Archive | May, 2012

Here’s what I’d like for the boy

31 May

I’d like him to be one of the cheering kids here. There are many things I am agnostic about – what he does for a living, where he lives, whom he loves. I want him to be a good person, who stands up for what’s right even when what’s right is not what’s easy. Who stands up for people who can not stand up for themselves. Who cheers on another kid with spastic cerebral palsy. I honestly don’t know how much I was that person, or how much I am that person now (I certainly am more now than I was then). But I so much want that for our boy.

Oh, yeah, this is probably going to make you cry. Get some tissue.

1st tantrum

30 May

We had our first real tantrum today, 17 months in. I think it was sparked by putting on his clothes, which he sometimes dislikes very much, but suddenly he was just screaming and crying uncontrollably.

After about 10 (15?) minutes of this, he calmed down, we put on his shoes, and we were off to daycare. By the time I dropped him off, it was like it never happened, everything A-Ok. Weird, right?

Irreconcilable differences

24 May

Here’s a partial list of seemingly irreconcilable differences between me and my wife:

1. She refuses to put the bowls in the dishwasher in what I have again and again demonstrated is the most efficient fashion.

2. I simply refuse to rinse silverware and plates before putting them into the dishwasher. I mean, why wash your dishes by hand if your dishwasher will wash them for you? Plus, the time I spend re-washing silverware is orders of magnitude less than the time I would spend rinsing every dish.

3. I feed baby water from my glass. My wife wants to take everything that is glass out of our apartment until baby is 15.

4. I think it’s ok not to be watching baby every second. My wife thinks that if I leave him in his room unattended, he will pull the bookshelf down on his head and die. If I leave him in our bedroom, he will find our (unplugged) shredder and shred his hands in it. If I leave him in the bathroom, he will find razor blades and eat them, etc.

5. I don’t care about which school/kindergarten/pre-school/”two’s-program” baby attends. Baby mama thinks I am insane, don’t care about baby’s education, am high on crack. If anyone can show me any evidence at all that these early programs correlate with any educational outcome (other than ‘getting into the next level of competitive institution’), I will change my tune. She has shifted in response to this to an emphasis on ‘supportive and stimulating environment that baby will feel comfortable in,’ but I remain unconvinced.

6. I constantly interrupt my partner in conversation. There is no argument here, she’s just right on this one, 100%.

7. She won’t eat condiments. I think most foods are simply conveyances for condiments.

8. I don’t believe in having a ‘side of the bed.’ Wife believes the side closest to door and most convenient should always be hers. Equity demands switching off sides. Her position is unreasonable and insane.

9. I believe in giving baby whole raspberries. My darling wife believes that if food is larger than a centimeter, it needs to be cut up. We can of course all agree this is going to lead to an adult who is unable to eat foods unless someone else cuts it up into tiny pieces for him.

10. My wife believes in compliments. If America runs on Dunkin’, my wife runs on appreciation. I believe compliments are for suckers. Words are wind, says George RR, and he’s right!

Achievement: unlocked! Baby as a RTS video game

23 May

(tl;dr version: parenting is like video games, we should make it more so)

My favorite game nowadays is Starcraft II (actually, Dark Souls is giving it a run for its money, but getting time to play an incredibly violent XBox game on our single living room TV requires, um, negotiation). Starcraft is what is called a ‘real time strategy’ (RTS) game, meaning that the game unfolds against another player in real-time, as opposed to a turn-based game like tic-tac-toe or something. If you’re taking 10 seconds to decide on what to build/research/train, then your opponent is already sending troops across the battlefield to kill you and all you stand for.

What’s brilliant about this game is that there are two elements to it: the ‘macro’ and ‘micro’ game (I know, my partner’s eyes are now fully glazed over as she’s reading this, wondering who this man-child is that she married, and when we can finally kill him, bury the body at sea, and get on with more updates on the fucking job search already. It’s happening, man, just not the point of this post). But this macro/micro division is a wildly fascinating, innovative way to think about video games. Stick with it a minute, it’s interesting, I promise. Because with games like Space Invaders, Tron, etc., the earliest games, the point was just to imagine disembodied people shooting or running, or running away from imaginary aliens. Or digging tunnels. Whatever. But the connection between that kind of activity, and the realism of life was tenuous if it was considered at all. They weren’t meant to be taken seriously. I mean, when did those people eat or rest? Who kept filling their magical guns with ammunition? If any military endeavor is basically the massive logistical ability to throw, say, 400,000 troops halfway across the world, with the ability to feed and house them, then our video games have got a long ways to go. These older games exemplify ‘micro’-only games – you micro-manage your troops, bases, gun-toting horned alien wildebeests, etc.

On the other side is something like the Sims, as well as a slew of turn-based strategy games (like Risk), where the focus is on the ‘macro’-level resource-gathering and intelligence-management. In these games, if there is a piece of the game to attack (an enemy state, your neighbor, etc.), the actual attack itself is managed by the game, usually through some dice/weighted-score/chance algorithm. If you have a better economy, with better upgrades, and happier citizens, it is likely that you will win battles. You don’t have to actually fight the battles by clicking on individuals, swinging their swords, reading spells.

Starcraft is so great because it requires both macro and micro skills. You basically build units that mine minerals and gas, build buildings, expand your bases, which then allow you to build/train/evolve fighting units. And then you take your fighting units off to kill off your opponent. With bad macro, you have no economy. With bad micro, however, you lose the actual battles.

Soooooo. I had an epiphany, that parenting is like this. There are macro and micro components – macro is remembering to change his diaper, put the baby in his crib for naps, feeding him when he’s hungry, timing out his sleep with your own schedule of work and obligations, tending to kinwork. Micro is actually getting his shoes on, or getting him to wear a hat when it is sunny outside. Reading to him in the funny voice that he likes, and feeding him rice, letting him use the fork or spoon but not getting food all over the floor. Bad macro means that baby will be tired and cranky-pants. Or that you won’t be able to get to the park to meet friends for a picnic, because baby is sleeping while everyone else is playing.

Bad micro means that you’ve put the shoes on the wrong feet (which I’ve done); or that you’ve accidentally poured hot water over baby’s head, freaking him out in his bath (which I’ve done); or that you’ve left the bowl food on a placemat in baby’s reach, which he’s pulled off the table and onto the floor (which I’ve done).

What’s missing in parenting, then, is the achievements you get for doing stuff, like in video games. 10 consecutive baths without a tantrum? Cleanie-weenie Badge! Vegetables eaten at dinner? Green fork badge! 30 books read? Brainiac badge! Social parenting badge! Daycare without a care badge! Achievements! Unlocked!

Master-class fathering

22 May

I was on my own the other evening, as baby mama was out getting high with her girlfriends (ok, she said she was at some sort of event at the International Center for Photography, but seriously, we know that’s a euphemism). Luckily, I’m a stone cold pro when it comes to dinner/bath/bedtime. Tonight, after a balanced meal of chicken, applesauce, raspberries, and plain yogurt (yes, our baby hadn’t eaten a vegetable in like 3 weeks, thank you very much), we did a little bath time. While rinsing his hair, I accidentally poured hot water over his head and down his back. He freaked. out. It was hot, but not scalding, man. I mean, life throws you curveballs, right? Roll with them, baby!

Instead, incredibly startled, crying, upset baby. I picked him up out of the tub to comfort him, and he peed on me. Poor little bubeleh. I literally scared the piss out of my baby.

So yeah, sometimes I don’t get it quite right.

The Night Kitchen

22 May

Can we talk about In the Night Kitchen? When Maurice Sendak passed away a few weeks ago, we got a couple of his classic books – Wild Things and the Night Kitchen. And one reading of In the Night Kitchen was enough to hook baby, who made me read the thing half a dozen times between dinner time and bed time. It has garnered super-outsized interest from the little one.

This book is so weird. So. Weird. The illustrations are expressive and interesting, and the story is scary and exciting and fun. Basically, baby wakes up, hears a noise, shouts to keep it down, falls out of his clothes, gets baked into a cake, escapes, makes an airplane out of bread dough, flies to a giant milk bottle, pours milk down to giant bakers, and then falls back into his bed. There is, surreally enough, a short animated movie as well.

Here’s the thing: when you read Roald Dahl (James & the Giant Peach, Charlie & The Chocolate Factory), or Lemony Snicket (A Series of Unfortunate Events), or even someone like Kurt Vonnegut, you get why they’re fascinating. Dahl, and Snicket, take the kid’s point of view against crazy, often villainous adults. The language is often more adult than you might expect to find, the scenes are sometimes gruesome. Kids are treated with sharp edges, sometimes they fail, often they are made to experience danger as well as joy.

What I mean is, I could write a story ‘like’ Dahl or Daniel Handler (Lemony Snicket’s human alter ego). They wouldn’t be as good, but I get the rules they follow, and rules they break. Mine would be a pale comparison, sure. Parents often say to their kids about me (in a tone that I never really like), ‘Oh, Uncle’s being silly‘. The difference between me and these authors is that I’m silly and they sell a bajillion books that are well-loved by children forever.

But I could not even write a Maurice Sendak story. They just don’t make any sense to me. Why do the bakers all look like Oliver Hardy from Laurel and Hardy? What the hell is with the milk? The stories are just crazy. It’s eminently clear Sendak has a route to children’s hearts. But I don’t understand the pattern of that route at all. It’s like he’s speaking in tongues, to an audience that somehow understands him, leaving other adults with fond memories and vague recollections of what actually happens in the stories. I find the whole thing both fascinating and utterly incomprehensible.

And in the meantime, Baby B wants more more more. Milk for the morning cake!

Penguinology

19 May

Our baby has somehow become obsessed with penguins. Or rather, with the few examples of penguins that exist around our house. And in completely inexplicable fashion, he has somehow come to a different relationship with these different manifestations of penguin. Here is a little Brooklyn Baby penguinology:

Case 1 – the smothered candle

This penguin is a weird figurine that mother-in-law brought home as a present from her trip to Israel (Yes. I agree. Let us just let that sink in for a moment. MinL went to Israel and brought us back a penguin candle). This penguin, or ‘peh-peh’ as baby calls it, sits on wife’s dresser, or, more recently, on the bookshelf right next to the bed where after-bath-put-on-shoes ritual takes place. Because if it is not in sight, then increasingly frantic ‘peh-peh, peh-peh!’ pointing happens.

If you look closely at penguin (and you should – look closer…closer, Clarise, closer…), you will have noticed: a) that penguin is holding a book on his foot. The book, which is an integral part of the penguin experience, used to be held by his flippers. Repeated pulling of the book has resulted in a book that is now separate from the rest of penguin, and that penguin only has one flipper with which to hold penguin. Against his one foot. The other of which was, we think, eaten by toddler; b) that penguin looks a little frantic. This is because his beak has been somewhat chewed off and is now stuck tenuously back onto his face. For now; and c) that penguin is in fact a candle, his little tuft of white hair being actually a wick. After some discussion (and by discussion I mean that I suggested this, and wife told me that I’m insane), I have come to realize that if we actually were to light penguin up and let him fulfill his candlish destiny, Baby would completely lose his shit. This is, I submit, the most well-loved penguin-candle in the history of penguin-candles.

Case 2 – the one-armed flapper
We do a bedtime ritual that is pretty much the same every night. Eat around 6, bath at 6:30, shoes and brace at 6:45, bed at 7. This will vary a bit, but generally if baby isn’t in bed by 7:30, something’s gone wrong or someone is in town to play. This routine is smooth like silk, except for the shoes and brace.

(Let me pause for a second, since people often have a mis-perception about his brace. I often say that it’s fine except that baby doesn’t like to be restrained, and they nod and think, who would want to be restrained, the Mitchell Brace is, well, restraining. The truth is that he doesn’t care about the shoes and brace at all, he doesn’t like the process of putting them on. Once they’re on, he’s back to happy as a baby clam).

So we use books as a way to distract him from getting his shoes on. And, you know, cause books is to making baby smert. This bathtime peekaboo book is a favorite. Every time he gets to this page, we say ‘Can you flap your arms like a penguin?’ and baby wildly flaps one arm. Disturbing. Is the one arm an early sign of asymmetrical brain activity? Does he know something about penguins that we don’t? Is he trying to tell us something?

Case 3 – Scary bath penguin
And then there is the penguin which actually sits in its natural habitat. Well, water at least. A baby gift along with rubber ducky, this penguin has wind-up flippers, so that it swims around the tub. This penguin was initially interesting, and many baths have required non-stop winding. But something happened a few weeks ago. Now penguin is a problem. If he sees penguin in the bath, he tries to throw it out of the tub. If he sees it in the box of bath toys, he shakes his head emphatically and whimpers (‘no no no no no no no..’until you make it disappear. We’re loathe to throw the thing away, since there have been turnarounds before (don’t get me started with bath-dinosaur), but it’s also a kind of awesome wind-up penguin.

As an aside to this post, our baby is entering a phase where things are endlessly fascinating to his parents, but are clearly the dullest possible things that could be happening, if it’s not your kid. I’m considering switching to a full-on ‘here’s the shit that’s crazy about my wife’ site until this phase passes…