Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Either she loves him, or Elmo is selling my daughter drugs.

A few weeks ago and for the first time in many months, baby girl was sick. Double-ear infection, 104 degree fever sick. She wouldn't eat, drink, cry, speak, or move. She just sat and stared with that hollow-eyed, I'm freaking miserable look dad occasionally has after getting over served at Chili's. Yes, I do live in the burb's. Why do you ask?

We saw it coming on Friday night when her normal pre-dinner tantrum was full-blown rage. She did her best Dawn of the Dead, angry-zombie impersonation, refused food that wasn't human flesh and passed out two hours before normal bedtime. Ruh, roh.

So naturally Saturday morning involved an argument over how to use the high-tech baby thermometer, the pediatrician's office, Walgreens pharmacy, McDonalds and settling in for quality couch time all by 9:30 a.m. Nice job parents. Nice job.

With the typical smugness of newbie parents, we had previously agreed to keep the kiddo away from the TV as much as possible. Our offspring would be raised by books, educational toys, playgrounds, and good old fashioned parenting damn it! No way we let her get hooked on the 48 inches of LCD flatscreeened ecstasy like it did her dad. As she got older and the tantrums grew fiercer, we eased the restrictions a little. Look, we made it over a year, okay? Giving her small doses of music, dancing and bright colors couldn't hurt and, seeing her dance at the start of the Wiggles theme song would convince the most cynical it's great to have kids. We even started DVR'ing Sesame Street episodes. Just in case…

So that Saturday morning, she sat with such a pitiful look that her hapless parents would have bought her a pony or a Mercedes if she had asked for it. We fired up the Street. Mom and dad went back in time briefly as the show hasn't changed much in 20 years. As we debate over Grover vs. Cookie Monster as the superior characters (I was in the CM camp), we hear "el-MOE"!

"What did she just say?"

"el-MOE, el-MOE, el-MOE." She's pointing at the TV. Sure as shit, there's Elmo.

Bear in mind, we are not an Elmo household. Nothing personal, just haven't crossed that barrier yet. I found a book she never looks at with his picture but that's it. We've never seen him on TV before, at least not in our house, nor said a word to her about it.


 What baby girl saw

Daycare claims they occasionally read books about him but never let them watch TV. The Street continues and there's Big Bird, Bert, Ernie, the letter L, the big hairy brown elephant thing that still freaks me out. Nothing. Okay, maybe that was just a fluke. She heard a funny word and decided to repeat it. Just a freak thing.

Baby girl eventually mustered enough steam to get off the couch to go poke the dog in the eye when we fire up episode number two. Which of course starts off with old Elmo. "el-MOE!" She turns and does a baby-sprint, stopping six inches from the tube.

"el-MOE. el-MOE. el-MOE."

Over the next few days, we totally cave and let her OD on Sesame Street. She was sick! Don't judge me. We even take humor in her little Elmo fetish and say his name to her just to hear her say it back. She stresses the 'mo' making it sound like Spanish for 'the mole.' Or whatever the hell el mo translates too. Regardless, it's pretty freaking cute.

Least it was cute. Two weeks later and the mole is officially ticking me off. I can't pick up the remote or even walk past the TV without my tweaking daughter yelling "el-MOE". She'll break out tears occasionally and do her angry-making-a-snow-angel-on-the-carpet routine when he fails to appear. It's been a week since her last hit of the Street and the attacks seem to be winding down. But how did this orange-red, wannabe Muppet get an 18 month old girl absolutely addicted? Is it his voice? His shag carpet doo? The unblinking eyes? Is his mere presence a drug he deals to innocent toddlers? Red means you're a Blood right? Is she going to have a thing for older men??? Whatever it is, she wants Elmo.
What's a dad to do? Did you say get her an Elmo doll for Christmas? Done. Yeah, I'm a sucker and besides, it's less messy than a pony.


Monday, November 28, 2011

Screw it, let's stay home! Starting new traditions...

I'm married. I have a kid in her emerging tantrum years, a surgery-needing dog, a mortgage, receding hairline, while surrounded by suburban neighbors that view holiday yard decorations and grass height as a sign of one's manhood. Living the dream here.

But something magical happened recently despite the odds. The wife and I came to a truly mutual decision and it involved family. Unbelievable. It's taken 5+ years but like when Jerry and his fiancee have their mutual breakup on Seinfeld, it really happened!

The decision was to stay home for Thanksgiving. A big decision as neither of us had ever spent a T-day away from family or friends.  An even bigger deal as the newest grand kid likely meant a tough battle for hosting rights amongst the competing families, and I was expecting a street brawl.  So which is it, a five hour drive of cheerio feedings and screaming or a manic airport and two hour flight also with cheerios and some screaming? "Screw it. Let's stay home!" said in perfect harmony.  Beautiful.

Quick side note; does anyone else feel like they've got a bomb strapped to them when they drag a toddler on an airplane? My single greatest dad fear (next to hearing "Daddy, want to see my new tattoo?"); baby-meltdown on an airplane.  I go through security now feeling like I'm smuggling a spider monkey with a pound of blow. If TSA ever implements the anxiety sensors as part of screening, it's straight to the cavity search-only line for me.  Sitting in the seat with her, I keep staring, sweating, counting down the seconds, hoping we land before the timer reaches zero.  Or is it just me?

So to recap, the past four days were glorious as a married-with-children life can provide.  I made the turkey and it was one of the best I've ever had. Turned leftovers into a mean turkey gumbo.  (I should mention that I can cook and am acting chef for this outfit.)  I had complete control; of the menu, the remotes, the bathroom, the beer supply. There was no fighting greedy in-laws or obnoxious siblings for leftovers. No sneaking off to a back bedroom to catch a quick peak at the game.  No dirty looks or commentary when I went for another beer. No elders telling us our kid is too skinny, too fat, talks too much, doesn't talk enough, or what she should or shouldn't be eating. Sure the wife missed the chaotic house full of family and constant noise but then she did get to eat a whole pumpkin pie, by herself and I even let it pass. It's her holiday too.

Just four days of our rules, doing it our way. A few more years like this, and we'll be agreeing on Christmas. At least there's hope...

Monday, November 21, 2011

Protesting my own 1%er

"Are you ready to be a dad?" The great question that followed our discovery of what an impromptu, tear-stained shopping list of mint caffeine-free green tea, chocolate fudge (not chocolate!) ice cream, and pickles meant a few days before. A question the wife asked with only a small hint of levity. "Sure" was the best answer I could come up with while not choking on my own tongue.

From my own parent's example, I figured out (eventually) that it was probably a good idea to take an active role in parenting to keep your kids from turning into a real life Breaking Bad character or someone that calls their parents by their first name. My dad was in the army, my mom a nurse, so I had rules and free health care. I turned out well enough. Piece of cake. Faced with my own forthcoming child-rearing science experiment, I thought I was ready. But in the back of your mind, you just don't know how you'll respond when it really happens. Will I flinch at the smell of poop?  Can I really hold a slippery baby without dropping it? How many drops do you get? Will I cave and get her an IPhone when she's five to make her love me? Will I turn into one of those people on the plane that just smiles or thumbs through a magazine while their kids act like rabid monkeys and take off for the cockpit? You just don't know until it happens.

Watching the minutes and weeks tick by until D-Day, I had to keep the thought process simple or go insane. My plan: keep fingers crossed that you contributed more good than evil DNA to create a healthy, normal little person that turns into a reasonably but not too attractive big person version of the best of you (and mom.)  Let mom deal with the touchy girly, stuff. That just leaves me to deal with doing whatever the hell it takes to keep her off tables 'to pay for college.' Piece of cake.

How am I doing so far two years into this? Most nights, usually before bath time, I hear a squeal that means only one thing, she's either mostly or completely naked, running, and utterly ecstatic. It's like she knows its wrong but oh, does it feel good.  Awesome.  She's also started climbing up and standing on the coffee table, sofas, chairs or whatever else is around.  She dances and quite well. At any toy, TV show, or sound that resembles anything sounding like music. She hasn't yet combined the two, but the guys at my liquor store are driving new cars. So yeah, doing swell. Thanks for asking.

It gets better worse. Our last doctor visit informed us we had a very, very healthy girl on our hands. I know, great right? So healthy, she's in the 99th percentile for height. As the wife had to explain to me with her pre-MBA smugness, if you lined up 100 little people her age, our 'little' girl would be taller than 99% of them. Thanks babe. She'd be the second tallest in the room. Got it.  The day care teachers love to tell me how jealous they are of her. Oh, you are going to have a supermodel on your hands someday dad, you're so lucky! I'm so screwed. Don't get me wrong, I'm thrilled at having a healthy, fully equipped kiddo.  But 99%???  I'm either creating a dad's perfect storm of a nightmare or an emerging Amazon woman. I'm hoping for Amazon, at least I won't have to worry about her when she starts dating.

I gotta go. I hear squealing.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Pancakes, Poop, and Other Items

Saturdays are sacred. After a week toiling at a horrible, soul-robbing job, and the full-time dad duties when I get home, I really, really look forward to Saturday. There's also a standing rule on Saturdays that Dad can open a beer at any point in the day without any guilt, eye-rolling, or 'oh, so you're drinking' commentary from the wife. This rule doesn't apply during the week. It's a great day. Full of opportunity and promise, and it's the farthest point from having to go back to work. Like any other day though, the morning sets the tone for the whole day.
 Today started off like any other…

6:58 a.m. I wake up to dog whining. He does this to wake me up. Between that and the constant pacing back and forth in and out of the bedroom, you might as well ring a gong over my head. I'm up. It's still dark out and after back-to-back-to-back nights of post midnight bed times, I'm freaking tired and may or may not be swearing at the dog. The savage gang of neighborhood raccoons visited us again last night, teasing and torturing him until he finally passed out. I suspect he woke up and remembered they may still be outside the window the same way a kid who wakes up and realizes its Christmas morning.

7:10 a.m. Moderately dressed. Dog let out and I talk myself into some DVR catch-up time on the couch. I'm distracted by the clock as I watch the minutes tick by. I could do this all day, but know it won't happen.

7:28 a.m. The first coo's, grunts, and "da-da, da-da's" are heard through the baby monitor. Uh, oh. Please, just a few more minutes. Need to finish this South Park episode.

7:44 a.m. The cute baby sounds have escalated into what imagine to be loosely translated as "I'm awake folks. Now someone get their ass in here and get me out! Now!"

7:48 a.m. Baby up. Diaper changed. We peek into the bedroom to check on the wife. We quickly leave as she's still asleep. I secretly try and let my wife sleep in on the weekends whenever possible to gain favors. I then try and cash those in later in the day when the game's on, I want to go to Best Buy, or it's time to make happy-time with Dad. Don't judge me. Not that it would matter much. The wife sleeps like she's dead. She looks like she's auditioning to be in a crime scene on C.S.I.

8:00 a.m. I squeeze in a few minutes more of T.V. time but interrupted by distant grunting. That would be the tell-tale sign of the daughter taking a poop. A trait she established long ago. Stand in the corner and grunt, poop. Stop in mid-stride and grunt, poop. Grab the coffee table and double over and grunt, big poop. I'm not talking little baby grunts either. These are aggressive, aspiring tennis player grunts that would be disconcerting if you didn't know what was going on. Guess I'll be changing this one.

8:05 a.m. Baby girl is apparently hungry as she begins to climb into her high chair as if it's Mt. Everest. As the personal chef for the wife and now eating adult food baby girl, I start breakfast. Pancakes.

8:27 a.m. Pancakes made, baby fed, and the clanging of pans and dishes has aroused the wife. She gives the usual "Oh, I didn't know you guys were up, thanks for letting me sleep" spiel that I will cash in later.

8:35 a.m. Wife has sequestered herself into the office. She's in grad school and spends her weekends mostly studying. So she gets a hall pass. I feel sorry for her but it also means Saturdays I turn into a rodeo clown trying to distract, entertain, and otherwise keep baby girl from destroying things and away from the wife.

9:35 a.m. For the past hour of dancing, book reading and block stacking, I've managed to hold serve. But for a few minutes (Cool Hand Luke is on!) I'm distracted and fail to notice she has disappeared. I get up to investigate and find baby girl emerging from our bedroom with a pair of panties around her neck. Yup, panties. For whatever reason, she has a new fetish of putting things over her head and around her neck. Belts, shopping bag handles, the dog's leash, and now apparently panties.

Awesome. I make a mental note to double check where the nearest emergency room is.

10:19 The near strangulation-by-panties episode has repeated itself twice more. Each time with a different pair. In my defense, the wife puts her thingy's in weird places and I can't possibly anticipate them all. Cool Hand Luke is almost done and she has spent the past hour treating me like her own personal jungle gym. My neck feels like its bleeding and I haven't been to the bathroom in three hours. I notice the clock and realize we're still two hours from nap time and the earliest chance to do anything that doesn't involve an 18 month old attached to your leg.

10:26 a.m. Grunt and poop episode number two for the day. I announce, "I got this one!" to no one in particular. Starting to itch for the first beer of the day which is not a good sign, rule or no rule.

Good times. Saturdays.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

No One Told Me This!

This is the first. That is a blog post for a 'blog' that started awhile ago, at least in my head. It was right about the time my wife called me upstairs a few years back and said "I have something to tell you…" and informed me the puppy vs. baby debate was officially over. From then on it's been a strange, incredible, and unintentionally comedic hike. One I'm sure I wasn't the only one unprepared for. Right? Sure, I read the books. I went to the classes. I asked questions. I observed and reacted to the wife's changing body, moods, and overall decision making that swung, creaked, and threatened to snap like a county fair amusement ride. But no one tells you the delivery actually happens and it might span three days. They don't tell you the things we see can't be unseen. They don't tell you you're just getting started after you leave the hospital. They don't tell you the only thing open at the time you can go to eat during those three days is a McDonald's. They don't tell you what three straight days of McDonald's and "Is everything okay?" phone calls does to a man. I'd complain more about the McD's but my wife would just remind me again I didn't leave with stitches in sensitive places or digest anything that resembled a medium-sized watermelon. Whatever. I wasn't right for days.

Moving on. As a parting gift for an extended stay at the New Parenthood Inn (as a bonus, ours was in the neighborhood known as Crack Alley!), they send you home with a real baby. A real purple, screaming, pooping, I need to eat every two hours baby that's presumably yours and not one of the dozen others they show you through the glass window of the indoor infant green house. Yes, I was proud. This was my child. My daughter. I was Dad. Wonderful, but no one tells you that baby could care less about you though. Unless you present boob or some sort of boob substitute at consistent and frequent intervals, what purpose do you serve? Are you ready for this? At least that's what her beaming brown eyes bored into me. Crap. Will I ever be a good enough father for her? Do I need to go back to school, get a second job, go the gym more often, join Greenpeace, ring the Salvation Army bell at Christmas, start helping senior citizens more? WHERE WAS THIS IN THE BOOKS???

No one tells you a baby and the corresponding sleep deprivation brings out the strange, the unknown, the WTF? in you and mom. Kind of like the office party where uptight, by-the-book, turtleneck-sweatered Stacy in HR has a few and starts table dancing and hooks up with Gary in accounting. You're shocked and uncomfortable to the point you just don't want to talk about it the next day and pretend it never happened. When that baby cries for the umpteenth time, its 3:27 a.m., you're exhausted, like you just crammed for five straight days for college finals exhausted, and you don't want to get up. Neither does she. So much so she may say things directed at you so perverse, you wonder if you're dreaming or if you left the TV on and you are hearing an episode of The Wire. Out of fear, you don't ask. You just get up and tell yourself it's your turn.

Now my wife is the smartest person I know. She has the job, degree, and resume to prove it. I married well. The books though, don't tell you even the brightest, most gifted among us will be subject to questionable decision making when a baby is introduced in the equation. One afternoon after work shortly after baby girl arrived, I took Junior, the much-maligned, bi-polar canine my wife inherited when she married me, for a short walk. Upon our return I find the wife on the couch holding the kid with a painfully obvious, guilty, I just went through your wallet while you were away and found something I should have look that implied something was ah, up. This was made quite obvious by the indescribable state of my child's cranium. Wet and greasy with what looked like flour in a thick coat on top. It appeared as if the wife had initiated some sort of strange primitive tribal ritual while I was gone.

"Um, so, about that…" I asked. "What happened?"

"Nothing." She replied with the same demeanor I imagine my kids using when I find a broken lamp on the floor someday real soon.

"Her head. What happened?"

Like a criminal relieved at finally copping to their crime, she confessed. As a side note, my wife is terrible at poker.

"Her scalp was really dry and it bothered me. So I rubbed it. With Vaseline. I may have put on too much so ….

"I put baby powder on it. I may have put too much on."

Take a second and imagine what that might look like on anything. Now imagine it on a six week old newborn that wasn't exactly the Gerber Baby when she arrived.

"Oh. Okay. Um, yeah. What would you like for dinner…" What else could I say?

Until next time... Keep your diapers dry. The car warmed up. And make sure they will have beer.