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. 

Thursday, November 16, 2017

NRA Pen Pals

On November 1, 2017, a letter signed by Wayne LaPierre was sent to lifetime N.R.A. members. Like most, it was a fundraising letter asking lifetime members to “take the next big step” and upgrade to a Patriot Life Membership at the Endowment Level. This is the fundraising equivalent of rounding third base.

What struck me is not the ask (all political organizations regardless of ideology need money to operate) it was the tone. Some highlights.

I suppose it is hard to quantify the NRA’s claim that they did “more than any other organization in America” (insert Russian meddling joke here) to get Trump elected, so if we take that at face value the NRA is the most powerful lobbying organization in the United States. 

This establishes that those whose opinions differ from the NRA’s on a specific issue are not just wrong, they actually “hate freedom” and are responsible for unspecified “anger, hatred, and violence” unprecedented in a half-century. Americans are never going to agree on everything, but perhaps it is a little disingenuous to suggest their opinion is derived from a hatred of freedom. That is like trying to discredit a differing opinion on farm subsidies because they “despise liberty or happiness.” 

Here we have Mr. LaPierre strongly denouncing the “denigration and slandering” of police officers. This is particularly ironic given Mr. LaPierre’s previous comments in another NRA fundraising letter (sent in the direct aftermath of the 1995 Oklahoma City Bombing) where he referred to federal law-enforcement agents as “armed terrorists dressed in Ninja black … jack-booted thugs armed to the teeth who break down doors, open fire with automatic weapons and kill law-abiding citizens.”

It was Mr. LaPierre’s words that caused former President George H.W. Bush to publicly resign his lifetime NRA membership. Some would argue that Federal law enforcement officers are not the same as police officers employed by a municipality, but a sizable number of Federal law enforcement positions are filled by those with previous experience as police officers, military or both. In these cases, it would appear that the wardrobe change is the primary target of Mr. LaPierre’s ire.

The “twisted madman” of the last sentence refers to the June 14, 2017 shooting at the Congressional Baseball Game for Charity perpetrated by 66 year-old James Hodgkinson. Mr. Hodgkinson utilized several legally-purchased firearms to injure Republican representative Steve Scalise, police officer Crystal Griner, congressional aide Zack Barth, and a lobbyist for Tyson Foods named Matt Mika before being ultimately killed by police.

He appeared to have a dislike of Republicans and had worked on the campaign of Bernie Sanders. What struck me was the idea that the NRA – an organization that prides itself on personal accountability with regards to gun ownership – would blame unspecified “leftist rhetoric” for actions of Mr. Hodgkinson rather that his own choices. Also conspicuously absent from the letter is the mention of any other “twisted madmen” despite the fact our nation’s deadliest mass shooting had occurred just weeks prior in Las Vegas.

After the Sandy Hook shooting, Mr. LaPierre dramatically unmasked a “callous, corrupt and corrupting shadow industry that sells and sows violence against its own people.” The culprit? The video game industry. Titles like Grand Theft Auto and Mortal Kombat were specifically singled out as contributing factors to this unspeakable tragedy and those like it. The implication that if Adam Lanza had stuck to a Nintendo Wii, perhaps none of this would have happened.

However, if we accept his idea that “rhetoric” bears some responsibility for turning a legal gun-owner into a homicidal madman; the rest of Mr. LaPierre’s letter might be considered dangerous indeed. The very next paragraph paints a dire portrait:

Just to be clear. At no point in the history of America has there been a greater threat to the “fabric that binds our nation together.” Not even the Civil War. Furthermore, anyone who disagrees with the NRA is “destroying America.” There is no possibility that disagreeing with the NRA on gun policy has anything to do with gun policy. They are selling the idea that if another American does not see eye to eye with you on guns, it is because they hate the Constitution and want to destroy their country. Guns serve only as a proxy.

This is somewhat unique even in public policy. Rarely will you hear people on opposite sides of abortion or homosexuality accuse the others of hating “America, The Constitution and freedom in general.” In addition to that, the 6 page letter contains a proportionally-large volume of combative language. Some variations of “fight” “battle” “enemies” “destroy” and “war” appear 16 times. There is talk of “fortifying our lines” and “sacrifice.”  Hopefully “inflammatory rhetoric” isn’t as potent when it originates from the other side of the ideological spectrum.

Then we get the heartstrings…

Millions of people are safe thanks to your willingness to write a check to the NRA. In fact, at the very moment you are reading this letter, there are mothers and fathers who owe (not just their freedom) but their continued existence to your financial benevolence (it would appear those without children must fend for themselves). Just think, if everyone reading this letter would pony-up for the Eternal Patriot Membership with a Double-Valor Enhancement we might end crime entirely.

My issue with the NRA (and many of those on the extreme side of gun ideology) is not that we cannot agree on an issue, it is that my willingness to have the conversation is deemed anti-American. And for all of the patriotism-steeped vernacular, almost every argument for the unfettered application of the second Ammendment seems to end in the ultimate anti-patriotism.

Let me give you an example of an actual conversation I had with a young man and fierce defender of the 2nd Amendment:

Me – Would you at least agree that we should restrict the ability of everyday citizens to own nuclear weapons?
Him – No, because the 2nd Amendment protects our ability to have access to any and all weaponry available to the United States Military.
Me – Why?
Him – Because we must be able to defend ourselves against enemies foreign or domestic.
Me – You believe that the US Military is going to turn on the citizenry?
Him – They will just do what they are told.
Me – By whom?
Him – Whoever they take orders from.

We continued in this vein for some time with him insisting that any limitations or context placed on the 2nd amendment amounted to an infringement and would end in himself and likeminded patriots facing down a rogue US military armed with nothing but punji sticks. I do not believe he was being facetious. This was a visceral fear he lived with. And this is how he felt with the Republican party in control of all three branches of the Federal government.

Just because we think it is okay to have an honest conversation about guns does not mean we “hate America.” I dare say that the majority of us are rather fond of our country and weary of seeing its flag at half-mast to honor the victims of mass-shootings. We have never been a country that looks at a tragedy and resign ourselves to its perpetual repetition. We change procedures, we shift tactics and we do our best to balance individual freedom with sound governance.

I have never understood why this issue causes such legislative paralysis. I realize that we cannot totally prevent mass murder, but is that a valid reason for us to give up on trying to reduce its frequency or scope? Last month I attempted to purchase a box of Sudafed for a head cold. In my state, this requires a government ID and a long talk with the pharmacist who attempts to dissuade you from your purchase in favor of an alternative. As a law-abiding citizen, I am even limited (both monthly and annually) on the amount of ephedrine or pseudoephedrine I can buy. 

All of this was enacted to reduce the amount of methamphetamine being manufactured and distributed in our communities. It is frustrating and inconvenient, but I will subject myself to it if it can be demonstrably shown to reduce the negative impact of misuse on our community. Even when these draconian laws were enacted, I got not fliers from big pharma and was not subjected to a single Facebook meme of “Claritan D! Don’t Tread on Me!”  

Perhaps if we took Mr. Lapierre seriously, we should have a quota on the number of hours we are allowed play Call of Duty each month and have our browsing history checked for “inflammatory leftist-rhetoric.” 

The letter winds down with a promise “to be relentless every time another New York media elite tells a straight-faced lie on national T.V.” I feel safer already.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Dollar General Coversations

Please note that each of these encounters involved a different employee and patron.

Transaction # 1I am standing behind a middle-aged woman attempting to purchase several “staple” items (milk, bread, pasta). She inserts her card and enters a PIN number. This is what follows:

Cashier – "It says that ain’t the right number."
Customer – "Sorry, I must have typed it in wrong." (re-enters number)
Cashier -  slightly annoyed “That still ain’t working”
Customerglances apologetically to the line behind her “I am sure I put it in right that time”
Cashier – “You wanna try again?”
Customer – “Yes”

Cashier presses a button on her keypad and crosses her arms in expectation of what we all believe will be another failed attempt

Cashier – “You got another card?”
Customer – “I know that is the right number”
Cashier – ‘What can I tell you lady, it ain’t my card”

The customer, clearly flustered, grabs her purchases and attempts to leave

Cashier – "Hey! Where you think you’re going!?"
Customer snaps back “Fine try this card!”

It was at this point I became concerned that the customer and the cashier were headed for a physical altercation. If appearances were any indicator, the odds favored the house.


Customer storms out without her purchases

Cashier – “Maybe next time you can come back when you’re not smelling like BOOOOOOOOOOZZZZZEEEE!”

This last word was drawn out until the automatic doors had closed behind the customer for at least 5 seconds.

Transaction #2 - There is a woman in front of me wearing medical scrubs and having a phone conversation. She is purchasing a large can of Monster Energy Drink.

Cashier – admiring the can – “Energy huh!?”
Customer – “Yeah”
Cashier (still admiring the can) “How long does it last?”
Customer (now turning her attention from the phone conversation) “Hopefully my entire night shift.”
Cashier – “Ooo, I sure could’ve used some of this when I used to be out all night doing the wild thang!!!”

It was here that the cashier raised both hands above her head and pantomimed “raising the roof” while slightly swaying her hips.

Customer – “Yeah, I suppose it would work for that too….” (clearly eager to conclude the transaction)
Cashier (looking into the distance and reliving an evening of merriment and debauchery) “I sure used to do the wild thang all the time.....”
Customer (still on phone, reduced to nodding) "Uh-huh…."
Cashier (getting a second wind) “I’m talking bout the wild thang!” (repeats earlier gyrations then turns suddenly serious) “I don’t do that anymore because I found Jesus and I am pure inside now. Have a nice day!”

Here she turns to me (I am purchasing a single can of Reddi Wip for my kid’s Pie in the Face game) and I fully expect her to hold the can in her hand as she recalls the hedonistic role dairy toppings played in the days of the “wild thang.” Instead she completes the transaction with unimpeachable professionalism and no commentary.

Transaction #3It is around 9:00 PM and I am picking up some decongestant. There is a woman who has somewhat sheepishly approached the counter and asked an inaudible question to the cashier.

Cashier – (responding much louder than necessary) “Yeah! We got condoms! Good ones too. Trojan.”

Here again, the customer responds inaudibly

Cashier - “Trojans are the ones you want. You want thin, ribbed, or regular?”

This catches my attention because I had been on a condom search myself some months prior at this very establishment and was given a much different answer.

Customer (slightly bolder now that everyone in the store has become aware of her prophylactic quest) “Thin.”
Cashier (visibly delighted) – “I know that’s right girl! You know I gotsta feel mine!! I gotsta!!”
Customer (moving toward register in a futile attempt to speed the process along) “Uh-huh”
Cashier (looks toward other cashier) “I said I gotsta feel mine!!! You know that’s how my second son came about.”

At this point I am the next person in line and desperately hoping that the cashier abandons her son’s origin story before we reach a point of no return.

Cashier (turning her attention to customer again) – “You know what I’m talking about with them thin ones girl!”

Customer pays, leaves store and likely vows celibacy. I approach the counter and briefly entertained the notion of informing the cashier that I wanted two of whatever she sold that lady plus a clear shower curtain, 64 oz of canola oil and a sympathy card to see if I could faze her. 

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.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Are We Better Than This?

With the pending birth of my son, I decided to clear out some of the storage on my phone by removing and archiving photos. I came across a number of screenshots I took in the morning hours of June 12th 2016 while having spent a sleepless night outside my son’s bedroom door. He was having night terrors at the time and my wife and I would take turns outside his room so we could be nearby if he woke up screaming.

The following were all from the comment section of a developing story about the Orlando terrorist attack at The Pulse nightclub. It was an establishment that catered to homosexual patrons had hosted a “Latin Night” the previous evening. Around 2 AM, 29-year-old security guard named Omar Mateen entered the night club and began shooting people. Once it was over, it would be the deadliest terrorist attack in this country since September 11th. Forty-nine people lost their lives and another 58 were injured before the perpetrator was killed by Orlando police officers.

At the time these comments were made, details were still coming in and the headline was that a shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando had left 20 dead. These comments were made in the breathlessly-reported early hours of the story before the scope of the tragedy had fully unfolded. Nevertheless, they represented some of the most abhorrent reactions to a tragedy I can remember.

How did we get here? How have we become so blinded by anger that we show blatant disregard for human life while self-righteously editorializing on a tragedy stemming from a blatant disregard for human life? A year later, are we better than this? 

Friday, July 28, 2017

Naming a Boy

I am coming to the realization that our son will be born nameless. My wife and I have reached an impasse on what to call him. Objectively, we are both to blame. I have an unabashed penchant for homages to musicians and comic book characters and she taught public school for so long that each of the names we had previously agreed upon are now off the table because, “I had a such-and-such once and he stabbed a disabled-nun.”

My wife leans toward family-member tributes, but by the third child we had exhausted all of the reasonable ancestral names and were looking at the business-end of Flossy and Homer. One solution was to saddle them with a second-string family name, but indoctrinate them to answer to something completely unrelated. I realize that several people have successfully employed this strategy, but I could not bring myself to join the “we will name him Perforation Roscoe Thaddeus but call him Bill” camp.  

The select few desirable names that survived the previous-pupil gauntlet had been already appropriated by close friends or family members who would hopefully remain within our child’s social orbit throughout their lives. This left us no choice but to go to The Internet. I did not want to us to be Bandwagon-Christeners, so I went to the social security administration website and looked at the most popular names of the 80’s…. the 1880’s.

Having perused the list, my first impression was that there was a striking number of popular names from this time period later assigned to Sesame Street Muppets (Grover, Bert, Oscar, Ernie). My second impression was that people were determined to utilize the letter H no matter what the cost. Hubert, Hiram, Horace, Harvey, Harold, Homer, Harley, Herman and Harry all made the best-of list.  

Scrolling through the subsequent decades of our nation’s Social Security rolls, I was amazed that from 1880 until 1920 the top three boy names in America remained unchanged. John, William, James.* Then, in 1920, Robert staged a coup pushing John, James and William to second, third, and fourth respectively. Robert maintained its dominance until 1940 when James took the top spot. While the Big 4’s popularity has fluctuated some, we have not yet had a decade where at least one of them does not hold a spot in the top ten.

Somewhat desperate, I decided to jump on the bandwagon and see what my peers were choosing to name their offspring:

Come Hell or high water, my cohorts are going to insure that if we start your name with an “r” it will be immediately followed by a “y.” The list is peppered with Ryan, Ryker, Rylee, Ryder, Ryleigh, and Rylan. These are not statistical anomalies. The aforementioned names accounted for 136,625 citizens born between 2010-2016.

Barring an “ry” duo, we reserve the right to place a “y” wherever the rest of you chumps would drop a vowel. Londyn, Kylee, Lyla, Ayden, and Kylie comprise over 107,000 kids.

Let’s say you like Ayden, but a someone beat you to it. That won’t stop my people. We will relegate it to a suffix without breaking a sweat. Jayden, Brayden, Kayden, Cayden, and Hayden (which made the best-of list on both sides) amassed a whopping 230,706 in just six years of procreation. Throw in the “Aydens” and you could repopulate Orlando.

There even appears to be an ongoing feud as to whether our daughters should be named Adalynn (12,549) Adalyn (12,859) or Adeline (12,848).

Like previous generations, we still love our Judeo-Christian / Bible names like Sarah, Mary, Abraham, Noah, Jonah, Cane and Abel. However, we also reserve the right to name our daughters Genesis (28,039) Trinity (20,976) and Eden (13,684).

Just to keep our edge, Luna (14,013) Serenity (28,063) Harmony (11,102) Destiney (17,346) Valentina (16,908) Ivy (13,684) and Ximena (13,700) were all very popular girl’s names. 

Getting desperate, I clicked on one of the “Unique Boy Names” ads that tend to come up when you have been searching for baby names.

The first list sounded like an American Gladiator call-sheet gave birth to a biker-gang sorting-hat. 
Ace, Blade, Spike, Falcon, Hawk, Blaze, Thorn, Steel, Phoenix and Ajax were a few standouts.

I then tried the “Baby Boy Names with Swagger List.” Featured names included Zenon, Cadmus, 
Racer and Brees. There was also an entry for Waldo but you would never live it down if you lost that poor kid.

Next was the “Rebel & Heartbreaker” boys’ names. Steel yourselves ladies….

Ajax, Arsen, Bacchus, Biff, Gael, Gannon, Hercules, Jed, Lars, and Rock. That site even had a helpful column that told you each of the name’s meanings. For instance; Rock means “rock or stone.” I am not joking.

Perhaps we will just name him Playden and be done with it……

*On a side note, the name Adolph enjoyed massive popularity in the United States for several decades with over 7,500 boys having been given the name by the time World War II started. I imagine the majority of them immediately began going by their middle names.