Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Summer Break I: The Best Medicine

On one of those awkward early summer days, after school ends but before camp begins (and mommy is off at her real job), I put the question to the little Goofs: “What do you want to do today?”

I had hoped that this would distract them from their preferred activity, jumping on me as I lay in bed. It did not. After a few more minutes of pummeling and grappling I made a proposal, “Let’s go to the medical center and watch sick people.”

“Yea! Sick people,” my children cried. This was not the reaction I was expecting.

“Daddy,” Goofboy began, “Let’s make a doctors appointment. Then we can go in and get all the stuff. Like we did before!”

“I never did that, where was I?” my daughter asked.

“One night, when your brother was little, he and mommy both were sick. We went to the doctors. Mommy went to a grown-up doctor and I went with your brother to the pediatrician. It was late at night and a lot of people were sick so we had a long wait in the examination room. Your brother wasn’t feeling well so I tried to make him laugh. The drawers in the room weren’t locked so we could get tongue depressors, Q-tips, doctor’s gloves…”

“Were they purple?” my daughter queried.

“No, sorry…plain,” I answered.

“Too bad.”

“Anyway,” I continued, “We played with the stuff. We put doctors gloves on our ears or we blew them up like balloons and then let them zoom around the room. We poked each other with tongue depressors. I pretended the blood pressure cuff was “electric” and that I got zapped and went crazy every time I got near it. Then someone banged on the door. It was mommy. She was so worried; the whole building could hear us. She thought he was shrieking in pain. Really he was laughing hard. Later we took a bunch of the gloves and we put them on doorknobs all over the building.”

“Why wasn’t I there. Did you leave me alone at home?” my daughter asked.


“No, you weren’t born yet,” my son explained before I could think of something to derail her interrogatory.

“It’s not fair! Everything happened before I was born. You only had fun before I was born and now everything is boring. I want to play with doctors gloves and I want to play the ‘lectricity game!”

“Actually,” I began “Mommy said I can’t play the electricity game because it might make you think electricity is funny when really it’s dangerous.”

“No,” my son interjected in his continual quest to be helpful, “Mommy said she didn’t want us to be afraid of blood pressure cuffs.”

“OK,” I said thinking fast, “You both know that electricity can be dangerous and you shouldn’t play with it?”

“Yes,” answered the Goof chorus.

I got out of bed, put on my dumb face and voice (every dad should have one) and grabbed one of my belts and started studying it. “I wonder what this is, I’m sure it won’t…aaauggghh…electric eel!”

I twitched and jerked, then sighed and said, “Whew. Well it’s probably out of electricity now…aaaugghh!”

“Again Daddy, again!” the Goofs demanded. Always remember, children thrive on repetition. I went to some other household objects – the TV antenna (sort of like an audio-visual appendix with cable), my electric razor (which tried to eat my face off), and one of my wife’s bathrobes (which tried to devour me like an anaconda.)

Soon the kids were bringing me items to continue the show – it was like torture improv. Stuffed squirrels aimed for my jugular, I was run over by matchbox cars, and I poked myself in the eye with Tinker Toys.

I killed – both the crowd and practically myself. After an hour of this my throat was sore from the screaming, my brain was fried from coming up with each new back-story for how I could hurt myself, and I hurt something in my back will all of the falling down and contorting.

I would have considered going to the doctor, but I lacked the energy and was completely out of material.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Father's Day Advice to a New Dad

My dearest brother,

Congratulations on becoming a father. As your elder brother, I have preceded you in this endeavor and, while you will no doubt surpass me (as you have in almost everything else) I can at least give you some advice. I know you don’t take my advice on most things seriously (nor does anyone else) but as this has never stopped me before, it won’t stop me now.

Years ago, when I drove cross-country a friend and I went on a hike in Colorado. My friend’s cousin advised us that this was an easy hike that ended in a spectacular view. My friend’s cousin had moved to Colorado to hike and his definition of easy did not apply to us. (I know you are already zoning out as I indulge in my habit of telling a long-winded story that is only tangential to the topic.)

The hike was basically a mile and a half of steep switchbacks going right up a mountain. Within a few minutes our chests were heaving. People coming down the path assured us it was really a short hike to the top. It wasn’t, but people coming down kept telling us it was just out of sight. We did finally reach the top, where the views were absolutely spectacular. And, as we made out way down, we echoed those who went before us, lying to panting hikers that it was only a short way to the top.

Parenthood is like that.

However, unlike pretty much every instant of our past, I will not lie to you here. I am giving you the straight dope about parenthood. This is my Father’s Day gift to you as a new dad. (And, like a stopped clock, I am bound to be right eventually.)

Babies are sleep sprinters and crying marathoners. There is in fact nothing you can do about this, although you will try any number of things in an effort to feel as though you have control over the situation. This is an illusion. The “interpretation” of “Mary Jane’s Last Dance” you sang that seemed to pacify the baby last night is not an incantation that will lull the child into drowsiness. (Assuming your musical talent is on a par with mine – it is only desperation that would lead you to believe that your “vocal stylings” could possibly improve any situation.)

You will wonder about invoking the Geneva Convention since it defines sleep deprivation as torture. (Yes, much of what I did to you when we were children could also be defined as torture – forgive and forget?)

As this stage continues, a cloud will descend over your thought processes, which will become sluggish and erratic. This cloud does not lift – it is the baby sucking your brains out. (You will be tempted to reciprocate.)

There will be nice moments of holding the baby quietly. These moments are are intended to lull you into a false sense of security. The baby is using this time to generate bodily fluids that it will expel in enormous quantities at awkward times. You will not be able to predict the orifice of exit.

People will tell you it is just a few weeks of this and then the baby settles into a pattern and sleeps through the night. They are lying. This period is endless. While it may chronologically last around three months, newborns create eddies in the space-time continuum that cause time to expand so that those several months take about a decade.

Some parents insist that their children sleep through the night from birth. There are several explanations for this. One is that parents become very competitive about their children and their parenting skills and that this claim is method of establishing that they are better parents and have better children then you. It is common behavior, like dogs sniffing each other and establishing dominance.

Our father on the other hand insists we slept through the night from the birth. Mom points out that our father slept through the night from our birth. Envy our father’s generation - they had it good.

When facing parents who insist their wonderful infants sleep through the night, you can regain alpha parent status by observing that babies that wake up regularly are getting more sensory stimulation, which contributes to cerebral cortex growth. Babies that sleep for hours solid are probably undergoing cognitive decay. Such children will be lucky to get through a state school’s accounting program and will never make it to medical school.

This is a lie, but it will make you feel better. Lying is central to parenthood: lies to your self, lies to your children, and lies to other people about your children.

There is a peak with a wonderful view. After months and months children will, more-or-less, sleep through the night. Life gets better. In fact, at this stage the children are pretty great. You are rested, the kids are little and cuddly. They are fairly quiet, soaking in everything around them. They are portable, easy to carry, but not mobile. This is a golden age. Dip into your savings, mortgage the house – whatever – and take a big trip somewhere wonderful like Italy. Because this is your last chance to be grown-up for a long-time. (I missed my moment for this – don’t miss yours!)

This wonderful stage lasts for about six months. Then babies become mobile. A mobile baby is a deadly baby – mostly to itself, but also to others. Then they become verbal. A verbal child is capable of emotional warfare. These stages show no signs of ending. Although others tell me that when they do, the view is spectacular.

I expect that they are probably lying.

Happy Father’s Day,
Your elder brother

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Morning Systems Failure: Analysis and Policy Implications

We had a bad morning the other day. I woke up to the doorbell ringing. When I forced my unwilling eyes open the alarm clock announced that it was 7:48. The kids are usually picked up around 7:55.

I put on pants. Most social interactions go better when wearing pants. I was pretty sure that the few exceptions to that rule were not going to be options in the near future. (Our caller was probably not inviting me to go swimming and my wife had already left.)

The little Goofs were running around yelling, “Someone is at the door! Someone is at the door!”

Surprisingly, this did not help – anything.

Downstairs, to my limited relief, it was not the carpool. It was our neighbor ringing the doorbell and hammering on the door. It meant I had a little time.

The neighbor informed me that my wife had called him to make sure we got up. Fair enough, she had left for work early and had called the house several times. I croaked a thank you.

I made my son toast. The carpool pulled up. My wife called. I sent my son off and took in 3C so she and my daughter could fight for a while.

I paid obeisance to the dark lord, Mr. Coffee while the little girls snickered at each other. I poured some Cheerios in a plastic cup and took my daughter and 3C to school.

Post-Mortem Analysis and Policy Changes

Being a graduate student in public policy, we analyzed the morning’s events to determine how our systems had broken down and how to prevent this from occurring in the future. (Don’t most families apply systems analysis to their morning routine?)

The irony of this bad morning is that the kids were wide-awake and reading before 7AM, and my son knows how to tell time. So the solution is right at hand! If the parents aren’t moving, and it is a school day, the kids have permission to jump on mommy and daddy and get them up.

Not that they’ve ever needed permission for this or been reticent about commando jumping sleeping adults before. One needs to be careful in legitimating this behavior.

We also attempted to constrain their new Rooster authority with a weekend clause – that is, DO NOT JUMP ON SLEEPING ADULTS ON WEEKENDS. Not that they were permitted to this before and again, not that this has stopped them before.

For adults, these rules would be pretty clear. But while my son can read the numbers he is still a bit vague about days of the week – and my daughter at five has no concept whatsoever. She is still at an age when each morning she is surprised that she is going to school – and she complains about it. So it is possible that these two conflicting rules will lead to malfunctions – kind of like what happened to Hal 9000 in 2001 Space Odyssey. (Or maybe they’ll just stand next to the bed and sing, “Daisy, daisy…”)

And we haven’t even tried to incorporate holidays and daylight savings time.

It is another lesson in public policy – every solution has unintended consequences. Still, after doing a cost/benefit analysis we determined that I need to get them to school more then I need to sleep. On weekend days when they are confused (which is often) we can always park them in front of the tube on Sunday morning. Of course, this creates its own set of incentives…

Monday, June 15, 2009

Funny Little Girls

This blog is about me and my kids - period - almost.

Every once in a while, I am forced to recognize that another parent is writing about their kids and that they are as amusing (or just laugh out loud funny) as yours truly.

Not-Ever-Still Life with Girls is a model of what a blog on parenthood can and should be.

It would be a crime to read something this funny and not share.


I have recently become an uncle. I have wanted to be a uncle since I was little. For starters, it means I can describe myself as avuncular. I can put it on my resume, in hobbies in front of zymurgy – I’ve got A to Z covered.

Many works of literature have been described as a spiritual quest for father (undoubtedly feminist schools of literary criticism bridle at this). But uncles get the cool roles. Ne’er do well uncles are cute, ne’er do well dads are losers. Uncles know secrets and back alleys. Uncles teach you about cigars, mixed drinks, and racing forms.

I am waiting for my “kit” of cool avuncular wisdom and tools – perhaps the stork drops it off later.

Actually, I became an uncle the moment I got married. My wife had nieces. But this was her family. My brother-in-law and his wife were not people with whom I had a history.

Also, it was nieces and most of the uncle stuff I described goes for boys. As for girls – of any age – my one and only strategy is jewelry, and I’ve already got a wife and daughter to support.

My brother, of course, is a different story. My brother and son share a bond of sports, birth (they share a birthday) and just general toughness. The Almighty has a great sense of humor about these things. Now, I have an ally in my brother’s camp. (I believe firmly in the desert wisdom - me against my brother, my brother and I against our cousins: my brother, my cousins, and I against the world!. (That may actually be from the Klingons, I’m not sure.)

Just as my brother infects my son (subliminally and by remote) with an obsession with sports – I can attempt to turn my brother’s offspring into fans of ancient history, classical epic poems, and Civil War battles. So maybe I’m not on track to be a terribly cool uncle.

Anyway, my brother outfoxed me again. It’s a girl. My daughter could help, but alliances with her get very expensive. Plus, she really loves my wife’s sisters and I fear entangling alliances. I think this is how World War I got started.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Gas Ambush

My son’s interests have taken a certain scatological turn. This is typical for pre-adolescent boys and it is a phase that will last, according to my mom, until death. He comes by it honestly. When I was eleven I was editor of a publication entitled Constipated Illustrated - it was a journal of the movement.

Before sending him to pre-school I tutored in my son in the armpit flatulence thing that all boys must do. My highly skilled son is a natural leader, at least in this regard. Surprisingly it has not moved his school to track him into a gifted course.

This morning, Mother Goof had left for work early and I was tasked with rousing the children. They are still recovering from our recent travels so I understood that they weren’t moving that quickly. I crawled into my son’s bed and began shaking him gently. He still didn’t move, his eyes were shut, his breathing was soft and regular.
Then, suddenly from under the sheets came blaaat!

The sheets blew off and he sat up laughing at me. I really can’t believe the school hasn’t seen his talents.