Monday, May 14, 2018

Genius Children

All parents have had those moments. The moments where, against your better judgement, you come to believe that your child is “extraordinarily gifted.” They say or do something that you convince yourself is unparalleled in the entire history of human development. You are cautious, and even preface your declarations with, “I know I am not entirely unbiased, but…..” and then you proceed to lay out your case for intellectual sainthood.

A week ago, my five-year-old son and I were reading his exhaustive encyclopedia of Marvel Superheroes. We were discussing the origin story of The Incredible Hulk and when we got to the section about anger being the catalyst for transformation, my son seemed to retreat into deep self-reflection. He asked me to re-read the passage again, with special emphasis on the part where Hulk returns to Bruce Banner once his anger subsides.

Without a word, he rose from the couch and disappeared into his room. After several minutes of searching, he emerged with a Little Golden Book about The Avengers. After manically flipping through the pages, he finally stops and turns the book toward me. Pointing accusatorily toward the illustration of The Avengers, he observes that The Hulk is pictured with a smile on his face. How, he demanded, could Hulk’s anger have subsided to the point that he was smiling and yet he still had not returned to Bruce Banner? This book stood in clear defiance of the parameters outlined by the Marvel Encyclopedia.

As he stared at me expectantly, I mumbled something about there probably being a time-delay since The Hulk might be momentarily pleased with something without fully being devoid of anger. This seemed to temporarily pacify him and we were able to move on, but I could tell that he wanted to dig deeper into it.

That evening, as I was relating the scene to my wife, I could barely contain my glee. After all, think of the cognitive horsepower necessary to discover and questions such a seemingly insignificant discrepancy. I began to worry that the specialists may want to start him at Princeton before he is ready. How would he handle being away from home at such a tender age? One of us would have to quit our jobs to accompany him to the inevitable television interviews and TED talks.

When I woke up the next day, I got my future Macarthur Genius Grant recipient a cup of milk and went back to take a shower. Still glowing from the forthcoming accolades from the academic community, I walked back into the living room and heard the sound of laughter.

Following the source, I found myself in our guest bathroom. What I found was my son and his younger sister knelt over the toilet bowl with their heads barely visible. I immediately demanded to know what was going on, but both of them had become incapacitated by giggles. Certainly, given my son’s recently demonstrated cerebral acumen, this was the gleeful conclusion to some sort of breakthrough experiment.

When the laughter finally subsided, he explained to me that when he “went pee-pee really hard” into the toilet it made bubbles. Upon discovering this, he had invited his sister into the restroom to see which one could pop the most “pee-pee bubbles” by blowing on them within a given span of time. He indicated that the “pee-pee bubble game” was already one of his favorite things.

Somewhat dejected, I made a mental note to cancel the calls to Good Morning America. When I rejoined my wife in the bathroom, she asked what the noise was and I barely had the heart to explain that our son had invented a game that revolved around the creation and popping of urine bubbles.
In hindsight, I obviously fell into the trap that all parents are subject to. Certainly there had been warning signs that “Pee-Bubble-Pop” was on the horizon. Just a few weeks prior, I had received a note from his teacher asking us to address the fact that our son had repeatedly referred to another young man as “fart-poop.” I had managed to keep a straight face the following morning while looking a grown woman in the eye and assuring her that we have “addressed the fart-poop.”

I cannot help but think that God had some hand in the juxtaposition of my son’s Hulk revelation and the toilet-bowel incident. Several years ago, he had exhibited a trait (which I cannot recall the exact nature of) that I had interpreted as a sign of his accelerated intellect only to have it canceled out within the hour as I had to implore him to stop licking dried paint from the sidewalk.

The truth is: I am thankful to be his father. He is every ounce a 5-year-old boy, capable of both great leaps of cognition and prodigious use of bodily-function terminology. If he is ultimately categorized as extraordinary, I hope it is for his courage in the face of injustice, his integrity in a world seemingly devoid of it and his kindness to those who have no reason to expect it. In the meantime, I will work tirelessly to perfect my ability to say "fart-poop" with as much gravity as such a situation requires.

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

The High Chair Fiasco

After the birth of our 3rd child, my wife and I found ourselves in need of a stand-alone high-chair. She found a well-reviewed model from Amazon and soon it was on its way. I was about 10 minutes into assembly before I realized that a crucial structural component of the item had been damaged in transit.

The prospect of attempting to repackage this monstrosity was daunting to say the least, and it seemed silly for one broken part. Fortunately, the manufacturer had included a flyer meant to address the very conundrum I found myself in. It implored me:


So I gathered all of the pertinent model information and called the number. At first, things were looking up. I was told that they would get that part out to me and in short order my first-world crisis would be averted. Then, they informed me that they no longer sold that model and could not get me the part, but they were willing to offer me a comparable replacement model.

My wife selected a replacement from the list that they sent me, and I called back in to get the ball rolling. The representative told me that all I would have to do is comply with their warranty destruction policy. It would be easy they said. Just takes a few minutes. They promised to e-mail me the details.

Several days passed without word, so I called back in and it was explained to me that I would need to go to a website to schedule a “video-chat destruction.” This was to ensure that the high-chair was no longer functional and couldn’t be sold. I pointed out that if the item was functional, our entire correspondence would be unnecessary. Be that as it may, they were adamant that I go to this website and schedule a time.

When I got the link, I was presented with an option for a 20-minute session or a 30-minute session. When I clicked the 20-minute session, it was booked out for the next few months; so I backed up and selected the 30-minute. Now I was given an option for a 2:30 PM weekday slot almost two weeks out. Because the exact nature high-chair desecration process could not be revealed ahead of time, I was left with two options:
1.      Take time off work in order to sit at home and further disable an already worthless high chair.
2.      Transport the entire contents of the box to work and explain to my supervisor why I needed a half-hour break to video chat with a complete stranger while defacing children’s furniture.
Furthermore, I did not understand why this process would take 30 minutes. Was there a sacred blood-oath involved? Would the company provide a proctor? I countered that if they wanted complete and total obliteration, I could simply write “fragile” on it and give it back to UPS. This comment did not play well with the home office.

I asked if there was a fast-pass option for people whose children were being forced to sit on the floor like an animal while the rest of their biological family dined at the table like civilized humans. (There was not.) Finally, they agreed that at a predetermined time they would text me and I could immediately send back detailed photos. While the process was still shrouded in mystery, they did tell me that I would need the seat cushion, the safety straps, and the chair-back. I was also asked to have a sharpie and scissors on hand. My inquiry as to whether or not explosives would be used went unremarked upon.

So, on the fateful day, I was contacted by an unidentified number via text and asked to cut a 1-inch square hole into the seat cushion and submit a photo. Then, I was instructed to take the sharpie and “draw over” the sticker with the model number and submit that picture. Finally, I was asked to cut the straps so that they could no longer properly restrain an infant. I placed a Michael Bolton CD jewel case in each of these photos for scale.

It should be noted that none of these actions would render the high-chair unusable, just less safe for a child unfortunate enough to be placed into it. The entire ordeal wreaked of spycraft. It was as if John Le Carre had been hired as a warranty compliance manager.

Then I got to wondering; who was supervising these people on the other end of the video chat? What if one of them goes broken arrow and starts making outrageous or inappropriate demands?

Customer – I guess I do not understand why I would need to remove my shirt and refer to you as “Big Daddy Cornbread” for the remainder of this process……

Warranty Rep – Look, I have two crib annihilations and a sit-n-spin bonfire after you so do you want a functional high-chair or do you want to spend the rest of our allocated time together arguing about semantics?

Once I had provided proof-of-death, I was told that they would begin processing my order and I should expect the new high chair next month. Trying to be as diplomatic as possible, I explained that one of the compelling reasons that I ordered the item from Amazon in the first place was that I would receive it within two business days. I lamented that by the time I got the replacement high-chair, there was a good chance that it would no longer be developmentally appropriate for my child. They placed me on hold to confer with their “team.” In my mind, this involved the president of the company being choppered in from his summer home for an emergency meeting.

In the end, they relented and agreed to “put a rush on it” and my child was able to join us at the table. In hindsight, I suppose I owe “Big Daddy Cornbread” an apology.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Random Thoughts 14

I have come up with a number of indie band names for free use:

Sneeze-guard Attrition
Redacted Betrayal Fellowship
2Faced Triathletes
Hamstrung Collateral Veganism
Freudian Video-Gamesmanship
Love Triangle Squared
Serpentine Axis Theory
Intimacy Subpoena
Relational Foghorn Collective
Handlebar Balderdash
Bruce’s Waning
Point-of-Sale Hedonism
Snark Week
Solitary Consignment

I have always suspected that the wide discrepancy in my Netflix DVD return times is attributable to the postal employee that services my mailbox. Perhaps they open the red-envelope to see what I watched, and based on the synopsis, take it by the house and watch it before allowing it to continue its journey.

This was the first item I encountered upon opening the box of infant furniture for my son. I knew that if the grammar was reflective of the overall craftsmanship, I was in for a real treat.
My wife recently purchased a jar of ranch salad dressing that touted the new formula only included “real ingredients.” Legally speaking, any non-metaphorical element or component of a consumable product qualifies as a “real ingredient.” Artificial colors, toenail clippings and anthrax would all fall under this umbrella. I can’t wait until their “Now Completely Edible” Thousand Island makes its debut.
The true measure of a polite society is how long a complete stranger will observe you trying to insert a credit card into the Redbox disc-return slot before intervening.
My son attends a wonderful Christian Pre-K program and, in addition to the secular curriculum, they complete scriptural worksheets. Most of these are fairly straightforward, but he recently came home with one that presented quite a challenge. It was based upon Mathew 21:12-13 in which Jesus overturned the tables of the money-changers in the temple.

The students were asked to read this passage and then decide (in the context of the verse) if the scenes illustrated on the worksheet would “make Jesus happy or sad.” The first row of illustration was easy to decipher (the forlorn look of the children holding the Bible non-withstanding) However, the second row raises the stakes.

The very last image depicts what appears to be the same young lady from the Bible illustration except she seems to be happy. She is staffing an innocuous-looking Bake Sale table and, as any good Protestant knows, the bake sale / chili supper is the fiscal cornerstone of all youth activities. Mission trips and outreach all depend somewhat on the revenue from these events. With that in mind, this scene of a joyful young disciple selflessly raising money would clearly get a thumbs-up from JC.
Or would it?

Let’s look again. Suzie’s innocent little “bake sale” is not positioned in the fellowship hall or recreational center, but right in the front of the pulpit in the sanctuary. Not only is she standing on “holy ground”; her very presence could pose an altar-call safety hazard. Furthermore, the conspicuous absence of a cash box would indicate that Bake-Sale Suze is pocketing the proceeds (why else do you think that her left hand is outside of our view?) Even worse, there is no evidence of fiscal oversight to balance the books.

So which is it? My interpretation of the original verse is that Jesus is not against temple commerce in principle, but rather he is denouncing those who would knowingly prey upon worshipers to dishonestly enrich themselves. Under this assumption, the only way to determine Christ’s approval of the image is to be privy to whether or not Suzie is pricing her wares at fair market value and not cutting the product. I felt it would at least to be necessary to ascertain whether or not the bear-claw icing is 100% pure. My son chose to leave it blank. I hope it does not affect his GPA.
When a movie touts that it was helmed by a “visionary director” this is code for “we are giving them one last chance to produce a commercially viable film before we move on”
Just a few days ago, I was ordering a Marpac White Noise Machine for my son’s room. These are the wonderful cylindrical devices that emit the sound of a fan to block out other noises to promote sleeping or privacy of conversation. As is Amazon’s custom, their algorithm suggested “related” items that other customers bought along with their Marpac White Noise Machines. I was not prepared for the suggested companion items.

Perhaps I am reading too much into things, but if the apparently substantial number of people acquiring the noise machine / cooking spray / “Do You Have A Secret?” trifecta aren’t planning a surprise dinner for mommy; this might be worth law enforcement looking into.
I have been seeing a lot of marketing for the horror / thriller “A Quiet Place” which follows a family forced to exist in silence because they are being hunted by creatures drawn by noise. One trailer even shows the parents and children sitting around in a living room in silence as the parents read and the children play a board game. As a parent of multiple young children, I can tell you that watching that scene evoked as much longing as it did dread.

Sure, the idea of being constantly threatened by malevolent creatures is not best case scenario, but the absence of one child loudly accusing the other one of being a “big doo-doo baby head” is not the most disproportionate trade-off I can imagine.
There is no better irony to be found on the Internet than being forced to watch a YouTube Ad purporting to show me how to theoretically build my wealth while coming to the realization that by watching their promo, I am actually building theirs.
We exist in a world where commercially-available smartphones can instantly recognize the unique facial contours of a human-being, but the grocery self-checkout kiosk still requires my assistance to identify fruit.
I got the following letter in the mail. I simply wrote them a response that I was turning them in for violation of Child Labor Laws.

Friday, December 8, 2017

Baby #3

My wife had been dilated, effaced, and experiencing contractions for almost 6 weeks before the birth of our son. Our weekly ritual was as follows:

1. Wife has painful contractions at a frequency normally necessitating hospital admission.
2. We would go for a checkup and the doctor would inform her “you are still a 3.”
3. I would immediately interject that I disagreed with his assessment and told her that she has "always been a 10 in my book."
4. She would strongly suggest that I refrain from further commentary.

So, at 39 weeks, our doctor agreed to induce. A few hours before the scheduled time, my wife began having intense contractions. Finally, around 3 AM we decided that we might as well go to the hospital because they weren’t likely to send us home 6 hours before a scheduled induction.

Upon arrival, my wife was having very intense, painful contractions. She was loaded in a wheelchair and taken to the front desk where a receptionist prepared a hospital arm band. The receptionist calmly asked my wife (who was doubled over in the wheelchair at the moment) to put her arm on the counter so that she could attach the band. When my wife did not respond, the receptionist asked me if I could kindly have my wife place her hand on the counter. I offered to attach it myself and was told this was against protocol. I was on the verge of asking if walking out from around the counter to help a patient was against protocol when my wife raised her hand and we were on our way.

Once upstairs we immediately requested to be placed on the “epidural list.” Heads were nodded and noncommittal language was used. In short order, we were taken to another room and another set of nurses heard the epidural request. Finally, during an extremely-painful contraction my wife demanded a status on the epidural only to be told, “We are working on it.” The same nurse then looked into my eyes and mouthed, “She’s not getting one.”

We had been through birth twice before, but never Little House on the Prairie style. If the hospital staff thought I was going to break that news to her, they were sadly mistaken. 

Eventually, one of the nurses gave her the “pull yourself together” tough-love act which my wife reciprocated in both volume and intensity. At this point I realized two things:
1.      My wife is far stronger than I could ever hope to be.
2.      If men were responsible for the business-end of reproduction; overpopulation would never be a concern.
Within an hour of arriving at the hospital, our son was born. It was shortly thereafter that we realized most of our previous knowledge of newborns was hopelessly outdated. Cleaning the umbilical cord with rubbing alcohol? Barbaric. Inserting the bulb syringe into an infant’s nasal passage? Inconceivable! It had been less than three years since our last child’s birth and I felt as if I was stockpiling paregoric and asking about twilight sleep.

The hospital had made some procedural changes since our last birth as well. Some were welcome (they give you extra time in Labor & Delivery) and others were unintentionally ironic (my wife’s breastfeeding was interrupted on multiple occasions by a woman tasked with ensuring the hospital retained its “breastfeeding friendly” accreditation).

In keeping with new policy, the hospital attempts to keep the newborn in the mother’s room as much as possible. At one point, a staff member asked if we wished for our child to receive their bath in the room or not. My wife and I agonized over this as if it was destined to reappear at his future parole hearing.

Then came the paperwork. Even though we had already decided on a name, there is some natural trepidation when committing it to paper. Is this the right name? What if the Japanese translation is vulgar and it becomes an issue one day? And, although we had never experienced it, there was the face/name mismatch contingency. I firmly believe that there are precious few instances where it is appropriate to bring this up:

 - When naming a child
 - During the planning stages of an undercover narcotics operation
 - Deciding to launch a career in show-business

I have never understood the phenomenon of meeting someone, hearing their name, and challenging the name’s validity based on appearance.
Hi. I’m George and this is my wife Susan 
You don’t really strike me as a George. More like a Roderick or a Hershel.

What is the recipient of this comment supposed to do with this information? Apologize? Agree for the sake of continued small-talk? I wish that I could witness someone seizing this opportunity to turn the tables:

George  - *begins to violently sob* I have always felt uncomfortable in my own skin. For years I have lived life as a George would. Buying George cars. Eating George food. Susan and I even named our firstborn after me; but until I heard you verbalize it so eloquently, I never realized that my entire existence was predicated upon a lie. Thanks to you, I have been endowed with the courage and strength to begin life anew as a Hershel. As of this moment, I am an avid cigar enthusiast who fabricates Civil War dioramas from discarded toiletries.

I would also like to point out that the official birth certificate application treats paternity as an afterthought. I am paraphrasing, but the idea is something like, “you can name the father but until results are Povich-validated the state assumes this was a virgin-birth.” I realize that there are legal considerations, but it is disheartening nonetheless.

Once we got him home, our other children took to him immediately. They would gather round and attempt to hold and kiss him. My son, having recently viewed The Boss Baby, was convinced that the whole I-am-a-helpless-newborn thing was an act. The first time I dropped him off at daycare after his younger brother was born, he requested that I make sure that the family’s new addition did not mess with stuff in his room.

When I jokingly responded that I did not foresee that being an issue, his eyes and tone got more serious and he repeated his request. This went on until after the first full days we were all home together. In short order, our oldest son’s reaction changed from suspicion to disappointment. He watched the newborn sleeping in my wife’s lap and asked, “Is this really all that he does?” He sounded truly crestfallen as if someone had pulled the bait-and-switch on him at a car dealership (I thought this was the model with the interactive whimsy….)

Like all stages in life, the third child gives you better perspective on the stages that precede it. Before kids, my wife and I used to talk about how tired / busy we were. Once we became parents, we laughed at our previous naivety. Once our second child came along, we saw how foolish it was to ever complain about how difficult it was when we outnumbered our offspring. Now, we scoff at how we foolishly laughed about our naivety concerning how tired we were.