Teddy’s Cheeks

Perhaps its just my nature to be wistful. That very well could be it. I could easily make the argument that wistfulness is my strongest suit as a writer. But wistful for me these days is honest. Because while parenthood is very very good at making you spend a good deal of your day living in the moment, it is also a role that is forever slipping through your fingers. 

There’s a lot that surprises you that first second. I became a dad in an instant. One second I’m a husband and about to be dad and the next I’m a dad. Full blown, card carrying dad. The card in this case was a Visa card and not some license to be a dad, though were there one my merely being a dad would not entitle me to the card. Nope. That comes later. I’m certified now, but still a newb. Becoming a dad is merely the starters pistol in your sprint to learn to be a dad. 

What I learned first, after the new brand of love, the overarching, in your bones kind of love that you learn in that first instant, what I learned was that life is fragile and mine will end. Hopefully some day decades and decades down the road when the loss will be real for my kids, but when it will be manageable. Still, this little boy had a story and it was starting right there, smack in the middle of the story I’d been only just getting accustomed to sharing with his mom. If everything goes right, if it goes as right as it can go I’ll get a few decades to overlap, 30 or 40 or 50 years to be in his story. Then, inevitably, I’d be leaving. Wrapping up my tale with tentacles lingering on the fringes of the stories they will be living. It’s the best outcome one can hope for and it is unavoidably imbued with melancholy. Sad is the wrong word. Melancholic. A sustained low level presence of unavoidable sorrow, that recedes to the background when joy is present and it is so so present so much, along with exhaustion and frustration and confusion and exhaustion. Did I say exhaustion twice? I did? Well, clearly I’m not as tired as I was a few years back. Then the entire list would have consisted of exhaustion and the list would hav been 7-12 items long. All of them exhaustion. 

My first son made me a dad. He came into the world and boom, I’m a dad. He cried, I messed up, I learned my error and I became more of a dad. This is a seemingly infinite loop. I mess up, I recognize it by something going wrong with him, I see that I messed up and I try something new and it gets a little better  and we do that all day every day forever. Which is true, but not true. It’s not forever. Time is very viscous and slides faster than I can keep up. You do eventually give the swing to sisters and brothers who will need it. You throw out the car seat that is beyond beaten and smelly and you recycle the last bottle you’ll ever have. Things disappear into the far back memories and then they go from there. Some of them go invisibly and without regret or a second thought. I’ll never change my kids disaster diaper ever again. The kind where you resort to cutting the clothing off to save everyone the terror of it coming off any other way. That piece of history is happily behind me, though I actually think I appreciated it for what it was at the time. Your mind and memory play little tricks like that. I know better. Just happy that’s in the past. Other things, well, I can’t let go of so cavalierly. Like Teddy’s cheeks. 

Teddy’s cheeks aren’t going anywhere. I trust he’ll have them for the rest of my story. But they are changing. He has epic cheeks. Anyone and everyone who has known him will tell you. They are squat and round and adorable. They are a feast for the eyes and they are so connected to the little misspeakings of an adorable toddler with the childlike voice that I’ll never fully have anymore. He is our last and when those cheeks go, they’re gone. Forever. And this time forever means forever. 

My Teddy’s cheeks won’t come back. So I am wistful. Nostalgic. Sentimental in the extreme because my life, my consciousness has a timeline and the horizon, though distant, is firmly in view and when I lose Teddy’s cheeks that horizon will draw ever so slightly nearer.  

 

I Don’t Have the Words

I don’t know that I will ever be able to fully articulate how I love my kids. Were it a quantifiable thing I’d give you a number. As it is I don’t think any sophisticated adult has ever improved on the simple claim made by all of us lucky enough to have been loved as a child who have spread our arms wide and said, ‘I love you this much!’

img_4923Charlie is the sweetest boy and he will stop us to make sure we are listening, in the middle of getting ready for bed or when we are cooking or whenever, to tell us, ‘I love you. You’re the best daddy.’ or, ‘Mommy, I love you more than anything ever!’

‘Oh, Charlie.’ I gasp, ‘I love you so much, you are the most wonderful boy.’

I wish words were more evolved. I wish our minds, our full creativity could describe what flows through you as a parent. All of it is extreme. The frustrations, the joys the exhaustion‘s and elation‘s. The simple act of falling for your child, for me an act that happened in an instant, opens a vein you didn’t know you had. It pours from you in every way you can imagine.

I didn’t appreciate the love I was given as a child, not fully at least, until I discovered it from the other side. Until I looked intently at my own kid and marveled and recoiled and felt the bond between us so deeply that it seemed I could reach out and hold it.

img_5026Teddy is my little man and I can’t get over his curiosity. He’s trying all the time that his brother is around to compete, a thing that looks different in a younger brother than an older one. His focus primarily is on his big brother but his quiet moments are the ones that steal my heart. He can smile when your head shares a pillow with his and he wants to tell you about all the things he is thinking. About his ideas and plans, about how much he loves mommy and Charlie and me. He builds big and little bridges to you and everyone one at a time. It’s magic.

On the other side of this newfound entity of love for my kids is an equally newfound fear. One that could only exist in relation to my fondness for these boys. I’m terribly afraid of random tragedy now. While they have opened me up, have cracked the shell around my heart, they have also made me a vigilant hawk. See, I’m now and forevermore aware that there is something infinitely more tragic that can happen than there ever was prior to now.

The first week it paralyzed us to a degree. We had no idea that there was something so awful as the fears of a parent before they hit us. People can’t wait to tell you about the lack of sleep and the magic of babies. They don’t tell you that the most tragic of ends now comes to reside in your resting imagination.

I never so feared my own death before knowing that it would effect my own kids. It never occurred to me to think of it. Now if Karen so much as has a cold I’m worried, only for a moment at a time, but I worry there’s something bigger hidden in her cough. If I’m making dinner and she’s picking up the kids and they are a few minutes late my brain arrives, in an instant, at a place where I can imagine all three of them, struggling in an overturned car, or thrown from the car, scared and alone in their final moments. I know. IT’S AWFUL!!

But as quick as it comes it disappears and I’m back to worrying about whether or not I should use the last of the celery as it’s Charlie’s go to and whether or not T will eat the string beans or should I not bother to make them.

I don’t know what the word would be to describe these things, these rushes between otherworldly levels of joy and dread and monotony, but there should be a word. It seems to be a universal feeling and across the board it seems unknowable until the instant you fall for that kid and unshakable from that point forward.

Snow day or raising kids?

First it’s daunting. How can we change our lives so completely and so quickly? Will we be able to tolerate turning on a dime? Had you asked us before anyone considered this as a possibility what our lives would be like we could have told you, with pretty decent accuracy exactly how things would have gone. But, some things you control and some things are out of your hands.
To be honest, just sitting there having your coffee, still groggy and tired, it can catch you off guard. I mean here we are. A family. All together, just us. Everything I planned for is gone and I don’t need to explain myself. It’s amazing what’s been given to us, how lucky we are. What are we going to do with all we’ve been given. It’s energizing.

Looking out the window it really is beautiful. A whole new angle on the world. One I don’t think of often, but it’s always there. The magic of it all. Bounties and possibilities falling from the heavens in a seemingly neverending supply.

Before long practicality has to step in. You can only sit safely inside the safety of the whole world now existing in these four walls for so long. There’s places to go. But how. Life is changed and all that mobility, all that freedom you had it seems just yesterday is gone. I frankly don’t even know how we’d go about getting out of here. Like logistically. Emotionally.

Eventually, and much later than I should have, I had to do something. I knew there was work to be done. Jobs I might not have done given my druthers. But my druthers aren’t really the deciding factor any more. I start to wonder if they ever were. Whatever. Time to get on my big boy pants, the comfy, functional, warm ones and get out to that driveway and get going. It’s time to work dammit. For my family.

At first the work is overwhelming. Really, did I sign up for this, I ask myself. Isn’t there some other way? And of course there is. Or there was. I could have planned better. Could have made decisions long ago that would have made all this work easier. Would have put me in a better place on this day. Would have given me the tools to make all this easier. But that’s not the bed I’m lying in. Besides, after all the monotony, the pain and the drudgery it isn’t long before I look up and look back and see that it’s almost done. I’m excited. At first.

Sure. There’s a lot I’d like to have behind me. But given our fun times we’ve already had, and the fun times surely still ahead of us, well I’m not sure I want this to end. Ever. What’s facing me after this. This is all of us. Together. What can be better than that.

In the end though, you can’t think of it that way. So much of this was magical. So unexpected and full of fun and play and laughs. Good food and junk food and games and hugs and love and movies and forts and conversations big and small.

The work all got done. Each of us doing what we could to make the best of it all. It was so great and so precious that we just hope it all happens again sometime, in some way.

Spies and Rocket Ships

Last night after dinner, before bed we were engaged in the ‘wind down.’ This is what we’ve come to call that time of night that was ‘the witching hour’, when they were younger. Now it’s ‘wind down time.’ I prefer to think that this is not an entirely misleading name for this time, but rather an aspirational one. As is the custom during this time, the boys were running wildly between floors, screaming and laughing and we were in the kitchen, ignoring them as much as we could.

Ignoring a couple of hyped up little boys is impossible, so we ignore them merely as best we can. This is quite the change over a relatively short period of time and frankly, there’s some serious growth that is to be admired in it. After all it wasn’t 4 years ago where we were so scared of anything happening to them that we lived as volunteer shut-ins. I know. It’s hard hearted to invoke the word ‘shut-in’ for the purposes of humor. Fine. We were new parent nut bags so engrossed in over parenting our little ones that we never slept, pulled the alarms for every cough and acted as spotters for the first 10-22 months that they were walking. And I mean every minute of them walking.

So, to be at a place where we can pay only minimal attention to them, to be able to hear patterns of speech without engaging other than to recognize where our required, ‘Sure, buddy.’, or ‘Wow, that’s really cool.’, were needed, well, that’s like Will Hunting fleeing all he knew to pursue his dream and his dream girl at the end of the movie, without so much as a note for Chucky and the rest of the gang knowing damn well they were family and would not only understand but be damn proud of him level of growth we’re talking about.

Well, like all good things this one too had to end, so we jumped back in at some point when we knew we really couldn’t hope to ignore them any longer. Notably, this usually occurs when one punches the other or the other grabs something they want from the other and they bite them instead of relinquishing something of such a precious nature as a tiny, long forgotten instruction booklet from a tiny Lego set we may or may not have ever had, or a found rubber band or some other precious booty they salvage from the flotsam and jetsam of our lives here on this pioneer outpost. But not tonight. Tonight it went the way it should. We ignored, they entertained each other, we re-engaged and voila, this is how you start the bedtime process a mere 2-3 hours later than you always swear you will tomorrow.

‘Did you sign up? Wait, are you signing up tomorrow?’ Charlie asks as I settle in to the couch and start to brush his teeth ten feet from a sink where he could do it himself, but instead we act as servants to these boys who pay only in affection and dependence. Granted, we make out on the deal, still, we may coddle a bit too much.

‘Oh, I’m signing up tomorrow.’ I say and tense up ever so slightly.

‘Okay’ he says.

Phew. I haven’t felt this good about faking my way through since telling my doctor, ‘yeah, I don’t know. I guess I have 2-3 drinks a week.’ Felt pretty good.

‘Remind me again what I’m signing up for?’ You can absolutely be this transparent. THEY DON’T KNOW ANY OF THE TRICKS YET!

‘Spies.’

‘Okay, spies. Sounds like fun. What is it?’ Seriously, you can be this blunt in your blatant disavowing of knowledge you ‘yeah buddy’d’ not 5 minutes earlier.

‘It’s a game.’ Charlie says.

‘Yeah, we are spies and we run around the house.’, said Teddy. He’s even less sure and more confident than me. I’ll have to keep an eye on this one.

‘That sounds fun.’ I say

‘Yeah and tomorrow we’re going to build a real rocket ship.’

‘What!’ I exclaim. This is really taking a turn.

‘Do spies fly rocket ships?’ I ask.

‘Yeah. We’re going to build a real one. A real rocket ship.’, says Charlie. He’s pretty insistent. This is a new and serious tone. They recently saw the Wallace and Gromit short where they build a rocket in the basement and spend the day on the moon, so I’m pretty sure this is real.

‘I believe you.’, I say. ‘What else do spies do.’

‘They fly to space and do experiments and build rocket ships.’ The ‘duh’ was implied.

‘Okay. When are sign ups?’ I ask.

‘Tomorrow. We’re signing up and so are you and mommy.’

Done.

Turns out Spies is a pretty great game. If you ever have the chance I highly recommend signing up.

The 7 Parents You Meet at Kids Birthday Parties!

The boom of the ‘Birthday-Industrial Complex’ is among the most under reported developments in child rearing in the decades since I was reared. The strip malls that seemed to pop up out of fields and abandoned lots when we were coming into our own can no longer sustain the retail markets that augured their construction. So, there it was. Open spaces, high ceilings, a dying market driving down rental costs. A vacuum waiting for something to emerge to productively use this formerly valuable space. Some genius came up with the idea of inflatables, kids parties and Ice Cream cake.

Well, this little history of the rise of the bounce house economy is all a little precursor to say damn, ain’t it crazy how many damn birthday parties you end up navigating on so many Saturday and Sunday mornings, afternoons and evenings now. It’s worth a double damn. I was at our local house of bouncy fun for dinner on Saturday and lunch on Sunday this past weekend.

It’s a strange ecosystem, the class birthday party. Clearly these are many of the kids your kids will be growing up with. More pressing however is the parents. The kids occupy themselves at these events quite naturally. Its us parents who have the true dilemma of figuring out how to be around others.

Maybe it’s not everyone. Maybe it’s just me who finds this so exceedingly forced and awkward. I’m pretty sure my own discomfort is projecting outward and making others uncomfortable. I mean, I have to look pretty sketchy, avoiding all eye contact, standing away from everyone, thinking I should be social for my kids sake then hovering around conversations I’m not meant to be a part of. It’s so awkward.

Here are some of the parents you will see at your kids friends birthday parties.

THE GHOSTER – You may never see this dad or mom. They would prefer to simply slow the car down and have their child tuck and roll onto the sidewalk and into the fun of the bounce house. Most at a minimum stay long enough to sign papers ensuring they won’t sue if there is an accidental dismemberment. Next time you see them is when the lights come on after the birthday boy or girl has blown out the candles. Or shortly thereafter. Or shortly after that. NOTE: Given any inkling that it is acceptable to disappear for the duration I am this dad.

THE HIGH STYLE PARENT – It is Saturday, late morning. Either you haven’t slept and look remarkably put together considering you’re wearing the same clothes you wore for date night last night, and it was like anniversary date night, a round number no less, or you have put a lot of effort in to looking good at the strip mall bounce house hut. Also I’m suddenly made hyper self conscious by my laughably dated, though equally imperfectly fitting cargo’s and maybe I should have skipped the Crocs. Yep. I’m that dad. I apologize for many things, but not comfort. It’s my prerogative as a middle aged dad.

THE LURKER– Standing at the outskirts, watching his kid nonstop, avoiding any and all contact with the other parents. This is always a dad in my experience, but I’m sure there are some moms as well. Just drifting to zero population centers in the grown up sections. I am this man though I’m getting better.

PTA PARENT – You know the type. The one who has followed through on all those things we say we’ll do when our kids get into school. This parent is pretty typically very nice and I’m thankful when they approach with a topic to discuss. I am not this parent. I may judge this parent silently as a defense mechanism as they are doing it right, which highlights my shortcomings.

OVERLY ENTHUSIASTIC DAD – This guy. You know this guy. ‘He’s just a big kid!’ is something someone who was likely annoyed with him said once and he has since taken it on as his identity. He is way too much. Sucks that my kid can’t stop talking about him and how awesome he is. I’m not jealous.. ¬†You’re jealous!

THE HOVERER – This parent is on the opposite end of the spectrum from The Ghoster. They are in a constant state of risk assessment and periodically intervening to avoid certain calamities that never happen. I know some of these folks and there hearts are definitely in the right place. Their anxiety, however, can run interference.

SCREEN DEMON – Finally. My tribe. We are determined to avoid interaction with any adults. We are Facebooking, Tweeting, Snapchatting and Gramming all while determinedly maintaining a scowl that tries hard to say, ‘this is very important work I’m doing. Important and private. I’m sorry I can’t talk, but me and my phone are saving the world.

Pick your strategy wisely folks! You may just have to maintain this personality for the duration of your child’s schooling!

‘I Like That I’m Weird’

‘Tell me something you love about yourself. What is something about you that you really like.’ his mommy asked.

‘I like that I’m weird. I like ‘small potatoes’. I know it’s supposed to be for little kids, but I like it anyways. I like that I’m weird like that.’ Charlie said.

img_4893img_4891When Karen came down from putting him to bed she could barely contain how excited she was to tell me about this little conversation. She was right to be excited. I couldn’t have been happier to hear it.

‘I like that I’m weird.’ How great is that?

Getting comfortable with my weirdness is something that’s taken me a lifetime. First step for me was seeing that I was weird and trying with all my might to deny/hide it. Since then, since getting to a place where I passed as a normal I’ve been working like nobody’s business to try to unburden myself of my various insecurities and collected disguises. I needed to conform, emotionally. I needed to fit in first. It left me safe and sad. Once there I needed to get back out, which was harder. It was definitely harder to reclaim my ‘weird’ than it was to fit in.

So to hear this news, well, I just wanted to wake him up and tell him how proud I was of him. I wanted to tell him he’d discovered the secret to happiness. I wanted to tell him that loving things you aren’t ‘supposed to’ is something it took me forever to learn to do and longer to be comfortable saying I loved those things. I was so impressed with him. I wanted to open YouTube and start playing endless episodes of ‘Small Potatoes’ with him.

Furthermore I wanted to tell him that his life would forever be better as long as he is true to himself. If you like sports and that’s not weird, so what, it’s true. I guess that’s it. I felt shame around my weirdness. Still do from time to time. Then I come here, I tell on myself and I learn to get comfortable being me. My weird self. My journey is as much about meeting me as it is about meeting the world and he has a moment now, one he can call back on and know, being weird, feeling different, it can be a huge gift!

I love my little weirdos so damn much.

Surviving My Kids Friends Birthday Parties

I was sitting in a room full of 5 and 6 year old’s and their parents this past weekend. We were at one of Charlie’s friends birthday parties. It’s remarkable how much a 6 year old’s birthday has changed since I was a kid. Perhaps I went to one at a McDonald’s once. I don’t think I went to all that many kindergarten birthday parties. If I went to 5 that would seem to be a lot. Now we’re busy like I was during the summers of my late 20’s when I was  traveling every weekend to weddings of friends and family.

17022102_1224967080954027_8283132131191062470_nThis was our second birthday party in as many days from this one kindergarten class and it was at the same location as the first. It was one of those former retail spots made over as a kid-party factory, complete with monstrous bounce houses and inflatable slides. This one was particularly cool as it also had scooters and floor projected interactive video games. Ultimately a perfect place for a couple hours of fun. He loved it.

I also, of course, loved that he loved it and was super appreciative of the family hosting it for giving such a fun experience to our boy. But it’s an awkward place for me. I’ll write more about that in a short while, I’m sure. It’s really worthy of milking for some laughs when you see me, a 43 year old dad to two, so socially petrified that I’m stuck staring at my phone trying hard not to look creepy to all the other, seemingly more socially gifted parents sitting in small groups chatting away. It’s just strange. And I’m not the only dad to end up this way at these things. So UNCOMFORTABLE. But like I said, you’ll get some laughs out of this in a future post, I hope.

Back to the room of kids, eating pizza and drinking juice. They sit there so confident. I recognize this confidence. It’s not social confidence. By 5 or 6 you start to see some self awareness and self consciousness start to sneak in as they observe there classmates and occasionally wonder if they are doing it right. Whatever ‘it’ is. No. This is the confidence in exactly what is shaky inside me. Confidence that those grown ups, as present and attended to as the muffled and ignored teachers and parents in the old Charlie Brown cartoons, are all knowing, never wavering, able to know exactly what to do and how to do it. It’s a blind confidence. Never questioned or examined by the kids. Its exactly the opposite of what I feel at the moment.

Should I sit down? I should sit? Shit, did I make the mom sitting next to me uncomfortable? I should introduce myself. Shit. Of course I just introduced myself to the woman I exchange pleasantries with everyday and of course we know each other. I should stand up. Shit. Did she take that the wrong way? Do I, do we have an enemy now? I’m not eating. Damn it. Should I stand by the wall or hang by the door. I just don’t want to look like a creep and everything is making me look that way. These are my thoughts while my child sits there, assured and confident because I, who knows all and controls all, is present.

I don’t know how all the other parents feel but I have to imagine I’m not the only one that has these moments where it all becomes so clear. We are all doing the best we can. It’s a blend of planning and reacting. It’s a combo of following in footsteps and improvising. It’s intuitive and learned. We all want to do well. There’s never really a time when you know whether or not you are. You win moments, sure you handled something perfectly. Those moments are followed by other moments and that goes on forever.

As much as anything this makes me realize how much of my own life was and to some degree, will always remain a fabrication of my own misunderstanding of what my parents were and what they were doing. And there parents and there parents for as far back as we go. Structures we rely on make it possible and we’ve been fortunate enough in recent generations to have stable structures. It’s hard not to feel a little off balance when so much seems so fragile.

Before I know it Charlie’s asking the nice lady in the party factory uniform for seconds of ice cream cake. Some folks are leaving, getting gift bags, saying thank yous and finding coats. I’ve actually had a nice conversation with another parent, a mom of one of Charlie’s good friends. Everything is back to normal. I know my script and am ready to dad.

‘Yep, time to go, buddy. Did you say thank you? Don’t forget to say Happy Birthday.’