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 clich├ęs 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

Midterms


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.