some time on the computer together when he was done with his reading.

Not long after, he reminded his mom that she had given him a consequence for some misbehavior the night before. He was not supposed to spend time on the computer today. That’s right. His parents forgot about a consequence they doled out, and he reminded them of it. What is that? Where does that come from?

And how do I avoid screwing it up?

No, really, this is the true test of parenting. Forget about keeping them alive, making sure they’re fed and that they sleep, and that their diapers are promptly changed. Not screwing them up. That’s the biggest challenge we’re going to face.

Genuine, innate goodness. True honesty. Legitimate character. The Doozer gets the absolute highest marks in these categories. (Of course, his tiny shadow is a completely different story. If I was working on Little Brother’s report card, he’d get high marks in animal noises, willful independence, and sweet dance moves. However, if he was graded on being a decent roommate or a reasonable human being, the outcome would be very different. But that’s a story for another time.)

Now I just have to figure out how to help steer him into these qualities and keep him away from cynicism, bitterness, and negative energy for as long as humanly possible. Way easier said than done.

Good luck, sir.

06 March 2014

Second Year

We have a 2-year-old. It’s official. We have no more babies. 

In fact, he was more than eager to tell me just that.

Recently, I was conversing with the Doozer about the present sleeping arrangements in our house (the two currently share a bedroom, not ideal for anyone, including us). And when I put forth the theoretical notion that if we moved to a new house, they could each have their own room, the Doozer wasn’t interested. I mean, not even a little bit.

But, I pointed out, wouldn’t you like to sleep alone, have your own room, and not share it with your little brother who cries and fusses and wakes you up and generally seems to bother you?

“Yeah, but I would be lonely without him,” he said. Seriously. Are you trying to kill me? Are you trying to break my heart? He went on to tell me that he would sleep with his little brother forever. As long as he’s a baby. Not exactly the definition of forever that I’ve heard, but okay.

From across the room, Little Brother (who was engaged in something and showed absolutely no sign of paying attention) stood up and declared, “I not a baby right now. Dad.” Dad. Not Dada, not Daddy. Dad. Full of scorn and outrage and bitterness.

Okay then.

So, two years. That sure went by in a flash. And what a life in those two years. So much he’s experienced and so much more to go. Crying. Screaming. Complaining. Whining. Just kidding, it only seems like these are his only activities. There were other highlights.

He stopped calling himself Ju-June Medicine and started pronouncing his name correctly. He decided he did not like fish crackers—which he told me through a mouthful of the same crackers, while he held two fistfuls of them at the same time. This winter, we learned he loved taking off boots and socks while riding in the car—especially in sub-zero weather. Who does this? 

He fell in love with Tegan and Sara. He fell out of love with Tegan and Sara. He had his pseudo-goth phase when he became obsessed with Lorde. He learned to dance and wield his spoon/fork hybrid with something resembling accuracy and dexterity. He tossed one of his big brother’s favorite stuffed animals into the bathtub. I only had my back turned for a second. (Of course, it was better than the time—times?—he urinated in the tub while sharing a bath with his brother.)

He joined a Baby Fight Club. At least, we think he did. Otherwise, we have no idea where all the bumps and bruises came from. Except of course for that one-person demolition derby he keeps having that nobody else is participating in. Because he’s a weirdo. And a maniac. I have decided that his lucha libre moniker would have to be El Destructo.

He decided his mother’s name is “Mwawm.” That’s the best way I can present it, phonetically. It’s crazy. What kind of accent is that? He heard Pearl Jam and said, “Mama, I do not like this guy.” Whatever, he probably doesn’t like you either. I guess you’re still my son. 

Happy birthday, kid. I love you. 

And I will try not to throw you out a window, you tiny maniac.

27 February 2014

Enchantment Under the Sea

My kid is growing up. Too fast. Sure, he’s still a kid, but pretty soon, he won’t be. It’s tough.

Last week, he attended his first school dance.

He’s in kindergarten. Kindergarten.

How did this happen? How did it come to this?

The dance was an all-student event, part of a school spirit week. So far, he had not been too inclined to participate. It was a short week, but the first day, all the kids were encouraged to come in with a funny hairdo or colored hair. No go. The Doozer wanted no part of it. The next day, he did wear his school T-shirt and agree to attend the dance. With me.

His mother was disappointed.

“But, Mom, you got to take me to the talent show, so it wouldn’t be fair to Daddy if I don’t take him to the dance,” he offered, by way of rationale. Apparently, we are raising a skilled courtroom attorney. I mean, that’s rock-solid, you can’t argue with that logic.

One of the reasons he was interested in the dance is that he loves music. And dancing, actually. In fact, living room dance parties are a regular activity in our house these days. This is what we do now. I was never much for dancing myself (okay, that’s not entirely true), but since we started introducing our kids to music that isn’t specifically made for children, they have been moved to move and will break into rapturous dancing within seconds of iTunes being launched. Just seeing the little musical note icon onscreen gets Little Brother shaking.

And for me, this is a big part of parenthood. Not just teaching them to navigate the world, right and wrong, things like that. But to appreciate art and culture. Helping build their relationship to pop culture. Even just to dance around the living room, giggling like maniacs. Art will move you, make you laugh. It is important. Yes, you can learn about math and science, how to balance a checkbook, drive a car, how to function like a human being in the world, but without art, what’s the point? Just, exist, as my friend Llewyn Davis might say?

I don’t think so.

And right now, it’s music. And a school dance. We talked beforehand about what kind of music they’d play. One of the Doozer’s current favorites is Pearl Jam. (That’s right, I did that. I got my kid into Pearl Jam. Dad of the year, over here.)

I told him I didn’t think they’d be playing any Pearl Jam. Why not? he wanted to know. I’m not sure it’s an elementary school-aged type of thing, I told him. That’s all. Basically, son, when you scream out “Mind your manners!” in the backseat of the car like a mini Eddie Vedder-in-training on the way to school, you’re pretty much the coolest kindergartner that ever was.

In the end, while the dance offered some highlights, including free pizza and a photo booth with goofy props and costumes (the image of our kid and his pal flashing a giant, Flavor Flav-ish dollar sign still makes me laugh), there was not much actual dancing done.

He was shy.

This was not his living room. That comfortable space where he shakes with abandon, where he can fully let his freak flag fly. There were “a million hundred thousand” kids at the dance. Or some other number based on his sketchy grasp of math and numerals. And so he was shy.

Though they did play some his favorites. We made sure to tell his mom about “Royals” and “Safe and Sound” and “What Does the Fox Say?” and his favorite: “Everything Is Awesome.”

We got a little toe-tapping here and there. Some very quiet singing along with Tegan and Sara. But I get it. Totally. Being in that gymnasium brought back a lot of memories of my own school dances. Sweaty palms and nervous fidgeting. Girls I didn’t have the courage to talk to. Worrying about my moves. All these things that I can’t possibly prepare him for. Or possibly explain. He’s just going to have to experience them for himself. School dances. Crushes. Awkwardness.

Oh god, the awkwardness.

But until then, we’ll have our own private dance parties. Just this morning, to assuage a crying, thrashing toddler refusing to eat his breakfast, I cranked up “Get Lucky” on my wife’s iPhone and started dancing around the kitchen with all the Nile Rodgers-inspired grooviness I could muster. It caught him off-guard. Little Brother stopped his fit for a moment to see what his crazy dad was doing. And the Doozer loved it. Just ate it up.

Kitchen dancing. This is parenting. When I’m tired, frustrated, despondent—I can always think about living room dance parties and know that I’m not all bad at this thing.

Everything really is awesome. I mean, my kid knows The Lonely Island now. How good is that?

07 February 2014

Everything Is Awesome

To say I love movies is perhaps something of an understatement. (I’m sure my wife would tell you that.) Perhaps obsession is more accurate. To the point where I think of episodes in my life as scenes from the movie of my life. (Follow?) As in, this is the scene where my sons and I dance around the living room to a killer soundtrack by Elvis Costello. This is the scene where we drop him off for the first day of school. This is the scene where he meets his brother for the first time.

So, obviously, sharing movies with my kids is big. Introducing him to the Incredibles or the Muppets or Buzz and Woody, these have been some of my favorite experiences as a parent. And since he was 3, we’ve been trying to get him to a theater. I have a very clear memory of my first movie with my dad (no, really) and it was an experience I couldn’t wait to have, a memory I wanted to create with our son.

When he was 3, we did try. And we spent less than a minute inside a theater, in a disastrous, aborted attempt at seeing The Muppets with Jason Segel and Amy Adams. It was too loud, too dark, we saw a few seconds of a trailer. Ever since, he’d always say, “I’ll wait for the DVD.”

Like he’s somebody’s grandmother.

For a while, I thought I might have to wait all the way until December 2015 when they release that first J.J. Abrams Star Wars movie (he’ll be the most appropriate age of 7 at that time), but then something else happened. And this time, we had him. With just three little words.

The Lego Movie.

This one seemed custom-built, specifically designed for him. One, he loves Legos. Two, the main character shares our son’s name (more or less). Three, they both have brown hair (he pointed out to us). Four, they both have cowlicks (we pointed out to him). Five, in the TV ad, they played “Wake Me Up” by Avicii (one of his favorite tunes).

He was sold. He just had two conditions: He wanted popcorn and jelly beans as a movie snack. That we could do.

So we’ve been waiting. And then, out of nowhere, we heard about an advanced screening, the week before the movie opened. And we scored tickets. The Doozer was very excited.

That morning, there was a blizzard. Which we braved in order to get him to the theater. They handed us 3-D glasses. Hopefully that wouldn’t be a problem. He didn’t say anything about it, but really, I can’t imagine what it would be like to see a move in the theater for the very first time and for it to also be in 3-D. That has to be jarring, as much as he seemed to roll with it.

All around us, kids were laughing hysterically. Meanwhile, the Doozer asked for jelly beans. Then popcorn. He watched the film, very serious, almost stone-faced. His expression inscrutable. The wife and I kept sharing looks. Was he enjoying it? Was he asleep? It was hard to tell behind those glasses.

Every once in a while, he’d chime in about a particular minifigure in the film that overlapped with his collection. Or when things would appear that he’d seen in Lego sets on the Internet or in a store. So he was at least paying attention.

Meanwhile, I’m loving every second of it. The movie is brilliant and hilarious and inventive—pretty much everything you would want from a Lego movie. This is our new favorite movie, I kept thinking. We’re going to get the DVD and wear it out. I see a Lego Movie-themed 6-year-old birthday party, an Emmett with the Piece of Resistance Halloween costume. Also, when does the sequel come out?

And then, things started to get hairy onscreen for our heroes toward the end of the second act (as they are wont to do). And finally the Doozer had a reaction to the film:

“I want to go! I don’t want to watch anymore! I don’t like this!”

We tried to cajole him. To reassure him. Suggested that he cover his eyes. Just for a moment. But he was adamant. He wanted to stop watching. He wanted to leave.

I didn’t get it. I mean, he’s watched lots of movies, doesn’t he know what’s going to happen? He’s seen the Grinch have a change of heart and return Christmas to Whoville; he’s seen the Scooby-Doo gang solve countless mysteries and reveal that scary monsters are just disgruntled guys in suits; he’s seen Rocky and Bullwinkle escape from the dastardly clutches of Boris and Natasha; he’s watched Carl Frederickson rescue Russell the Wilderness Scout, Kevin the Bird, and Dug the Talking Dog from the nefarious explorer Charles Muntz.

Surely, he must realize that these minifigures are going to escape these dire circumstances and triumph over Lord Business’ evil plans?

“I don’t want to watch anymore! I want to go!”

And so the wife took him to the lobby for several minutes. I stayed in my seat, watching the film, my joy diminishing by the moment. Sure, the film was still entertaining, but it was just different now. Our son was scared. He didn’t like it. He was over it.

No second viewing, I thought. No DVD. No birthday party, no costume, no nothing. Guess maybe I jumped the gun on that whole new favorite movie thing. Thanks, Doozer.

The credits rolled and the Doozer had not returned to his seat. I was crushed. But then, it turned out he and his mom had stood in the tunnel, watching the end of the movie. We asked him about his favorite part of the day. The movie? The snacks? The fact that his brother wasn’t there?

He told us it was the movie. Awesome!

Back at home, he asks me a lot of questions about what happened. He’s unsure about certain plot points. I tell him that he will probably understand it more after he sees it again sometime. He informs me that he never wants to see it again. Awesome.

But then, as the days go by, he keeps bringing it up. He’s still asking a lot of questions about the movie. Talking about it. Talking about the toys. About Lord Business and Wildstyle and Cloud Cuckoo Land. Almost a week later now and he seems just as interested as ever.

So if you’ll excuse me, I have a DVD to pre-order on Amazon. (Quickly, before he changes his mind.)