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.