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?