Tag Archives: toddler

The Madness of Prince Teddy

‘Ew, no Charlie! Wahhhhhh!’

The above is shouted. Sharply and insistently. It is my four year old son’s response to his brother eating yogurt. Or  an apple. Or drinking milk. Teddy is not one for subtleties. He cares not for the feelings of those who offend his olfactory senses and he will not be dissuaded from his opinion that the vileness of these things are rightly and roundly rebuked. No sir, he will simply prefer to spoon his ketchup into his mouth in a different room, thankyouverymuch.

Okay. He’s 4, it’s not like he’s great at thinking of others feelings, but you’d think there’d be some recognition that registering his disgust so broadly, and by that I mean in the ‘broad comedy of Jerry Lewis’ (May he RIP) sense of the word, might be hurtful. But no.

Just today we were in the car and he starts.

‘Drink it! Charlie, Drink it.’ The first sentence was shouted. This is white noise to all of us by now. It is ignored and as much registered as a first, ‘morning’ one says prior to coffee, still half asleep. But the second was screeched in the manner of the classic Hollywood scream queens. This is by no means reason for alarm though it does wake the rest of us up.

‘What?! What is happening! Why are you screaming! Is everyone okay! WHAT’S WRONG!!’ This situation clearly needs a bumbling, distracted, middle aged man to thunder in with volume and stress. It’s just the recipe to really get everyone calm quickly and I’m just the man to do it.

‘Charlie won’t drink his drink.’ Teddy says.

‘Teddy, that’s too far. You are not in control of when Charlie drinks his drink. Come on, buddy?’

Appeals to reason, I should know by now, are only passingly accepted and ONLY when they suit his need for utter and total control of all that he purveys. This statement, I should note, could easily be applied to myself or T so, you know, art is in the eye of the beholder, so whichever you prefer.

‘Charlie’s drink is empty.’ Says Developing Mom (a name I hasten to add is only employed in the most sophomoric of tongue in cheek fashions as she is a fully formed and wonderful mom) in a manner that is dismissing the dramatic nature of the 4 year olds clearly false claim, for which he has clearly been busted for his over dramatic ways. This is done so nonchalantly as it is de rigueur by now.

‘No!’ screams T, ‘The drink in his mouth!’

Come to think of it, Charlie has been suspiciously quiet. Good for him, don’t let him take you down, dude.

‘Teddy. He can swallow whenever he wants. You don’t get to control everything. But I will let you know something. The mare you ask and cry the less likely he is to swallow it. Just be quiet for a minute and I’m sure he’ll swallow it down. Besides Chocolate milk slowly turns into rotten chocolate milk if it stays in your mouth too long. Surely he knows that.’ Okay, I’m making up the last bit, about the rotting in your mouth. But I wish I said it.

‘Teddy, it’s gone now.’ said Charlie, finally entering the script from his pivotal though silent role as unwitting, though I suspect fully witting, agitant.

And like that we’re off, to our next dramatic flourish which is surely no more than a mile or two down the road. Teddy is like me in many ways. One is that he can be ‘over peopled’. Today we were at the Adventure Aquarium, one of his favorite places on earth. He loved it and behaved. He was all you could ever want from an excited and engaged four year old. His big brother was at his best as well. But, you know, now back in the car, away from the maddening crowd, he had to let some of that stress out. It was a huge relief to be home after periodic meltdowns all the way home. We said no to screens all the way home as well, so it was a bit.

But it was good to be home. Everyone reverting to their creature comforts. I with my whiskey (okay, that’s only happening now as I write in a quiet house at 1:14 in the morning), Teddy with his cheese stick to wash down his pizza (I can’t wait until I offer a menu item with mozzarella and he insists he hates the stuff) and Charlie with his apple and a yogurt. Yep. I was over done and I brought out two parts of T’s unholy trinity just like that and put it down right there, right where he could smell it (his claim to how it offends) and see it (the obvious actual trigger to his claims of fear and loathing).

I braced myself. But nothing came.

‘I eat apples like that at school.’ He said. School is daycare.

‘What?’ I said, incredulous.

‘I Like them at school.’ He said. Just like that. No biggie.

‘He said he likes yogurt there, too.’ Said Charlie.

When the hell were you gonna tell me! I didn’t say it, but come on!

‘Did you hear this, honey? Teddy eats apples at school. He likes them!’ I said as Developed Mom walked by.

‘I know.’ She said.

‘Did you know he likes YOGURT there too!’ Come on, share some outrage at this travesty I screamed with my eyes.

‘No, I know. He drinks milk there, too.’

What the hell.

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I Am Dad

I’m feeling kinda done with writing about parenthood. It was a massive transformation and now I’m transformed.

img_3451Parenthood is a sequence of workaday realities that once awed and floored me in a way that when not paralyzing, was heartbreakingly beautiful and expansive. Well, its still those things, really, I just can’t throw as much emotional energy behind it all anymore. I am still transported on a daily basis to a place of awe and wonder, but it’s often fleeting. It has to be. Any moment of daydreaming and self reflection is necessarily interrupted by the mundanity of daily life with a 5 and freshly minted 4 year old.

Gone is the exhaustion fueled deluge of emotional frailty and excruciatingly earnest expressions of fawning and perspectiveless love. It is not as sad as it sounds. These feelings are still there, behind all the work. Gone however is the constant feeling of being overmatched by the task at hand. It’s been replaced by a security you only have when you have a steady hand and a clear eyed confidence that you are up to the task.

img_3402Sure, we could feed them better food, we could replace TV shows and movies with family activities, we could certainly stand to reduce screen time and increase story time. We could even take better care of ourselves come to think of it. We could sleep more. We could drink more water and less wine (okay, I’m the wine drinker). We could be more physical and less sedentary. We could stand to spend less time on our screens and could be more patient and less prone to yelling. Where was I going with this… ?

Whatever. All of it is to say we got this. We get a ton wrong, but we’re doing it. Not everything is a trauma and drama. We’ve left the bubble where reflection and exploration were how we retained a sense of self as we changed to who we needed to become.

Being a parent, a dad, is now a fully ingrained part of me. It’s who I am and I’m no longer struggling to fit into this new uniform. Its on and worn in at this point. My mistakes are not as often the learning and growing experiences they once were. Now they are just human. Just what it’s like being this guy.

img_3373What hasn’t changed is the love. The fascination. The endless desire to be connected to these people. My tiny tribe. Karen and I have rediscovered each other and it’s never been better. We’ve never been closer or more in love. The kids are still orbiting us, tied to our motions and our decisions and our schedule but they are drifting. They have interests beyond us and it’s amazing to us what is so natural to anyone else. It amazes us simply because we have all of the wonder and awe of the first time they opened there eyes stored in our hearts and to see them venture and wander, well, it can make you swallow hard and hold back a tear now and again. Just as fast the moment passes and we are swept up into the day to day grind of running a house, a car service, a grocery and a restaurant (specializing in nuggeted nutrition of dubious value), a recreation department, an education system, social services organization, a health and safety inspection unit, a counseling service and cleaning service (which is a failing venture if ever there was one) and to a degree we never could have before, we love doing it. It’s our life’s work. For now the emphasis is on work but down the road, and not too far, it’ll be understood much more so as our life.

 

Rantings of a Middle Aged Dad

IMG_1478I get it. It’s a different time. We aren’t as connected and our lives intersect virtually rather than physically. No longer is the fabric weaved tightly enough to allow for our children to roam safely upon it.

Lately there’s a certain level of mental and perhaps spiritual health and well being that I can only achieve by waving a clenched fist in the air and flapping my gums about whatever it is that bugs me. I’m entering the ‘get off my lawn’ stage of life. These are my greying and grumpy years. In an effort to get through this quite annoying phase I am attempting to yell my displeasure into the void that once was a neighborhood as I stand on my porch in my slippered feet and ever expanding belly, fueled by fear and confusion just as eons of men have done before me. I’m not afraid to be a stereotype.

What the hell is wrong with people?

Why is everyone so damn angry? Why is everyone in love with those of us most boldly expressing free floating rage with the least responsibility and the greatest amount of hostility? When did we adults become so fragile, kicking and screaming when things don’t go exactly as we want them to? I feel like my grandparents generation rolled with the punches so much better . They understood that your vote was your voice and when more people voted for the other guy you had to accept it. Nowadays, disguised in tough guy individualism, everyone’s a bunch of ninnies outraged that the world is not there to serve them solely, exactly meeting the very specific needs of precisely one person. 300 million ‘one person’s’, all dissatisfied and lashing out. Grown ups ain’t what they used to be.

Superheroes are for kids!

Grow up!

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not impugning the quality of those films that get it right. Good films are good films, regardless of genre. You can tell a good story about anything. But superheroes now are terrifying, angry, violent and often vile. They live in a world that looks like ours if you did nothing but look at it via cable news and clickbait terrors all day. Then they are marketed to 2 and 3 year old’s who suddenly want even their stuffed Elmo’s and Winnie the Pooh’s to ‘battle’! Call me crazy, but hidden documents will emerge that show the companies that underpin the military-industrial complex were huge supporters of this simple way to desensitize humanity to constant ‘battle’ or war as us old timers used to call it. Honestly, had I known I’d have treated superheroes like alcohol. Not until you are of legal age and your hormones have settled a bit.

College is a vitally important scam that I have to participate in to better the odds that my children can earn enough to barely get by.

Seriously. What a crock.

My parents generation was the last to not leave college in massive debt. State schools are running in the tens of thousands per year now. What the actual bleep is that? More and more it feels like the systems are established to make sure that only those that can find a way to pay the toll are allowed to get through the eye of the needle that will allow them to get a job that will overwork and underpay them to keep them on the treadmill as long as possible. And these, these are the lucky ones! I left college with a worthless degree and 25K in debt, which is a DREAM scenario for my own kids at this point.

Fix it! This is unsustainable, unethical and unbelievable.

We have legalized drug dealing and it’s taking over your television.

Have you seen the lines at the pharmacy in the last 15 years? Of course you have. You have stood in them, just like I have. We are over served. Somebody needs to start giving us sugar pills and sending us home to sober up.

There are a ton of reasons why I can’t watch commercial TV with my kids. The lewd lasciviousness of the content is tame next to the practically pornographic nature of those commercials that aren’t verging on actual depictions of evil. But for god’s sake, don’t make me have to sit there watching you push drugs for everything imaginable. Recently I’ve started seeing commercials for drugs that help offset the side effects of OTHER DRUGS! What the hell!

Have some shame people. Racism, sexism and xenophobia is reprehensible not electable.

Donald Trump. Donald freaking Trump. You did this to yourselves. I’ve had enough of the lot of you.

GET THE HELL OFF MY LAWN!

Handle with Care

I sometimes take a picture of you because you’re just so adorable and amazing and beautiful. And sometimes I catch a hint of fragility in what the camera catches. Other times I see huge heaping mounds of it. Giant reserves of delicate. Like you’re a crystal chandelier in the shape of my beautiful boy. And then, in my minds eye, I see all the thousand ways you’ll be disappointed by the realities of life you can’t even fathom at this point. Sculpted from this thing of beauty into another thing of beauty to be sure. But still, that journey is treacherous and full of potential. Potential harm. Potential fortune. Potential damage and grace.

Maybe it’s you. Maybe I’m not just a proud dad that’s just insanely obsessed with my kids. Maybe your specialness, your perfectness is not a function of my pride. Perhaps you are magical and I’m afraid of being at the helm and breaking you by some silly decision I make that seems necessary that I’ll grow to regret years from now.

I could stare at the pictures of you, the you you are now, on the precipice of independence and I dread the pain that growing up can be.

You’ll be fine. I know that. But you’ll be broken too. You have to be. Good, happy little boys can’t survive growing up. If they could they’d never grow up. Which sounds good until you realize that never growing up makes it hard to be a good man. That’s just the way it is. It’s okay. If you figure out what’s important from being a boy you can pull some of those parts out and take them with you. You may have to pack them away for a time, but they will be there when the time comes and you need them again.

A broken arm is one thing. I can handle that. Easy, actually. But the thought of you being teased or picked on or not knowing what to do in a school cafeteria and feeling sick and disoriented because you think everyone doesn’t like you, that thought ties me in knots. I got caught up in that process when I was a kid. I cried everyday for months when I was sent to school the first time. I was removed eventually and allowed to return the following year, but by then I knew to be cautious. I knew people didn’t like me. I knew they didn’t have to. What was wrong, though, was that I looked at the few that enjoyed making fun of me and thought ‘how can I do what they want me to do? How can I make them like me and stop picking on me?’. All along there was a world of kids who’d have been delighted to play and be my friends. But I just kept trying to impress the cool kids, even shunning kids I’d have gotten along with great who weren’t at the ‘right’ table.

Eventually I figured it out and sat safely where I didn’t want to be. It was mostly fine and it largely defined who I was to the world, or at least to my classmates who comprised the entirety of the world for me then. It took so long for me to be the me I liked and was comfortable being. I learned early on how to make them like me and I leaned on that all the way through school, which I hated because of how it all began. I spent so many years not liking me, internalizing the voices of all the wrong people.

All because I had some tough early days. The types of days grown ups like to say are ‘tough but you get through them’. Days we fool ourselves into thinking aren’t all that important because we were 5 and how much damage can really happen to a healthy and loved 5 year old. But we’re wrong. We can get hurt and scar up in tender places at very young ages. Even those of us that had enough of everything. imageI see your precious face and your beautiful and awesome expectation that nothing breaks and everyone will love you always and it scares the hell out of me. Because some day you’ll feel weird, alone and scared. And you won’t know why. And it will break you as it must. In the end I’m afraid there’s nothing I can do about the ‘weird’ and the ‘scared’. You need to get through these things. We all do. But if we can help you with the alone part for as long as possible and stay present for the times you’ll need to explore being ‘away’ than maybe, just maybe, a small but invaluable piece of you, a piece of the you you are now might be able to make it through to the other side. If it does I hope that you are able to see all the things that I’m getting to see in you. If you do you’ll see what all that breaking was for. You’ll know once again what it feels like to be a fragile chandelier. To look at something you love so much that you can’t even imagine it ever not loving you back. The mere thought makes me break just a little.

Holding On

 

He’s too old to need this. He shouldn’t need to be cuddled and huddled to sleep. But I do it. I shouldn’t need it either. But we’re simpatico this way.

Like him, I too am refusing some transitions now that I know there’ll likely be no return, no future facsimile, no one ever who will need me this way again. It’s really hard early on, but it’s also so simple. The hours are neverending but the repeated need, once the electricity is on, the fridge is stocked, the house is clean and warm, the bum is wiped, powdered and covered, is just love. Hugs and kisses and cuddles. It’s all I need really. Its what he gives me in exchange for everything I can provide him. I’m getting the better end of the deal. It’s not even that close.

He was sleep trained before. At least this part. The ‘going to bed’ part of the sleep training. There was a month or two about six months back when he could be read a story or two, put down and largely left to fall asleep. It was a miraculous thing. At first. Until it dawned on me that I’d made myself obsolete. It’s my job to give independence and I relish it, but in such a task as this it was too soon. All the sacrifice this little angel has demanded of me, I’ll be damned if I’m going to drop this one exhausting, truly taxing, wonderful hour of my night just because he’s ready.

Gone is the swelled brain, feverish, red-eared exhaustion of the newborn phase. The nights aren’t ridiculous anymore, they’re just tiring. Tiring is okay. So I did it. I untrained him. I once again insisted on holding him to sleep. I cursed myself for bringing all this work back but I was and suspect I always will be, happy that I got it back. He’s gonna get these added perks denied his older brother who does more teaching of us than we do teaching of him. It’s a balance to all the things the first gets that the second can’t.

We’re on vacation now and naps are hard to come by. Our days are filled. Sleep routines be damned. When the occasion does arise for me to once again ‘put him to bed’ he enjoys it for a bit, then, from time to time, asks to be put down in his bed. It’s a sweet request and one I surely oblige immediately. I kiss him goodnight and tell him I’ll see him soon, as we still like to take him in with us when he wakes in the night. It used to be consistently between 2 and 3 but now is often at 4 and even later.

I can’t really untrain him anymore. I won’t do it, I’ll let him grow up, of course. But from time to time, when it won’t hurt him, I might take advantage of my position and keep him my little boy a little boy for a little longer than he needs to be, and a little shorter than I’d like him to be. We’ll meet in the middle between his need to grow up and my need to hold on. Time will come when he will need to shed the burden of me, the burden he can hardly see as it is so buried in his need for me at the moment. Someday these roles will be reversed. I’ll need him more than he’ll need me. Perhaps it will have always been the case, for that matter. But someday he’ll surely notice. When he does, when he sees that my need for him is more than his need for me I hope he’ll know how much I’ll appreciate his concern and his efforts. I hope he’ll have an understanding of how much it will mean to me.

 

 

Karma Crapped in the Tub: How My Wife Became a Poop Doula

Like riding a bike, I always presumed that pooping was one of those things that once you learned how to do it you pretty much had it down for the rest of your life. Turns out that journey is not so simple. Our four year old has apparently hit some bumps in the road. There are small, almost imperceptible changes occurring within me over time that might suggest there is the potential that this could be an issue for me as well, albeit in the distant future.

Anyway, there I was, sitting all smug up on the toilet catching up with my selected family and friends on my phone. This was my me time. I didn’t have to use the toilet, but it’s a place a parent can sit on occasion, as long as one’s spouse is there to occupy the kids, where they are given a moments reprieve. I think of it as a panic room of sorts in the hour after dinner, before bedtime. A place to go to forget about life for upwards of 3 minutes. A spa. It was here that I came across and amusing post by my younger sister. I’m paraphrasing here, but it said something like, ‘I’ll NEVER get used to cleaning poop out of the tub!’. I responded the only way I knew how. ‘Oh my god. That’s so gross!’

After a minute or two, and after a few, more kindhearted friends and family expressed empathy and understanding in the comments, it occurred to me that I might be tempting fate. In an attempt at something of a reverse jinx I went back in to the comment thread and expressed something closer to thoughtfulness. Something like, ‘Oh that so sucks. I’m so sorry. We’ve been lucky so far.’ But I was totally faking it. That sh*t doesn’t happen if your careful and stay attenti…

‘Joe! Oh no.. Joe!’ My wife shouted from upstairs.

I was on the couch enjoying my own end of night screen time alongside the big boy, the four year old, the one in the clear from the possibility of such an accident when my life took a dark turn.

‘T had an accident. In the tub!’

Oh crap.

2015-02-28 22.31.44I’m guessing that having made it this far through without this happening there are some parents that have made it all the way without dealing with this dark day. With the extracting by hand a turd that floats in parts and sinks in others like dynamited fish in a filthy pond. I remained calm on the outside because you need your children to know that although life is forever changed and we’ll never be able to truly look each other in the eye again, that they are okay and that one must be strong in the face of fear. I am a role model.

Karma was not through with us.

Believing that we’d learned all we needed to learn in order to avoid this issue in the future, we let down our guard. Somehow a few days passed without our big boy making a poop family in the potty. That’s what he calls it when it happens in phases. It’s amazing what you find cute when your kids say it. When we pointed it out to him and asked him to try he was resistent in a way that only a four year old could be. He had become afraid to poop. We coaxed. We bribed. It worked a couple of times, but it hurt and came with tears. Then he just stopped. Refused. He would have intermittent bouts of pain due to his being backed up. We couldn’t convince him with logic. We tried everything. What happens next is amongst the dumbest things I’ve ever done. I can’t believe it occurred even as I sit here and write it. It’s so dumb I’m embarrassed to say it. I decided that a good warm bath would do the trick. It did.

Our 4 year old is huge, like the size of a 7 year old. This is not an anecdote. He is the average size of a seven year old. I’ll just say that it’s possible for a backed up 4 year old, who is the size of a 7 year old to poop like a 41 year old who had a steak burrito and coffee for lunch. Through tears and the splashing of fecal infested dirty bath water we learned the power of karma and at that moment I knew it was done. Karma had made sure that I learned my lesson.

We are a modern family and my duties as a man are far more involved then men of previous generations. I am a competent and caring nurturer. Still, there are certain tasks that only a mother can perform. One of those tasks is exercised now when we note it’s been a couple of days. Our elaborate system of rewards for willing poops (chocolate, funnily enough) is pretty good. But if we let it slide the fear returns. When it does my wife becomes the guide for our boy that he needs at that moment. They will retreat to the bathroom where she will allay his fears, stick with him through his vicious rebukes and tearful apologies, always reassuring him that this is how it has worked since the dawn of time. That despite his fears, he will live through this and be so happy with the results that he’ll choose willingly to do it again! Eventually he believes her and they are one, holding hands as she provides him with the spiritual and emotional support allow his body to do what it’s made to do.

Without intending to and being motivated only by deep deep love, my wife is now a poop doula.

Dysfunctional Bliss

2015-01-01 10.59.53This weekend I found myself in the ridiculous position of standing fast, insisting my child finish his pancakes before he could get his Skittles. I’d say its the principle of the thing, but I have a hard time coming up with the principle. Perhaps the principle is the simple exertion of authority. This sounds like bullying even to me, and perhaps it is to some degree, but until you’ve spent a good amount of your time with a four year old in your care you can’t know how important it is to hold fast.

I’ve spent a long time avoiding power struggles. It was a tactic that I not only employed, but one that I taught. Seriously. I co-wrote a curriculum that I’d teach to young adults working at a summer camp for kids with intellectual and developmental disabilities every year about the allure of a good power struggle, what it accomplishes and what challenges it presents. Then we’d work on skills to recognize, deflect, avoid and re-engage in order to avoid the power struggle. As counselors it was a no win game for them since inherently, as the caregivers, the power dynamic was in their favor. By accepting the invitation to the power struggle they were simultaneously lessening their own authority and feeding their charges defiance. Year after year I’d see the best of the best get sucked in. I thought to myself, that won’t happen to me.

Ever notice that when you take such absolute stands they almost always bite you in the ass? I feel so bad for my kids. Before I had them I was a perfect dad. Seriously. I could have easily been a dad-coach. I could write a dad behavior plan with detailed instruction on how to interact, how to behave, what to let your kid win on and how to always end at the result you wanted to and I could have guaranteed the results if you committed to the process. It’s what I did and I was good. Parents consistently praised our abilities, mine and those that worked with and for me, to bring out aspects of their child that were wonderful and yet to be seen. We were good. So what the hell happened that made me so, so… mediocre with my own kids?

It’s a simple answer, really. Its the expected answer, though perhaps one you can know to be correct without fully understanding why. It’s because I love them so damn much. It’s because they love me so damn much. It’s because we resist every separation and on a level we aren’t even conscious of, we know that we have to separate to survive. Granted, it’s decades away, but when you love something this much you need a few decades to let go fully. it’s because disappointed expectations is a part of the process for both growing up and being a parent. It’s because we each, parents and kids, think there’s some version of a perfect god in the other which is hugely disappointing when a perfect god is incapable of resisting the urge to punch and kick you (toddler attacking parent and NEVER the other way around) or when the perfect god has chosen to make a thing like Skittles and then made them ‘bad’ for you. It’s because on the grandest and most minute level we are engaged and intertwined so thoroughly with our children that in order for them to grow up and be independent we must be constantly working at cross purposes, us holding on to whatever control we have in order to ensure their safe passage and them trying desperately to gain more and more self direction imagein order to learn through trial and error, the very errors we try so hard to protect them from, how to navigate the world. The one tiny piece of information I lacked that would have assured my burgeoning dad coaching business its failure was nothing less then the very nature of parenthood and family. The parent child relationship at its best is by definition dysfunctional. Magically, blissfully, frustratingly and wonderfully dysfunctional. So much so that I can’t help being proud of the little tykes and how maddeningly defiant they can be.