Tuesday, June 19, 2012

The middle ages.

It doesn’t feel like it. I don’t really look like it, unless the wife is lying to me.  I don’t act like it and go out of my way not to.  I still weigh in at my senior year (high school) weight.  I have yet to need anything rhyming with Niagara or other newfangled pharmaceutical product designed to let someone live a better, yet side effect-riddled life.   Last week I even bought a new pair of Nike’s the teenage shoe jockey assured me were the ones to have.

Then today, like a freight train full of rhinoceroses coming out of nowhere and running you over, I turned thirty-six years old. Thirty-six? Holy shit.
Somewhere in my early-twenties while cloaked in immortality, smugness, and taught skin, I saw this milestone as the fixed point of no return. The birthday I was officially old.  Telling myself that by then; you’re half way done dude.  So get to it.

Me and my stupid ultimatums. 
I spent the past few years, maybe longer, frantically racing to beat the time limit like a contestant on reality cooking show.  Did I get there? 
Nope.
But also, yes.
As I sit in my non-corner office overlooking the trailer park amid the constant dim of interstate traffic, next to coworkers two-thirds my age, while half-assing completely unfullfilling work, I realize the dream of being a proverbial real-world rock star or at least upper middle management might have set sail without me.  I suspect this is how a career-stripper might feel about their chosen path, except with more emails and less meth and daddy issues.

Like a once new car that is starting to shows its miles, shit is starting to break down. In the past two years alone I have been to doctor more times than in the past twenty combined. My ears need a hair cut while the DMZ between my hairline and forehead is rapidly advancing north. Random things ache at non-random moments and a sore throat immediately triggers fear of a tumor. A routine grocery run now includes lingering in the pharmacy aisle with genuine interest like I'm shopping for clothes.

Does this guy look 36? Okay, ignore the gray beard, diaper bag, camera, child, and mock smile. Now?
Not quite having reached get off my damn lawn status, I am  however definitely entered into slow down when driving down my street fist waving territory.

But I don't feel old.

Funny thing is I actually feel kinda' good. Like even better now than ten years ago.

And here's why:

I'm genuinely smiling this time because it's the wife's turn to change her diaper.
Somewhere along the way, I ended up getting married and have managed to keep the happily in the proper context. Add a little fate, some strong DNA (and some questionable birth control practices) and I became a dad to a kick ass kid.

And on days when the working world threatens to stab my soul yet again, I get to come home to something better.  A world of first steps, words, high-fives and a hot wife to share it all with.

And just the right kind of cake on your birthday.

Chocolate + Peanut Butter + Pie for a cake = Happy Husband
I get so warm and fuzzy I don't mind sharing, even with dirty little hands.

Pie for dinner = Happy toddler. Followed by sleepy toddler.
Then when your birthday present consists of a homemade gift certificate of shooting, drinking, meat-eating, hoteling with the wife, plus a free babysitter, you know you've made it.

So here I am, thirty-six years later. It may already be halftime, but I am well ahead.



read to be read at yeahwrite.me


Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Once more unto the breach, dear daughter, once more.

The battle rages.  The daughter and I are at odds but at an impasse. She sits in her trench and I in mine. Not over the cell phone bill, going to the mall, boys, or internet privileges.  She’s just north of two - that stuff is a good 28 years and several anti-depressant prescriptions (for dad) away.

It’s her new developmental milestone that’s causing the inter-familial tensions. It was an innocent thing when it first started, almost cute even. But the seriousness never really sunk in, nor the implications if things went further.  We purposefully didn’t think about it, telling ourselves it wasn’t really happening. Like we do with the leaky dishwasher.
The first strike was the worst, inflicting the parents the most damage both physical and psychological. The door slowly opened with a toddler standing quietly in the dark with that timid look that signals even a dimwitted parent, something has going terribly wrong.   

It was the smell that struck me first. That all too familiar smell of trouble, the kind of trouble that involves wipes and clothing changes for everyone involved.  But my chest tightened as it was our bedroom she was in.  Thinking she’s almost ready for a real bed, we had let her test out ours (which we had never done before) after an especially fitful evening in her crib.
She had removed her clothes and diaper. Again. A new trend that has become a near-every night ordeal causing general misery for everyone involved. Not content with just taking a dump in mommy and daddy’s bed, she felt the need to apparently sort through her offering barehanded, with both hands.  Her face looked like she had just returned from begging for bread on the streets of Calcutta. But it was our bed that suffered the worst, forcing a Woman Called Mom and me onto the sofas for the evening. Their innocence stolen, the pillows will never be the same.

Now the bedtime routine has turned into the bedtime routine from hell.  The constant diaper removals and ensuing threat of biological warfare force us to listen to the baby monitor with the same tension as if we’re on a destroyer and listening to the sonar for enemy subs.  Losing focus or trying to sneak in a quick minute in front of the tube can have disastrous consequences.  And it can last for hours.

She’ll do this anywhere from 2 to 10 times a night.  Sometimes she’ll cry softly as a warning, sometimes she’s silent but most likely, she’s diaper-less with a hair-trigger, ready to fire.  Mid-day naps over the weekend are no exception. I found this out the hard way this past one as a dead monitor battery failed to alert me in time the screaming child upstairs. I knew what I would find before I entered but the sight of a larger number two-er laying in the crib was unsettling nonetheless.  The diaper lay six feet away, spotless and reusable. 

Sure I can now change crib sheets faster than a NASCAR pit crew changing tires but this has got to stop. 

We’ve tried different pajamas but that doesn’t help. She’s Houdini with anything involving buttons or zippers. I thought about duct tape but am certain she’ll just fashion that into a rope to lower herself out of the crib, or something worse.  We’ve tried potty-training but she hasn't taken to it yet.  I’m strongly considering a metal grated floor like you find at the pet store or a tarp.

I pray the war will be over soon.  Both sides are getting weary of the fight and attrition is taking its toll.  Just last night I arrived with a thousand-yard stare minutes too late as a diaper-less child stood despondently in her crib amid the acrid smell of yet another accident. Only this time, the diaper was in her hands, with her offering still completely contained, held out as if to say truce.

God I hope so. Metal grates are expensive.    





   

Sunday, June 3, 2012

The Red Menace

 
I was raised to loathe the Russians. Nothing personal. Just mostly that Communism thing from a few years back. It didn't help that I once lived in a place with nothing but a few stop signs between angry Russian tanks and me and my G.I. Joes. Add in some fatherly-mandated reading of Animal Farm and a worn out VHS tape of Red Dawn and you had the perfect storm for Commie hatin'.

Yes, the Iron Curtain is gone, but the lessons learned still resonate today.

No, I'm not a spy or some other interesting agent of national security.

I'm just dad. And I like ice cream.

Hungry before dinner, I find myself staring into the pantry. The shelves covered in various dried goods, non-perishables, and a few assorted snack items that may offer some relief and sustenance before I make dinner. As I mentally scroll through the limited options, that voice only I can hear kicks in again.

No, not that. There's only one left. She needs them for a snack.

Not that one either. Same deal.

Nope…

You're joking right? She'll smell it from a mile away and will end up confiscating it.

Panicking, I grab a stale piece of bread and shove the entire fold into my hole at once. Hoping I can get it down before she finds out while not choking to death in the process.

What is this, Russia? The voice grumbles, out loud this time.

Shhhh. She'll hear you.

On mental-legs already exhausted from a day at the mines, I begin the family meal. My directives are simple. The meal must be done soon, relatively healthy, and of course not rejected by a two year old with a sensitive palate and swift temper. Once again, I bypass the exotic spices and accoutrement's of meals once made, for the bland and un-offending. I don't want to spend tonight scrubbing food off floors, again.

I recall the almost empty ice cream, hidden deep in the freezer, to be savored in the dead of the night once the guards kid passes out. I drift farther back to memories of earlier entire meals of chicken wings and brownies. Luxuries, once enjoyed before the Secret Police patrolled my home.

Mine! The all too familiar declaration stops me in my thoughts.

No mom-ma.

Mine. Mine. Mine.
   

The angelic voice of our beloved daughter carries well now that she's mastering speech. The commotion signals the wife is fighting her own skirmish in the bedroom. I dare not intervene.
The emergence of a confident toddler in the kitchen holding a cell phone and travel mug indicate the battle is over.

Mine. She says through narrowed eyes.

I present myself for inspection while holding my breath that she doesn't notice any evidence of my bread theft. Mid-hug, I scan the room for clues of my earlier crime from the corner of my eye. But she knows.

She always knows.

Wanna snack.

Breh.

There is no bread honey. Wait for dinner

Breh. Mine.

Busted. Like a mother's embrace after you missed curfew, there's no hiding your sins from a toddler.

The dinner routine unfolds like always. Parents scrapping to feed themselves while appeasing the unappreciative toddler with the primest cuts. Everything must be shared but some get more than others. The conversation is tense but measured, the adults eager to not mention any key words that could incite suspicion.

Eye-cree-em.

Damn. My heart sinks as I shoot the wife a look. Still wounded and demoralized from the earlier battle of the bedroom her eyes say it all.

Give it to her.

Yup. Eye-cree-em. Moh. The little one endorses the plan. She doesn't add – or else. But it's implied. Countless nights of pain and suffering have taught us to choose our battles.

So there, at my sticky dining room table, I watch helplessly as my offspring plows through the last of the chocolate peanut butter. It hits me hard. The realization that my deepest fears of the Red Menace from my youth have materialized. My own little Animal Farm unfolding right here at my kitchen table.

Sorry, our kitchen table.

All animals are created equal, but some are more equal than others. - Animal Farm