Thursday, January 2, 2014

The Night Greenie Disappeared

That stupid blanket. A phrase I can't count how many times I've said now. It's not even really a blanket. A blanket keeps you warm when you sleep, covers your furniture when you move, or provides more appropriate bedding for the family dog when their expensive Martha Stewart-approved pet bed just won't cut it. No, this does none of these.

It's one square foot of polyester. But to my daughter, it might as well be a pacemaker.

Like many parents, we fell early victims to the security blanket trap. Force your impressionable young toddler to cling to some fabric as a necessity for sleeping and any other time they show the slightest signs of discomfort until it becomes an obsession? Sure!  Look how happy she is! What could possibly go wrong?

Plenty. These things should come with FDA warning labels. They have more adverse side effects than a hair dryer in a bath tub, but it's the one thing Big Government fails to try and protect us from. Nowhere on this thing does it say WARNING: THIS PRODUCT IS ADDICTIVE. QUITTING NOW GREATLY REDUCES SERIOUS RISKS TO YOUR HEALTH. DO NOT LOSE OR YOU WILL NEVER SLEEP AGAIN.

An Aunt and Uncle got it for her. It's green. So it's called Greenie (or maybe it's Greeny, I don't know, we've never had to spell it.) It's silky on one side, fleecy on the other and apparently made with fibers from the crack plant.  For the first year or so, things were manageable. But as her mobility increased, so did the degree of difficulty in keeping the thing around and not in the trash, or a slushy parking lot, or in the duct work of the house -where various other things have ended up. Given we're into year three and with countless airports, zoo trips, three moves, and the infamous blueberry-puking incident of 2012, it's unbelievable the thing is still around.

(As an important side note, mother, in a vain attempt at good, bought and introduced a duplicate Greenie that was actually brown with polka-dots. I don't know why she did this. I wasn't present at the time and had I been, I would have dove to prevent this tragedy like Secret Service agent taking a bullet. So instead of dedicating our lives to the preservation of one security blanket, we now had two to keep up with. Fortunately, brown Greenie, as it is became known, was never truly accepted as equal to real Greenie and was relegated to just an occasional necessity. But still, TWO? If we ever get divorced, I am bringing this up in court.)

All kids are creatures of habit. Nowhere is this more apparent, important, and binge drinking-inducing than the dinner table and bedtime. You invest countless hours perfecting and tweaking the routines to garner kid approval and a few hours of sleep at night. The slightest omission or deviation and your day is ruined. Launching a nuke requires less attention to detail. Over time their tastes and habits change and you adjust accordingly, but some things stay constant. And it's always that stupid Greenie.

In two plus years of bedtimes with a Greenie, I could count on one hand the number of nights she's slept without it. Because in three plus years of fatherhood, I've become damn good at finding things. Instinctively now, I keep a mental tab of this thing's last known whereabouts. It's behind the potted plant in the guest room! I recount as the bedtime ritual begins. Sure, sometimes it goes missing but always seems to turn up just in the nick of time. Once, I spent an hour tearing the house apart for a missing Greenie only to find it underneath her in bed. I think she planned that, but I can't prove it. In fact, when "missing" it's frequently within a five foot radius of her.

But not last night. We've adapted the routine at night in case Greenie is missing. We'll go look for it while you wait here. This buys us some time before a massive meltdown, on rare occasions she'll even pass out. But not last night. Last night I couldn't find it and she did not approve. Between occasionally breaks to pick her writhing, sobbing body back into bed, I look for that "blanket" for three hours. Eventually she stopped opening and slamming her door and passed out. Eventually I gave up looking.

I checked the usual haunts. The cars. The basement. The appliances. I even pulled kitchen drawers out and looked behind (note, don't do this, it's gross.) Mom opened the front door and look outside, minus five degree weather and foot of snow withstanding. I found a picture from New Year's Eve that had Greenie in the background. A CLUE! But, nothing.

Later that night, the missus and I begin to discuss the worst case. What do we do?  Do we tell her she's a big kid now and it's time to move on? Did it run away and is living on a nice farm? Can we just order a new one and hope she doesn't notice? What if she finds it a year from now? DO WE HAVE TO LIVE THIS NIGHTMARE ALL OVER AGAIN? Whatever we tell her, it will have to be well-crafted and carefully constructed. Cross-interrogation will be intense and kids are masters of B.S. They know it when they hear it.

This morning I woke with dread, that feeling that you just wish today wasn't here because something bad was about to happen. It wasn't long before the distinctive sound of a woken three year old and she was headed my way.

Dad, did you find Greenie?

No, do you remember where you put it? Well played dad. Your move kiddo. 

Found it. Can I have some cereal?

Sure. Please leave Greenie in your room.

Stupid blanket.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

How Ballerinas Are Made

As an expecting dad hearing you are having a daughter triggers many thoughts and assumptions. You assume it's a girl means dolls, dresses, tea parties, all the pink things, hair accessories, one-position potty training, toilet paper shortages, confronting hormonal teenage suitors, and some frequent, unpredictable, and indecipherable drama.

How hard can that be? Between my quick-on-think-feet-thinking and unflappable resolve (Note: neither of these are true.), and million of years of feminine instinct already programed into her, this little princess will just raise herself!

That is of course until mom is out of town and you have to take her to her first ballet class.

Apparently, they are NOT pre-wired to know how to assemble the ballerina uniform of leotard and tight leg thingys. At least not when they are only three.

Removing the assorted nylons and lycra from their wrappings, I realize I have zero idea how this all works. I've carefully planned an executed a tight window of school pickup, dinner, and car loading before dance class, and we are on schedule up to this point. With minutes to spare to get out the door and avoid the cardinal sin of showing up late the first time, I try to keep my cool. Like wild grizzlies, kids can sense fear and exploit if for their own gain. She's looking at me now, with her little judging eyes. Let's see where this goes...I can sense her thinking to herself.

I lay the outfit out on the table, trying to visualize it's final outcome like the pieces of an Ikea end table.


The ticking of the kitchen clock penetrates the silence - a subtle voice mocking me. It might have even yelled YOU"RE GOING TO BE LATE AND THE OTHER MOMS WILL LAUGH AND JUDGE YOU FOREVER, but it may have just been my imagination.

An idea hits me, one that's saved me many a time before. Where do to you go when you need honest, judgment-free answers ASAP? Why the internet, of course! As I start to type the search words prompt another thought; Sure you want to Google "little girls' and leotards" there Dad? May not turn out how you want.

I don't want to even imagine what may have resulted from that search. Wanting to avoid an inadvertent appearance on To Catch a Predator, I put the phone down.

But now officially desperate, I do what desperate people do. I emailed mom.

Can you please tell me how to assemble this leotard outfit? Does the top snap over the tights (in the crotch) or do the tights pull on over the top? Please advise.

That was my actual email. The wife's response was also helpful, but included "laughing out loud" which, was not.

After another brief mental algebra bout of underwear versus no underwear, I managed to get the whole ensemble together. I think. (I kept the underwear on.) (Also, leotards don't have snaps. This is helpful to know when putting the outfit together.)


Dad, I need to go potty...


*****Coming soon from A Man Called Dad: Adventures from the Dance Studio Waiting Room, featuring the Hooter's Waitress!

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Seven. Two. Zero. Goodbye, to an old friend.

I don't know what to do, I told him. Him, being the ear-ringed, yet polite sales rep named Brett sitting across the half-desk. I don't blame you he offered in an attempt to numb my pain. But there's nothing we can do, he piled on. I, I have to call my wife and give her the news, I  mumbled back as if being told I was going to lose the leg. I understand, take your time, I heard as turned to the least busy corner to make a call over an agonizing decision.

Hi. Yes. I'm at the store. It's just a number, right?

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Rant: The Bank

I hate the bank.

Why exactly, I don't know. Maybe, in this digital age of uber-convenience and humanless transactions, it's a sense of resentment of having to actually physically be at this place to manage MY money and to pay someone else to hold it for me. Even though there's nothing really to actually you know, hold. I made it, I spend it. I don't get paid in gold nuggets or singles. So why am I here?

Our paychecks are direct-deposited and 99% of our financial goings-on happen in front of a computer. Yet, I still find myself inside a bank a once a month on average depositing some random check from Grandma or my employer (who can't figure out how to add on a reimbursement to my electronically deposited paycheck) or exchanging for Euro's as yet another sibling in-law goes off to study abroad. 

Yes, I know. There are banks that will allow you to do all this electronically now. You can scan and deposit checks with fancy apps and your average smart phone, and I could cure my bankaphobia for good. I get it. Unfortunately, my current bank doesn't offer that and since almost all our bills (and we have lots of bills) are tied in to our current account, switching now would keep me busy for the next couple of decades. Besides, you ever try breaking up with your bank? The folks at Big Gym even think the bank's a little tough to deal with.

And are bank drive-thru's intentionally designed to enrage, or do they just not care that making a 90 degree turn in the average mid-size car to make my deposit requires mirror damage and numerous hand gestures? They have the technology to send a Chipotle burrito-sized pod 400 mph through a magic tube, but they can't make an ATM that I can access without having to do that shoulder-wrenching, door half-opened, arm at full reach in the pouring rain, while I constantly check every mirror in anticipation of my imminent robbing?

Perhaps it's the one-too-many unsolicited critiques of my financial status over the years. Yes, I know my account was almost over-drawn. Yes, I am aware of how direct deposits work and it will save me the trouble of coming to this stupid place and having to talk to you. No, I don't want to upgrade my checking account to another type of checking account. No, I don't need new checks, the five hundred I ordered three years ago should hold me over for another ten.  No, I don't wish to speak with a financial consultant about helping my finances, unless he's offering me a job that pays more than I currently make there's not much he can do to help. Yes, I know I just made a large deposit and have a large enough balance for your next prestigious checking account. Thank you, for announcing that to everyone here. Do I get mugged here, or does someone just follow me home? Yes, I WILL have a nice day.

Why do bank tellers have to be so engaging? I didn't come here to chat on my lunch break. I don't get this much banter when I get a hair cut, just take my money and say thank you. You don't need to discern what I do for a living, where I work, or what my kid's favorite vegetable is in a 90 second transaction. I try to not make eye-contact in hopes that they will take the hint but it never works. They're as bad as the mall cellphone kiosk guys. Okay, almost as bad. I mean, have you ever screwed up and made eye-contact with one of those dudes? They'll ruin a night of Banana Republic and Cheesecake Factory like nothing else.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Kicking balls and other life lessons

It took me a second to realize what was happening given where I was. The cold wet air burning my lungs, the grogginess of being awake and already sweating early Sunday morning, and coarse dirt beneath my feet was all familiar.  The kid getting his face smashed twenty feet away by two strange men was definitely not.

He wasn't much of a kid. At least he didn't look like one, more like an teenage-Yeti based on the amount of body hair he sported. I had seen him in the shower, this was no child. And as most of your Eastern-Euro-Mediterranean-types go, he was surely shaving before he could crawl. Let's call him Turkish Twin 1A or just TT1A for short.

TT1A was having a bad morning. I turned to look at a spot I had just left to find him having his face used for punching practice by two other unknown dudes that hadn't been there seconds ago and weren't supposed to be there at all. I remember most the shock at the amount of damage these two made in such a short period of time. Not unlike now when I leave my daughter alone for thirty seconds to use the bathroom. I have no idea what caused this little meeting but it was over as fast as it began. The speed-boxing duo took off in a blur with Turkish Twin 1B, the identical, yet somehow even hairier version of his brother in full pursuit. Shockingly, TT1A was able to pick himself up, gather his wits and his teeth and followed his brother. Then others followed, chasing the two, bellowing like Comanches after John Wayne. The strangers made it to the parking lot just ahead of the mob, speeding off with a trail of Mercedes and Audis missing their side-view mirrors in their wake.

Oh, where was this you ask? A Chuck E. Cheese parking lot? Falafel King? A Turkish prison?

If you guessed a youth club league soccer game in Heidelberg, Germany, you can claim your prize.

I was athletic growing up, but no athlete. Forged by the stern will of a woodsy, Army officer father, from the very beginning I was encouraged told to play something. Doesn't matter what, just go outside and do it, but be sure do it well. A childhood spent across the globe with two stints in Europe, and two left-hands, meant that something was soccer.

I played the game frequently, mostly because it was the only thing to do wherever I was and video games weren't a thing yet. Honestly, I found it boring. The monotony of cheap, meaningless uniforms, unskilled coaches reliving their youth and abusing the power of a plastic whistle around their neck, warm orange-slices at halftime, even warmer Capri Suns for the ride home, a nameless flimsy plastic trophy that meant nothing, just wasn't that exciting.

But somewhere along the way, things started to change. The game began to get a little easier. Then you start to hear your  name yelled from the other parents, not just your own. Your eyes widen and your heart pounds when that one punk kid's mom on the other team's sideline screams Oh, no! Stop him! as you blow by. You can run faster and do things the other kids can't. People start asking, wanting you to play with them. Then that trophy starts to actually mean something, and not everyone gets one either.

You never really forget that first time you find out about confidence and what a huge and powerful thing it is.

I played the game consistently for more than twenty years. But I was never that good. No colleges chased me with offers of free rides and fame. There were many others far better than me. The few memorable moments of glory or agony remain mostly in my mind or long gone. There was no internet then, just a few old photographs and grainy VHS tapes to prove any of it ever happened. Sure, my chest still tightens and the heart rate pounds sometimes, thinking back to a certain big game that I want to relive or undo or that time I almost scored in Turkey playing against the Italians.

Here I am, number 38, hopped-up on oranges and Capri Suns.
But it's really not the wins or the losses, coaches, or ghastly uniforms I ever dwell on for long, it's all the stuff I learned along the proves useful now. Unlike trigonometry, still not using this.

I had nice legs they said, but nothing nice enough for those shorts. Also, TTIA in better days, with all his teeth. 
I learned about humility. And when to be assertive. Despite an all-conference, most valuable defense player, state champion runner-up, starting-sophomore, the average blond-haired, slightly pudgy, blue-eyed Aryan monsters like the dude above and other assorted Euro's can, and will embarrass you on at the game of soccer. This guy physically and verbally abused for what felt like hours. He was stronger than I was and wouldn't stop with what I can only guess was Germanic-trash talk about my abilities and our ridiculous national drinking age. He scored and the abuse only got worse.

What you think you can do in life is nothing compared to what you actually do. You end up being judged as much for your reaction to a misstep, as for the mistake itself.

So I fought back. I got called for a foul, then a few more. But screw it, it shut him up. My teammates noticed. He backed down. Okay, so he limped too, but you get the point. Standing up for yourself has it's merits. You have to do it every once in awhile or you'll get run over and never get back up.

I also found my level of pain tolerance is quite high, and that ties in with my ability to be patient. Imagine sitting in the back seat of a tour bus, you're in Brussels, Belgium and home is five hours away, and your tibia is snapped in half, what do you do? You sit there and you take it, that's what. Then you butt-crawl up the stairs to your second story apartment since cell phones don't exist and the Germans haven't perfected the doorbell. Now, imagine coming home from a full day of breaking rocks to find the dog crapped again and while you're cleaning it up mid-dry heave, your wife calls to tell you she locked the keys, and the kid in the car so please come now, m'kay thanks, what do you do? You just exhale and go. Complaining won't always get you there faster or produce a different outcome, even when you find a piece of dog shit in your hair on the way.

Incidentally, the hospital room I had my shatterd leg x-rayed in was also the room General George Patton died in 1945, according to the sign on the door, which was comforting. So the game taught me a little history too.

My speciality was chasing people down, this comes in handy now when the dog runs away.
My daughter started her first soccer practice this week.  Some lessons she has to learn on her own.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

From one end of daycare to the other

The news came in an email. The content of the message was clear right away thanks to the subject line including my daughter's name and punctuated with three exclamation marks.

Roughly three years ago today, the wife and I first set foot in the daycare on our tour not sure what to make of the strange sights, sounds, and smells battering our already tense senses.  The deluge of brightly colored things, obvious child-made art adorning the walls, and safety gates triggered a rush of Oh, crap. This is really happening panic-ridden thoughts.

The wife, the smart one, masked her tensions with pertinent questions you're supposed to ask about nap times, feedings, curriculum. I nodded like I was paying attention but was really memorizing teacher names to cyber-research later. Sure, Susan has her B.A. and working on a Master's in childhood education but how do we know she's not running an underground toddler fight club on the side? HOW CAN SHE AFFORD SCHOOL ON A TEACHER'S SALARY?

After enough annoyed glances from the wife, I did ask one question, one I assume only a Dad would ask. What if there's a fire?  You've got multiple rooms full of infants and toddlers, a handful of adults, and there's two feet of snow and it's ten degrees outside. It was January in Minnesota, so seemed like a logical concern.  Had the Director not shown anything but complete confidence in her answer, her response would have sent us out the door and looking for Mary Poppins' cell number before she could show us the cafeteria.  Turns out, if there is reason to evacuate the building, they dump 3-4 infants in a crib, grabs some blankets, and wheel 'em out the front door. No big deal.  Welcome to Minnesnoda.

Moving down the hall from the soft music and soothing voices of Infant Pleasantville, we hit Realm of the Toddlers.  It was like going from a museum and then stumbling into a Kid Rock concert. The rush of sound and smells was oppressive. Seeing the little big people running around, using real words while manipulating opposable thumbs was surreal. The may have been just two and three years old but they may as well have been college freshman. Our little kidney bean or pear or watermelon or whatever size fruit the your baby is now this size of this fruit email the wife sends weekly could never get that big in two years, right?  Maybe five, more like six years old I thought as one greasy-faced boy looked at with an index finger firmly up his nose. "Hi, I'm free years old" he said. Sweet Jeebus, they can talk?  When did Dr. Moreau start up a daycare?

Deciding this place was the least likely to do her harm or force her to make wallets during "circle time" two and a half years and a good sized yachts worth of tuition later, we're still dropping her off there. Through the years (Years? When did this happen?), she's risen through the daycare ranks, moving from class to class, from little infants to average size infants to big little infants to entry-level toddlers to intermediate toddlers to plain old toddlers.  Along the way we've seen our first little kiddy art projects - like all daycares I'm assuming, most of these are just hand prints on something, a little glitter, and maybe something that was once edible that no longer is which ensures your kid will eventually eat it later.

Daycare brought a whole new world of firsts. A petting zoo. Santa. A magician. Climbing in her first real firetruck. Her first time being pulled sweaty, kicking, and screaming from a bouncy house. Her first crush. Her first bite.

But here we are now, looking at the end of the hallway that was once so far, far away. Preschool.

That's what the email said. I read it three times to be sure. We knew it was coming and despite saying we wanted it and it was best for her I really didn't want it because I hate change as much as I hate getting old. I was just getting to enjoy our Lego building sessions at night, I'm not ready for Algebra homework and driving lessons.

But alas, her parent's mother's dynamic genes produced a superhuman and she was moving up ahead of schedule. So far ahead of schedule the email included words you don't normally associate with good news like "legally" and "waiver" and "the state."  She's a head taller than anyone else in her class, can sing the first verse of Jingle Bells like a coked-up Janet Jackson, and count to ten in German but I know the real reasoning was the obvious safety concern over the potential for her pummeling someone half her size into the racetrack carpet for the last pretzel at snack time. Again.

That's it, one more class to go and next she's on the curb waiting for a big orange bus. God help me.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

All time flows downstream

One minute I'm fishing rocks out of my daughter's mouth while I weed the garden, the next I'm the last man on the block without his Christmas lights up, again.  Sure, time flies when you're having fun. But when exactly did time travel become a real thing? And when did fun really just mean crossing things off the to-do-list?

One minute I'm admiring my chemically treated green lawn, the next I'm contemplating dumping the piles of leaves in the lake like they're the dead body of a mob snitch. Yard work is less fun when it gets dark early, your wife is taking a final exam, your toddler develops a resistance to bedtime, and leaf pick up is at 6:30 Friday morning.

You see foliage, I see late-night raking.
One minute I'm watching the sun go down with the kiddo on the back deck, the next I'm stuck at work while the grandparents take her trick-or-treating.  If you're new to the I have kids game and want to know what age a child successfully computes the whole wait, I get candy from strangers thing, the answer is two years old. Additionally, the answer to how many consecutive weeks will the kid scream I WANNA TRICKA-TWEATING while driving through your neighborhood is two and a half. Eighteen days. Enjoy.

Excuse me ma'am, you can't park that horsey here.
One minute I'm driving almost five hours to the in-laws for Thanksgiving with Mrs. I Don't Want To Be In A Car Seat After Mile Marker 60, the next I'm losing to a toddler in bowling.  It's hereditary (from her mother's side), but still. The witnessing of my offspring wielding a six pound bowling ball like she was an extra in King Pin ,while high-fiving her gloating mother was a tad embarrassing.  If there's one thing I've learned, it's never get involved in a land war in Asia and never, ever bowl against Midwesterners when there's money or pride on the line.

One minute I'm coordinating family dinner plans with the wife like we're getting ready to invade Europe, the next she's actually in Europe. The wife has a great job. A great career (and a supportive husband.) But, her travel schedule would make a Def Leppard roadie homesick. Fortunately, she has enough sense to keep the old man happy with exotic food and boozes when she gets home. 

If you look just above the top of my wife's pretty head, you notice St. Basil's Cathedral, as in Russia. As in freaking Russia.
So you never know where you will be one minute to the next. But you'll be somewhere and a camera comes in real handy.