Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Sibling Class

My wife and I decided to sign our children up for one of the big-sibling classes offered by the local hospital. For a nominal fee, you and your children could attend a two-hour session designed to make everyone more comfortable with the impending addition to the family. The children would be given a tour of the nursery area and watch an informative video about how the dynamics of their home life could change.

So, on the appointed Saturday, we all arrived at the conference room. I checked in with the session leader and paid her the $20 for our participation. Each expectant mother in the class wore the official uniform of the final trimester (black maternity shirt and jeans) and all were eagerly awaiting the start of the class.

Slightly after the designated start time, a woman came in with her two daughters and asked the session leader what time she should “be back to pick them up.” Somewhat taken aback at the question, the facilitator responded that the parents actually need to stay with the children for the two hours. Unfazed, the mother replied that she would be “in and out” but should still be around the hospital. The facilitator gently indicated again that it was not a drop-off class. I would be more judgmental, but the truth is that her unsupervised children were much less disruptive than mine.

Eventually we began with the tour. Everyone was led into one of the labor and delivery rooms and given a brief explanation of the apparatus. The session leader kept alluding to the children visiting their mommy during this time. This prompted my wife to lean over and inform me that she felt little need to have our other children in the room with her once stirrups became involved.

We were then led back to the classroom where we all watched a pirate-themed video about fetal development. The video was hosted by a buccaneer who had been marooned on an island with only a poorly-constructed puppet named “Carrots” for companionship. At frequent intervals during the fetus animation, he would pop-up to interject commentary. For instance, when the video was explaining the umbilical cord, his face appeared on screen and he exclaimed, “Arggghh! That’s what I call room service matey!”

It was after this section of the video that the couple seated across from us began explaining to their son about the umbilical cord’s function. The father explained that when mommy was uncomfortable, it was because “nugget is yanking on his dinner bell to get more baby juice” from her. I could tell by the nurse’s face that she was torn between respecting this couple’s right to raise their children and the guilt she would feel by allowing a 5 year-old continue to believe that mommy’s womb functioned like the pull-bell on Downton Abbey. 

Next, the children were invited to choose a baby-doll from the box so that they could practice the proper handling of their new sibling. My daughter selected a cute little girl and handled her with expert care. She even made sure that the head and neck were properly supported in the crook of her elbow. My son, on the other hand, returned from the box with what I can only assume was the doll utilized by night-shift employees to frighten co-workers into soiling their scrubs. Only one of its eyes functioned and its limbs were contorted at unnatural angles.

Nevertheless, while the other children went about properly swaddling their newborn, my son was treating his as if it owed him money. Despite my protestations, he would violently shake the doll and then hang it upside down. It was around this time that my daughter got her doll swaddled on the table but became enraged when it would not open its eyes in response to her vocal commands. She started yelling, “WAKE UP! WAKE UP!” in the doll’s face like she was treating an overdose victim.  

Finally, it was time for each of the kids to design a bib to be given to their new sibling. White fabric bibs and paint markers were distributed to all of the children. After several minutes, some of the children began sharing with everyone what they drew. One little boy drew a picture of his new expanded family holding hands. Another little girl was making a rainbow because she loved them and was sure that her new sibling would too. My son drew an elongated brown cylinder on his bib and announced that it was “poo-poo.” Unsure how to respond to the turd-bib, the facilitator smiled politely and probably began questioning how badly she really needed the extra income from this class.

Ready to get our complimentary t-shirts and make an exit, my wife and I were relieved when the teacher began distributing the certificates on the opposite side of the room. This quickly ground to a halt when the second family she came to insisted that they had been informed the class was free. The nurse responded that there was always a fee associated with the class to which they responded that they “had seen something on the Internet” about it being free. This went back and forth several times until the teacher agreed that if they could find some official documentation on the website to back this up she would let it slide.

The couple waved their phones around and complained that they can’t because they were unable to get cell service. A discussion about the availability of WiFi ensued and the facilitator told them that she would come back to them. When she gets to the next couple, they sheepishly explained that the grandparents had signed up for the course and thought that it was free as well. Unwilling to see how her conversation with the next couple would end, my wife and I decided to abandon ship and forgo the complimentary t-shirt.

She noticed us leaving and kindly wanted to give us the shirts (since it appeared that we were the only people who had paid) and thanked us. I cannot speak to what happened after we left, but in my mind she locked the doors, turned the pirate video back on and informed everyone that if she did not see some dead presidents soon, “Carrots” was going in beak-first. 

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Dad Skills

Gender Identification Technician – On multiple occasions, my son has leaned over to my ear and then stated (at normal conversational volume) “Is that a boy or a girl? while pointing at someone. Depending on my mood, answers range from the profound “They are a person…” to the not so profound “I believe they are registered as an independent” See also, redirection.

Field Dressing a Car Seat – This skill becomes necessary when there is a spill or unsanctioned egress of bodily fluids. May also be initiated after a round of “What’s That Smell?” Motor-Vehicle Edition.

Snap Judgment – Summoned by tears and distress, you are faced with a crime scene and you must dispense justice despite conflicting witness statements and outright perjury.

Contextual Dictionary – Just the other day, my four-year-old son asked me if I knew what “liquor” was. I stemmed the rising panic and after a few clarifying questions realized that it was someone who spilled food on their arm and “licked” themselves clean.

Hostage Negotiation Specialist – A Cabbage Patch doll is being held against its will and release is contingent upon a swap for a stuffed cheetah and the offending party ceasing to be a “poo-poo snake.” There are no easy answers here.

Wounded Reassurance – About a week ago my daughter accidentally head-butted me in the bridge of my nose. My son, having heard my cry of pain, steps on my man-tenders while rushing to my aid. My discomfort upsets my daughter and my wife prompts me to reassure my daughter that I am OK. I assure her between dry-heaves that “Daddy’s Fine Sweetheart.”

Stain Removal – Children’s Motrin, marinara sauce, and wayward Crunch Berries mixed with tears of betrayal all leave a lasting impression on carpet. Just buy whatever carpet cleaner uses the most urgent language in the “If swallowed” subsection of the first aid label.

Redirection – Daddy, why don’t I have a penis? Because I just remembered that it was time for Oreo Cookies and another screening of Moana! Who likes songs about magical Tigers!?

Recreational Apparatus – One of my kids’ favorite activities is to throw themselves on top of me while I lay in the floor in the fetal position. This bears an uncanny resemblance to being jumped into a pre-school street gang.

Translator – My two year-old will (without context) approach strangers and make the following statements:
  • I get big cookie! – I recently received a Double Stuf Oreo for defecating in the toilet.
  • I pump my legs! – I have acquired the ability to swing without assistance.
  • Daddy boat-snack! – Moana reference, unclear whether this is derogatory.
  • I not in trouble! – My brother has committed an infraction and I am gleefully contrasting his behavior with mine.
  • They got stuck in gum! – I thoroughly enjoyed my screening of Despicable Me 3 and found the antagonist quite amusing.
Economist – “Daddy, why do you and mommy have to go to work?” Because son, we live in a capitalistic society and in order to secure food and shelter your mother and I must generate income proportional to our expenses. “Is that how Netflix works?” ……..Yes

Armchair Theologian
(passing a Waffle House renovation)

“Daddy, did Jesus build that?”

“No. It is being built by people whose jobs are to build things” (here I pat myself on the back and attempt to tie this back into the economist discussion) “So just like mommy and daddy go to work and do certain jobs these people’s job is to build things for other people to use and that is how they get Netflix.”

“But you said Jesus made everything. How come he did not make that?”
(under my breath:” because if Jesus ran that operation the silverware wouldn’t have that weird film on it…”)

Well, He created the universe and then a group of people got together and decided to utilize the resources they had access to on this planet in order to facilitate the sale of food to other people but Jesus himself did not descend from the skies and …..

“We went outside at school today.”



Friday, August 25, 2017

The Art of a Child

Before we became parents, my wife and I had idealistic notions of archiving and cataloguing each of children’s creations. Every daycare art project, Sunday School scribble and cardboard-tube sculpture would be preserved for posterity. After all, how cold-hearted would a person have to be to callously discard the product of those adorable little hands?

These notions, or course, were the product of industrial-grade ignorance concerning the sheer volume or work that could be generated in the first five years of life. A child’s portfolio becomes unwieldly after a few weeks of daycare. Letter-of-the-day paintings, scissor practice, gluing projects and handwriting exercises litter our cars and home. This excludes special “seasonal” projects (the last three months of the calendar year are an avalanche of artistic output) and birthday items.

At first, we just hung a few on the fridge and in the hall and let the rest pile up in the office. We couldn’t bring ourselves to throw them away, but what is the sentimental value of an unattributed piece of paper with a pair of stray crayon marks on it? One of my greatest fears was my son walking out of his bedroom at night to find his father gleefully stuffing his masterpiece into a ketchup-decimated Wendy’s sack. I could practically write the therapy session transcript:

When did you first become aware of the fragility of the human condition? 
The night I walked to into the kitchen and found my father treating the artistic manifestation of my soul as a buffer between his hand and the remaining refuse he was forcing down into the Hefty bag.

How did this affect you?
I had never really thought of crime as a full-time career choice before that pivotal moment…

Eventually, we implemented an informal hierarchy based upon whether or not our child handed us the item or editorialized on its significance. If the handoff was silent and perfunctory, we would place it in the special stack and then my wife and I would silently will the other to throw the stack away. If they presented the item and said “I make fwroggie!!” it would be displayed.

This stemmed the tide slightly, but as they have grown and become more invested in their work even this approach was unmanageable. This stage has collided with the upcoming birth of our third child which has re-appropriated the junk room we used to keep the ballooning stack of creations. Said stack now resides on the desk in our bedroom and remains largely unacknowledged by my wife or I.

This game of sentimental chicken cannot continue to grow unabated lest it spill into the floor and common areas. This would ultimately lead to an intervention by child protective services to save our children from the danger posed by their own artwork collections that their parents were emotionally-incapable of discarding.

We also wish to be cognizant of the amount we keep for each child. Since the art mediums vary, I am not sure if we should strive to keep the exact amount from each child or subject all archived items to the “jumbo buffet takeout” test and quantify by weight.

I do know that whenever I visited my father’s office as a child, my homemade desk organizer was always prominently displayed. It was a ghastly combination of popsicle-sticks, hot-glue and diffidence. I imagine that if he ever ate lunch at his desk he had to remove it from view to stem the nausea. I would always comment on it when I was there and he would smile and mention something about how it “livened up his office” as if the entire atmosphere of his building had been positively affected by its presence.

I am starting to understand why he did it. It is the look on your child’s face when they have created something that you value. Something you deem worthy enough to place in your daily sight-line at work or at home. I have a picture on my wall at the office. Objectively, it is an orange piece of paper with a few purple scribbles, an unidentifiable blob and a glued piece of construction paper. However, there are days where it catches my attention and I cannot help but smile because it conjures the presence of the young man who proudly handed it to me; and, like my father before me, I will delight when he visits me and sees that it remains where it was originally showcased. *

*For fun, sometimes I attribute the piece to a random adult co-worker when a visitor comments on “how creative my children must be.” 

Friday, August 11, 2017

The Shadow Pooper

It had become such a universally accepted concept that I could recite it long before I had any children of my own: Girls are easier to potty train. There was a myriad of reasons offered for this phenomenon. They mature faster. They were less fascinated by the process. They maintained the same seated posture for all forms of egress.

Like most people, I accepted this without question. So, after struggling to get our son potty-trained I looked forward to what I expected to be smooth transition for our daughter. In my mind, it would go something like this:

Sweetie, for reasons both hygienic and financial, it is time that you cease to wet and soil yourself and use the toilet. 
Okay father, I had arrived at the same conclusion and now seems to be a developmentally-appropriate time. 
Love you honey! Let me know if I need to replenish the bathroom tissue.

For a brief moment, it almost seemed like that was where we were headed. Around the age of 2, she would ask to sit on the toilet and proceed to pantomime all of the motions of emptying one’s bladder. She would even request a modest square of toilet paper and flush it. Although she was not actually peeing during any of this, it already felt like a victory.

My wife and I told ourselves that the hard part was done and that the actual emptying of the bladder was just around the corner. This went on for months. Sit on toilet. Pretend to pee. Wipe. Pull pants up. Flush. Wash Hands. Hose down Pampers.

We had a contingency plan for this: big girl underwear. We would simply remove the convenience of a diaper or pull-up and she would be forced to use the restroom. This was not nearly as successful as we had hoped.

She would still pee in her pants and was heartbreakingly conscientious about it (“I make pee-pee in kitchen”). She has gotten much better and actually does a pretty good job now. Her reward for urinating in the toilet is 2 store-brand miniature marshmallows. I am certain that upcoming scientific studies will find our reward system to be deeply-flawed (reward with sugar, sudden onset of type 2 diabetes, glucose build-up leads to excessive thirst which results in increased urination and more sugar rewards, etc.) but it seemed to be the most reasonable motivation that we could find.

We have had a modest amount of success with this technique and her batting average is pretty respectable. The real challenge is when it is time for her “yucky poo-poo snake” to make an appearance.

The books and experts all tell you the same thing: catch a “big job” in progress and immediately place them on the toilet for the second half. Eventually, they will associate sitting on the toilet with pooping and will voluntarily got to the restroom to release the colon kraken.

The implementation of this strategy with my son had required very little effort as he had no bowel-movement poker face. He would cease his current activity, descend into a half-squat and assume the conflicted facial expression of someone being offered an extended warranty on a new couch. Even his denials were grunted in the unmistakable cadence of someone putting in work.

My daughter, on the other hand, is a defecation ninja. She can silently make a deposit in a pull-up with no discernible shift in posture. On at least one occasion, I am 99% sure she was looking me dead in the eye while singing “Let It Go” and doing just that. She will even deploy decoy flatulence to throw us off. I cannot tell you how many times we have smelled something and run her to the bathroom only to be presented with nary a skid mark.

Even the seasoned professionals at her daycare are miffed. They have confessed that they cannot get a read on her. Most kids will slip away to a corner in shame or openly grimace. Not my baby girl; she will soil herself with the breezy efficiency of Jamie Lee Curtis at the tail-end of an Activia challenge. My father has suggested we sweeten the pot with a higher reward. I am close to offering her half of our pull-up budget in cash because I would still come out ahead.