Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Tight Christmas

At some point, it must have made sense to host Christmas here. Perhaps it was one of those decisions made during the few weeks after Kyle's birth, when we were awake at 3 a.m., changing diapers and wiping off whatever our son projected onto the nursery's curtains. After feeding Kyle, putting him down, gazing at his little sleeping face and his formula-stained pajamas, one of us must have said to the other, "Let's have Christmas at home from now on." The other person, now certifiably crazy because of the lack of sleep, then replied, "Great idea! And let's have all of Kyle's grandparents over, too!"

Our new Christmas tradition continued this year with the arrival of Jennifer's dad on Wednesday. My parents came two days later, on Christmas Day. We technically had space for everyone, since we have a decent-sized apartment by New York City standards (thank you, craigslist!), a fold-out couch, and an air mattress. There was also enough room to walk around if we all sucked in our guts. My brother and his wife visited for the day on Saturday. We had to put them out on the fire escape and pass them beer through the back windows. Up until the frostbite, they seemed to enjoy themselves.

Having done this sort of thing before, Jennifer and I were well-prepared for this busy weekend. We had a loose schedule of what we wanted to do each day, and a menu set for each meal. We had enough food in the fridge, enough liquor in the cabinet, and enough post-alcohol headache medicine in the bathroom. We had fold-out camping chairs to seat our guests, and plenty of burn cream in case we needed to use the radiator as a seat. We had lots of paper plates, plastic cups, disposable diapers, and trash bags. We made sure we knew where the fire extinguisher was, just in case of an accident in the kitchen or an eruption between family members. Fortunately for us, everyone in our family gets along just fine. The one thing that caught us a little off-guard, oddly enough, were the gifts.

Kyle first alerted us to the growth underneath the tree Christmas morning. He pointed at the colorful boxes and shiny bags immediately after entering the living room, signaling there was something wrong with that corner of the room. Yet it was just a small pile at that point, as the gifts under the tree were mostly from Santa, Mom & Dad, Grandpa, and Jennifer's sister, who wasn't able to visit. There were more presents on the way. Kyle dug in, but only opened a few gifts before he became distracted by a toy he received on his birthday six months ago. That would end round one of unwrapping. This sort of thing continued into the next day, as my parents and my brother and sister-in-law arrived and dumped more gifts under the tree. By the time we reached round twelve of Kyle's gift-opening, the tree was surrounded by more than fifty pounds of presents, wrapped in enough paper to cover the Empire State Building three times.

Our apartment was shrinking faster than Tiger Woods' reputation. The space we used for the couch cushions when we folded out the bed was now gone. Toys were scattered all over the dining room and kitchen. Our walking space went from limited to almost non-existent, especially at the weekend's peak. At times I would be trapped in between rooms, with a parent in one room asking me to help him put away the dishes, and another parent in the next room asking me to help get the air mattress set. In these cramped quarters, Jennifer and I were often tugged in several different directions, including downward by our son, who always wants attention as long as somebody else is getting it. I'm just glad that, with all the craziness, we never had a mix-up where one of the dads received a straw cup of milk and Kyle a beer. There really was only one true moment of confusion, when my dad did accidentally gave all the adults glasses of brandy and whole milk, which he had mistaken for egg nog. My father-in-law's drink was made so strong, though, that he didn't even notice the difference.

Still, as hectic and cramped as it was, the weekend was full of yuletide cheer. We laughed, ate well, shared life stories, and watched syrupy Christmas specials on TV. It's not everyday that we are able to have so many family members under one roof, and it's certainly a blessing that we all enjoy each other's company. We know not every family has that, and we do not take it for granted.

Yet, after a weekend like that, I also do not take for granted the moment I am having right now. I am sitting on the couch, typing on my laptop with my feet on a nearly empty table. A good chunk of the toys have been put away, and the wrapping paper and boxes went out with the recycling. All I hear is the noise of the baby monitor, and the occasional clang from our centuries-old heating system. Not a creature is stirring, not even a mouse... and St. Nick won't be returning until next December. Our home is our home again.

Have a wonderful New Year's Day. See you in 2010.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Merry Christmas!

From our family to yours... have a wonderful Christmas (and a belated Happy Hanukkah to my Jewish friends).

See you next week.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

O Christmas Tree

It's that time of year again. The time when Christians celebrate the birth of their Lord and Savior by putting a living pine tree in their homes and covering it with string lights, garland and an assortment of little doodads. We also nail stockings to a chimney and leave out cookies and milk for an old fat guy in a red suit who uses CIA technology to actually spy on little children. He visits only the good ones every Christmas Eve by way of nine reindeer who can somehow fly without wings or plane tickets. Oh, and this guy lives with his wife in the most desolate place on Earth - the North Pole - which, last I checked, has no cable TV, good restaurants or bowling alleys. Yet somehow he manages to keep his sanity in tact... or so it may seem. He does, after all, insist on hiring only tiny people to do all his labor (I'm surprised the UN has not gone after him yet) in an emission-spewing workshop which could be causing the polar ice cap meltdown (again, where are you, UN?). When you think about all the crazy stuff we associate with Christmas, suddenly the idea of a bunny delivering colorful chicken eggs at Easter time seems to make more sense. Still, I find myself embracing everything and loving every minute of it (when I'm not shopping).

On Saturday we bought our Christmas tree. It smells great, which is always a bonus in New York City, especially with all the dogs that walk past the Christmas tree stands. I love the scent of pine permeating through our apartment. Pine needles are everywhere, too. We've seen them on Kyle's bare feet, and this morning we plucked one from his hair. We like our tree a lot, which is a good thing because we certainly paid enough for it. Sure, out in the suburbs you get a beautiful tree for fifteen dollars, including the stand, rope for the car trip and several ornaments, but it's a different story in the city. The worker at the closest tree stand in our neighborhood (yes, we walk to our tree stands and actually carry the trees home) initially told us that the "perfect" tree for our apartment was one that cost $100. One hundred dollars! You could buy part of a forest in Montana for that kind of money. The tree man tried to convince us that it was an excellent tree that should last two whole months, enabling us to put our Valentine's Day gifts under it. As tempting as that was, the price was still too much, and we quickly turned down that tree. The worker then tried to show us another "beauty," but then refused to go below $70. We said "no thanks." Eventually we convinced him to find us a good tree in the back of the lot. It, too, was expensive, but cost less than the other trees, so we took it. I am guessing that trees in the city cost so much because of supply and demand. Pine trees are not natural here, and those selling them take advantage of that fact. What we do have in abundance here are "No Parking" signs and fire hydrants, and neither of those have quite the same effect when they are brought inside and decorated.

Our tree is supposed to last at least a month, though we are concerned we could be jeopardizing that. Like it is with most apartments, we had only one spot where we could put the tree, and unfortunately it's dangerously close to the radiator and a pole leading to the radiator for the apartment upstairs. On a cold day, these two emit enough heat combined to melt Santa's entire village. Yet we had no other option but to put the tree there and risk drying it out. Hopefully it will last at least until Christmas, or else it would be my biggest waste of money since I bought tickets to see the fourth Indiana Jones movie.

Kyle is a little confused by the whole process. He keeps pointing at the tree and tells us it's there, as if nature somehow found a way to sneak into our apartment without us knowing. It's really distracting him. Just today, I stood in the living room and held out my arms to him for a hug. He ran to me from the kitchen, but once he entered the living room, he suddenly jerked around and pointed at the tree, leaving me hanging. So far, though, he has tried to touch the tree only a few times, and we have had some success convincing him to stay away. As new parents, we always fear for the worst, and we have been concerned that he'd eat an ornament, yank the tree down, or just spread sap everywhere. We at first considered blocking the tree with the Pack 'n Play, since we don't have a fence, but that option was thrown out after we realized it would take up too much floor space. We did not like the thought of having to jump over it just to get to our couch.

So now the tree is up and decorated, with nothing blocking it. Now all it needs are presents. Those will arrive Christmas weekend, when that fat old guy finds his way here. Kyle's grandparents and his aunt and uncle will also be here that weekend, no doubt contributing to the loot.

Seven adults. One wild and crazy 18-month-old. Lots and lots of presents. All inside a city apartment. It will be a Merry Christmas indeed.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Kyle the Terrible

Our child will turn 18 months old on Sunday, and yet he is already well into the "terrible twos." Yes, the phase that causes most parents' hair to go prematurely gray is upon us, much to our surprise. Jennifer and I were under the impression that Kyle would be an angel until he turned two, listening carefully to all our instructions and commands while keeping relatively quiet, except for the occasional laugh or cheerful whistle. On his second birthday, we were going to send him off to military preschool, where instructors would keep him in line until the "terrible twos" were over. Kyle's early transformation has blown up all those plans. Apparently, the "terrible twos" often happen not too long after the FIRST birthday, a fact that many parents keep secret, as they take a twisted pleasure in watching new parents be shocked by the change in their child's behavior.

Kyle's pediatrician was the first person to reveal to us that the "terrible twos" had arrived. He mentioned it during Kyle's 15-month appointment back in September. At that time, we simply thought Kyle was just a little irritable because of teething or the state of the economy. We still had trouble believing that he had fully entered the "terrible two" stage and concluded that the pediatrician, while a very good doctor, probably was a poor counter and confused "15 months" with "two years." Three months later, we realize that the good doc was right.

Dealing with a kid going through the "terrible twos" is like trying to have an intelligent conversation with the Tasmanian devil. Despite the fact that Kyle has yet to figure out how to turn a doorknob, he is already trying to exert some independence. The problem is, he does not yet understand everything you tell him and actually is amused whenever you try to scold him. Sometimes he'll laugh if you get angry enough. There's no way to reason with him when he walks into a room he shouldn't enter, touches something he shouldn't touch, or makes a high-stakes gambling bet on the Patriots. Telling him "no" works only occasionally, and whenever you try to stop him or change his direction, he just starts screaming like you kicked him in the shins. Then he goes back to doing whatever it was you tried to stop. Even though we do have a rather good-natured kid, this sort of thing is happening more and more frequently.

These tantrums are manageable (though exhausting) at home, but in public places they are less than welcome. Especially at church. We have been taking Kyle to church weekly as part of an effort to expose him to our faith and the lifelong guilt that comes with it. The problem with that is it requires a person to stay in one place for an hour. That has not suited Kyle's style ever since he started walking. He wants to leave the pew and roam the church almost immediately after we first sit down. Try to stop him, and the piercing screams begin. Nearly two weeks ago, during our Thanksgiving trip to Massachusetts, Kyle's cries were so loud at my parents' church that we were getting looks from other people in the crying room. We had no choice but to take him outside the building, and Jennifer could feel the stares from the people in the back of the congregation as she took our wailing son from the crying room to the outside door. My parents, though, are lucky to even have a crying room at their church. Our own church does not have one. We just have a foyer. Kyle has spent a lot of time there. He often climbs the stairs leading to another room and that tends to keep him occupied. Still, Kyle has his moments, and, unfortunately, the closed doors are not exactly soundproof. As people inside the church are sending their prayers to heaven, they could hear Kyle out back raising hell. Fortunately for Kyle, we normally attend a Family Mass, so he's in good company with other kids who make noises each week.

It's not always easy dealing with this, but I know we have to be persistent. Someday Kyle will learn to scream less in public places. He has to. After all, "terrible twos" do end at some point. I went online to find out exactly when, and one website actually has a calculator to figure that out. It says we have a mere 551 days until it's all over... and Kyle turns three. 551 days, that's it! Here's hoping my hair won't be entirely gray by then.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Playing favorites

My mother did a wonderful job putting together the Thanksgiving dinner last week. We had a huge turkey, surrounded by bowls full of squash, potatoes, corn, peas, and glazed carrots. There was plenty of stuffing and cranberry sauce to go around, and all kinds of bread to mop up the juices. Everything was simply delicious. But it was not good enough for Kyle.

Even before the dinner, my mother made sure we were all comfortable. We ate mini hot dogs wrapped in bacon (a must in a family of boys), chips and nuts. My mother even stocked the fridge with drinks, including the essential holiday egg nog. But it was not good enough for Kyle.

We continued to feast after dinner. My mom made a pumpkin pie and cookies. She also offered us a store-bought apple pie and ice cream or whipped cream to go with any dessert. We ate until our stomachs nearly exploded. But it was not good enough for Kyle.

I don't know what my mother did to deserve this. Kyle would refuse her food. He would resist her hugs and kisses. He would turn away her offers to read to him. He would accept her gifts, but only with a receipt. My mother seemed to try everything to win over our son's affection, but nothing worked.

My dad, on the other hand, received the affection my mom was seeking without having to do anything. As soon as he would walk into a room, Kyle would walk toward him and hug his legs. My dad could be wearing chainsaws on his legs and Kyle would still gravitate to him. Actually, that's not really a good example, since Kyle is attracted to all things dangerous. Maybe I should have said that my could be wearing fresh vegetables on his legs and Kyle would still gravitate to him. My dad has that kind of appeal right now.

My dad and Kyle do have a lot of fun together, but this kind of favoritism is not encouraged. At one point during the weekend, my mom tried reading our son a book. Kyle resisted any attempt by her to get him to sit on his lap. The little guy seemed content just sitting on the floor and playing with his toys. After a few unsuccessful efforts, my mom gave up and then left the room to check on dinner. Shortly afterwards, Kyle grabbed a book and then walked to my father to have him read it. My dad obviously felt bad about this, and he tried to turn Kyle away by making the reading as unexciting as possible, through techniques like reading in monotone and turning all the main characters into accountants. He would then try to convince Kyle that my mom was doing something exciting and he should check it out. Our son would have none of that. He just wanted my dad to read. My dad could have had a dictionary in his hands and Kyle would have listened intently.

This is no surprise, really. We had heard that playing favorites is part of a child's development. With us, the popular parent is always the one who is the least able to spend time with the little guy. I could have a billion toys and Kyle's favorite books surrounding me, ready to spend a whole afternoon of fun, but if Jennifer enters the room wearing roller skates and carrying a stack of boxes six feet high, Kyle will ignore me and demand that Jennifer pick him up. We would not last very long in one of those James Bond/MacGyver-type action adventures, as the person diffusing the bomb would have to do it one-handed, since Kyle would insist that that person hold him so he could watch.

This incident with my parents, though, is the first time we noticed that he has consistently chosen one person over another. My mom says she's used to it, since apparently my brother and I did the same thing when we were younger (I don't remember that - I just remember my dad doing a lot of cool stuff). I'm sure it won't be the last time Kyle plays favorites... and there's a good chance he will later choose my mom over my dad. Our son will have to be careful, though. Once my mom has him, you can be sure she won't let him go.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Turkey delight

It's almost Thanksgiving, the one time during the year when we all give thanks for not being born turkeys. It's a day of parades, football games, big meals, family get-togethers, and the annual farewell to our month-long guest, the Rockin' Gobbler.

The Rockin' Gobbler has been staying at our home ever since the cauldron frogs disappeared after Halloween. By most measures, the Gobbler has been an unobtrusive guest, since he hasn't hogged the TV remote or left an empty roll of toilet paper in the bathroom without telling us. Still, I can't say I will shed a tear once he leaves.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the Rockin' Gobbler, which I believe I can safely assume is all of you, it is a Thanksgiving turkey that wears a pilgrim hat and an apron. It's very cute, as most stuffed animals are. And, like many of the toys in our home these days, it also makes noise. If you press its hand, the turkey will shake and sing, at several decibels louder than a vacuum cleaner, a parody of Bobby Day's "Rockin' Robin":

He rocks in the barnyard, all day long
Rockin’ and gobblin’ and singing his song

All the wild turkeys in the old tree top
Love to see him wiggle and waddle and hop

Rockin’ Gobbler (gobble, gobble, gobble)
Rockin’ Gobbler (gobble, gobble, gobble)
Go Rockin’ Gobbler ‘cause you’re really gonna rock tonight

It's a true parent's delight, and the kind of gift only a grandparent could give. The thing is, I received this gift from my parents back when I was living in Atlanta, before I was even married. I was working on Thanksgiving, and I guess they felt that, since I couldn't be home for the holiday, a loud, singing, wobbling turkey would be a good substitute for family. Either that, or they were trying to send me a message: "This loud, singing, wobbling turkey will hound you forever because you missed the family Thanksgiving. Don't do it again, Boy."

Now that we are able to celebrate the holiday with family, the Rockin' Gobbler has become Kyle's toy. Our son certainly enjoys it. Each morning, instead of giving his parents hugs, the first thing Kyle often does is motion towards the Gobbler, requesting that it be played. When we do play it, much later in the day as to not wake the neighbors, he wants us to play it again and again. By the holiday, my child and our guest certainly will have made a strong bond of friendship.

No doubt the Gobbler is part of a decades-old plan to get children to hate Thanksgiving, devised by jealous adults who despise how children seem to find joy in everything life offers. Throughout the month of November, children of all ages are encouraged to love turkeys. They play with turkey stuffed animals. They make turkeys out of construction paper. They watch cartoons featuring happy, dancing turkeys. Some kids even go to turkey farms and meet some of the real-life animals, who have adorable names such as "Pumpkin" and "Marshmallow." It's all part of the plan. By the time Thanksgiving rolls around, children are so in love with turkeys, they never want to part with them. Then when dinner happens, the kids are mortified to discover that the animal they cherish has been slaughtered and cooked, and will be fed to them alongside cranberry sauce shaped like a can.

Yet, such is life, and far be it for us to do anything different with Kyle. Heck, if this Rockin' Gobbler thing gets out of hand in future years, with us listening to it non-stop, I might have to find a way to put an end to it by convincing Kyle that our dinner is the Rockin' Gobbler itself. It wouldn't be too difficult: all I would need to do is take it out back, and then return with a ketchup-stained shirt and say, "The deed is done! We're all set for the big meal!" Sure, Kyle would cry and cry, but in the end he would thank me for it... or at least Jennifer would. We're not at that point yet, and the Rockin' Gobbler soon will go to a safe home in storage until next year. On Friday he'll be replaced by a stuffed dog that wags a bell on his tail and barks "Jingle Bells." I just can't wait.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

One man's trash is our kid's treasure

Our son likes to play with our garbage. I'm not sure whether I should be concerned about this or not. Maybe he's just figuring out what to do with his life, and perhaps the sanitation department intrigues him right now. He has an odd fascination with dump trucks, and when he's not interested in food he'd rather throw it off his tray instead of donating it to a soup kitchen or food pantry. Sure, at 17 months, our little guy might be a bit young to be making career decisions just yet, but far be it for me to stop him if dealing with garbage becomes a true lifelong dream.

Perhaps I should clarify what kind of trash he is playing with, for those of you already in the process of reporting us to the authorities. Kyle is not playing with banana peels or cucumber skins, though I'm not saying he wouldn't do that if given the opportunity, as our child seems to want to get into everything these days. No, the trash Kyle plays with is in a basket under an end table, where we keep much of our paper recycling. You could call it our "clean" trash. It's really nothing more than our old newspapers, magazines, and credit card solicitations, but for Kyle it's more exciting than his toy ball, which flashes lights, plays music, rolls on its own, and gives stock tips. Kyle barely touches that thing. He plays with the recycling every day.

The recycling basket fits nicely into Kyle's mission in life, which is to make messy what once was neat. He salivates over things that are organized, waiting for the right moment to get at them. This has been happening for a while now. Months ago, just minutes after his first crawl, he quickly cleared the bottom shelf of our bookcase and removed all the DVDs from the TV stand. They were flung into piles, blocking every imaginable foot path. If he had been strong enough, he probably would have rearranged the furniture, too. So an easy target such as a basket of disposable paper goods was just too tempting to pass up.

With great speed, Kyle flings the papers, magazines and circulars in every direction around, occasionally to stop and read one until he realizes he still can't read. Of course, now that he is walking, his basket-clearing endeavors have added risk, since the paper cleared from the basket ends up all over the floor. Kyle has learned that this paper has very little traction. Yet he can't help but gravitate to the area where the most amount of paper is lying on the floor, and he will continue to go there after tripping and falling. Our son is a glutton for punishment.

Normally I will put the paper back into the basket shortly after Kyle is done with it, in hopes of protecting the little guy from sliding into our table or the trap door leading to our secret dungeon (don't tell our friends). Lately Kyle, being the nice guy that he is, has started helping me with this process. He will go to each piece of paper he flung haphazardly, pick it up, and then carefully return it to the basket. While we are happy to see him do this, we are a little concerned by his inability to stop. Our child has been known add his own things to the basket: a toy, a book, or even his shoes. Fortunately, I tend to find most things before I dump the basket into the recycling bag on trash night. However, a couple of weeks ago, we did notice there was one sock missing in the laundry pile, and we have yet to find it. Perhaps Kyle recycled it, which means there's a chance that somewhere in New York City, somebody's disposable coffee cup has been scented with the aroma of Kyle's feet.

For Kyle, the paper recycling basket truly is the gift that keeps on giving. Considering all the junk mail we will be receiving in the coming weeks, it looks like the little guy will be all set for Christmas.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Pool party pooper

Ten years from now, when we spend our Saturdays driving our son to basketball, soccer, baseball, hockey, football, karate, rowing, kickboxing, bowling, and accordion practice, all between six a.m. and one p.m., we will be able to trace the madness back to one date: November 7, 2009. On that day, Kyle entered the wild world of extracurriculars with his first swim lesson at the YMCA. It was a very exciting day for our young family.

I did not expect this to happen so soon. I was three years old when I took my first swim lesson, more than twice Kyle's age. Yet, when we became members of the Y last month, I learned that it offers lessons to kids as young as six months old (this is true). I understand that the Y is also considering an "in utero" class, where instructors teach fetuses how to do the backstroke and scuba dive (sessions will cost $100, plus an additional $7 for the mandatory fetus swim cap). No child is too young to have fun at the Y. So, despite being younger than my camera phone, Kyle fit right in with the crowd at the pool. Saturday's lesson was designed to give children the opportunity to be in a pool, gain confidence to swim, and have lots of fun.

Kyle did not seem to have much fun at the first lesson. He cried when he stood several feet from the pool as I put a swim cap on him. He cried when I picked him up and carried him into the pool. He cried when we entered the water. He cried when he saw the other parents with their smiling, happy kids. He cried when I splashed a little water on him. He cried when I tried to give him a float to play with. He cried during the hokey pokey. He cried when we turned ourselves around. He cried when the instructor came over to us and tried to cheer him up. He cried when I moved around the pool to show him how much fun it was. He cried when I pointed to his mommy, who was watching us by the pool's edge. He cried when the instructor told us to lift our children into the air. He cried when I held him up high, as if to say "BEHOLD! The wailing child!" He cried when I put him back in the water. He cried when I started thinking that maybe we had stayed in the pool too long, to a point when others might accuse me of child cruelty. He cried when we left the lesson early to dry off. He cried when I grabbed a towel and took off his swim cap. He cried as I handed him to his mother... and shortly after that, he stopped crying. I could be wrong, but I'm guessing that Kyle did not like his first time in the pool.

The other kids in the pool did not cry. I thought that was strange. Surely my child was not the only one with an extreme aversion to chlorinated water. I came to the conclusion that all the other kids were either tadpoles in disguise or mutes. Some time later, though, I learned that there were, in fact, several other kids who did cry. Yet their fathers are compassionate to their children, and didn't force them to go into the water once it became clear they did not want to go. Maybe if Kyle were a little more clear with me, I would have done the same.

There's another lesson this coming Saturday, and the Saturday after that. They last through late December, in fact. We still plan to attend all of them, since the first half of the lesson is play time at the gym, which Kyle enjoys. I'm sure he'll eventually learn to love the pool. If not... well, then maybe this won't be the start of extracurricular madness, and perhaps I will be able to sleep in on Saturdays. I might win the lottery, too.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Hit me with your best shot

Throughout this new parenting experience, there have been many times I have found myself relieved by the fact that people don't remember the first couple years of their lives. Chances are Kyle likely won't remember the times we forgot to feed him, the clueless looks on our faces during his first illness, or the embarrassing dances we have sometimes engaged in just for a laugh. Nope, once the little guy starts forming memories, he will think of his parents as all-knowledgeable people who only do things that are cool. That's what I'm hoping. If anything, Kyle will likely have no recollection of the fall of 2009, and he should be grateful for that.

The fall has been painful for our son, and I don't mean emotionally (though that could change if the Yanks win the World Series). A lot of Kyle's pain has come from those who should be making him feel better: his pediatrician and associates. Considering how many times Kyle is going to be shot this fall alone, you'd think he was a member of the mafia. He received two vaccination shots during his fifteen-month checkup in September, and another shot to fight the flu a couple weeks later. One flu shot apparently isn't good enough for a kid Kyle's age, so we had to go back for another flu shot last Friday. Plus, thanks to the madness caused by a sniffling pig, I will have to schedule Kyle's H1N1 vaccination next week for later this month, and, because pediatricians and government health experts secretly hate children, that vaccine also requires a second shot, which will likely be in December, after he gets a few more shots during his eighteen-month checkup. I fear his shoulder will be sore until he enters the fifth grade.

Even before this fall, Kyle was an old pro at shots (as you can see from the picture, taken this summer). The little guy has yet to dread them, as he somehow always forgets that part of the doctor's visit. Every time the shot comes as a surprise. Kyle often still smiles briefly after it happens, but then his brain registers that something horrible just happened (something worse than being forced to eat peas at dinnertime), and that's when the face wrinkles up, the mouth opens wide, the face turns deep red, and the wail breaks the office windows. Five seconds later, the nightmare is over, Kyle realizes the pain's gone and he's back smiling... until it happens again, and there's always a "next time."

Perhaps this is why we don't remember the first years of our lives. The mind has the ability to delete some of our most traumatic experiences, which is why Jennifer has already forgotten many elements of childbirth, and I can't remember Super Bowl 42. For a baby, perhaps there's nothing more traumatic than getting shot after shot after shot. It's not easy for me to watch him go through this, either. This onslaught of shots this fall seems like cruel and unusual punishment to me. Then again, I suppose it's better than actually getting the diseases the shots will prevent. At any rate, we'll both be happy when this round is over.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Crying for the camera

Like most new parents, we like taking pictures of our little guy. When he first arrived in this world, he saw the camera so often he probably thought it was another parent. We'd capture every smile, every unusual look, and even a few cries. Despite all our picture-taking, we don't have an absurd amount of photographs cluttering our apartment. Sure, we have enough framed pictures of Kyle to make visitors feel that he is eerily staring at all times, but beyond those we hardly have any other pictures developed. These days, thanks to advanced technology and incredible laziness, people like myself don't bother with putting together photo albums, or even going to the store, online or the home printer to have photos developed. We just put them on the computer, where we can view them every evening while wearing the sleepwear we didn't bother to change out of for three days.

However, Jennifer and I have decided that, once a year, we will do photography the old-fashioned way by having an "official" portrait taken of the little guy. It involves dressing him up like an older person and bringing him to an actual photo studio, with bigger cameras and bright lights shielded by umbrellas in case there's ever an indoor rain storm. For last year's picture and this year's picture, we chose to take Kyle to a place known for its photography and table saws: Sears.

We chose Sears last year since it had a good reputation and would not force us to take out a loan to pay for the shots. We didn't want to go overboard with a pricey studio just yet, since there was an excellent chance that Kyle's spit-up would become part of the portrait. Sears actually worked out quite well. Even though we had to wait more than an hour for our session to begin, we were thrilled with the picture. I felt it fully captured Kyle's childhood joy of being thrown on top of an incredibly flat pile of leaves. Kyle seemed to love getting his picture taken, and he laughed and smiled throughout the whole session. The photographer just jumped around and keep shooting every joyful look. We had an abundance of pictures to choose from.

This year was a little bit different. The wait for the photo session was very short, but the session itself didn't quite go as well as the one a year ago. Kyle at first was hesitant to even go into the room, but we were able to walk him in there and have him sit down. For a few precious minutes, Kyle waited cross-legged in front of the camera and smiled. Jennifer and I sat on either side of him, anxiously hoping that the photographer would take his first picture, knowing that at any time our ticking time bomb of a child could explode. Yet, the photographer just stood there, focusing his camera. Then he asked us if Kyle could turn one of his legs so that his knee was sticking up. This is true. The photographer was asking our 16-month-old child, who "calms down" each night by clearing out the bottom two shelves of our bookcase, to sit still and pose for him. We were flabbergasted and said we didn't think he'd do that. For some reason, the photographer didn't believe us, and to get his pose, he reached out and did what photographers usually do with much older subjects: he tapped him.

KABOOM!! Kyle cried. His face turned red. He would not play nice anymore. The photographer tried desperately to calm him down, as did Jennifer and I. We were using all our tricks, from giving him a book to making monkey noises, but Kyle kept crying and crying, at increasing decibels. We did achieve several small victories, but it seemed that every time we managed to convince Kyle to sit still for a few seconds, someone would pop in and interrupt the photographer from taking a picture. It simply was not working for us.

"He was so much better at it last year," I said.
"Yep," replied the photographer. "A lot of parents say that."

Shortly after the photo session, we sat at a computer and looked at the shots. The photographer did a good job with what he had, and Kyle was not outwardly crying in any image. However, in more than a few pictures, we could see the strains of both sorrow and anger in his face. Last year, we took the two best out of many smiling photographs. This year, we chose the only two pictures we could use. With the others, we would have felt as if Kyle was crying at us every time we walked into the living room and saw his picture. That would have been a downer at parties.

We placed the order and will pick up the printed photographs this coming weekend. Chances are we will not do this sort of thing again for another year. Thank goodness. Hopefully by then, Kyle will be ready to pose.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Walking the walk

The calendar said October but it felt like December outside. The wind whipped through our thin jackets as the sporadic raindrops felt like spit from heaven. Sunday was not exactly the best day to be going out, but Jennifer and I had already made plans with our friends in the Bronx, Mickey and Bonni, and we were not ready to abandon them. Originally we were going to check out an outdoor harvest festival in their neighborhood, but those plans fell through as we realized that hypothermia would ruin the fun of pumpkin viewing. Our backup plan was to spend the afternoon inside our friends' apartment. We figured we would have fun, but we were not too sure about Kyle. One day earlier, as Jennifer and I had to take care of some life insurance business (welcome to parenthood), Kyle expressed his frustration with being kept inside by crying until his face turned purple. He still had all his toys around him at that point. We were dreading what he would do without his stuff.

Turns out that wouldn't be a problem. Our son loves to entertain, and with five adults inside this apartment (including our friend Maya) and one Jack Russell Terrier, he certainly had an audience. Yet he had to come up with something exciting, since the dog was also fighting for attention, doing cute things like waving her paws in the air and peeing on the floor. So, Kyle decided that Sunday would be a good day to start walking on his own.

Kyle probably would have announced his intention to walk had he been able to string together a complete sentence, but these days most of the sounds he makes are those of barnyard animals. Instead, the walk happened without warning: at one moment, he was at the coffee table, and at the next, he was next to me, several feet away. I was looking in the opposite direction, so I did not notice that he was not walking on his knees or with the help of his mother. Jennifer, who was sitting on the couch, had seen the whole thing take place and was stunned. Kyle had taken his first steps weeks ago, and was getting used to walking with us holding his hand, but he had never traveled any great distance on his feet without our help. Suddenly he was able to prepare for a marathon, and that's just about what he did.

Within minutes of those first steps, Kyle was moving fast, as if he had been walking for years. He kept going around in circles, through the living room, through the kitchen, through the dining room, and back to the living room. He would then zig-zag through the living room like a pinball, going after each of us and the dog, and then back through the kitchen again. He probably covered a few miles with all the laps he did, and he rarely tripped. All the adults around him were going crazy. It's as if we had never seen anyone walk before. Kyle kept smiling, relishing all the attention and signing autographs.

Of course, we now realize that, for Kyle to ever achieve any major development, he needs somebody there other than his dear ol' Mom and Dad. My mother was in the room when he took his first steps. He was at my parents' place when he started walking with the help of somebody else. And his first stroll happened at our friends' place. He never does any of these things whenever it's just the two of us. Maybe we need to recruit people to help Kyle try new foods, learn to read, or reach other milestones... including the potty training. Do I have any volunteers?

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The shoe that dropped

Ever since Kyle ended his morning naps in favor of screaming and crying every time I put him in the crib, we've been going on neighborhood walks to pass some of the time away. Kyle, of course, does little of the walking, as he prefers to observe the city from his chariot, better known as a lightweight stroller. I do the legwork, pushing him up and down the streets, usually for more than an hour.

Since Kyle does not do any walking while he's in the stroller, he really has no need for shoes. He himself must have come to that conclusion during one of our walks several days ago. That would explain why one of his shoes was suddenly gone halfway through our stroll. The rest of our walk turned into a futile scavenger hunt, with me scanning every inch of the sidewalk and edge of the road, and Kyle fighting off boredom as he sees the same streets he traveled down just moments before.

Kyle did not seem to miss his shoe much. There was no crying or whining about it, and he did not help at all with my search, as much as I begged him to. He probably figured there would be another pair waiting for him at home. Kyle was wrong to make such assumptions. He should realize by now that he is his parents' first child, and there are a lot of things they don't yet take into consideration, like how it would make a lot of sense to buy your child more than one pair of shoes, especially now that he is learning how to walk. The following morning, these parents made an emergency stop at the local Payless.

Of course, we should have realized that this kind of thing would happen with shoes. Shoes like to run and hide, even when you're not in them. At least, that's what my shoes like to do. How many times have I lost my slippers? A gazillion. How many times have hunted everywhere for a missing sneaker? More times than I could count. How many times did I accidentally pack only one dress shoe for a trip to Montreal? Okay, that last thing happened only once, but it is a memorable shoe experience, since I didn't realize my mistake, thought I had dropped it in transit, and went ahead and asked the concierge, in broken French, if she happened to see a size 14 shoe lying around somewhere. She seemed awfully confused and had me repeat my question several times before she laughed, said "no" and then insulted me in French.

Shoes often turn up in bizarre places, too. I remember driving around Atlanta years ago (back when Jennifer and I lived there and were child-free), and I would often see an adult-sized shoe lying along the side of the road. I used to think that was odd, since there would be just one shoe, never two. Back then I logically concluded that Atlanta had a lot of one-legged people who simply threw their extra shoes out their car windows. Now I wonder if Atlanta just had a lot of babies with really big feet.

Our child's shoe did turn up, by the way. We found it the next day, on a cement post along the edge of the sidewalk. Somebody must have put it there shortly after Kyle dropped it, and I missed seeing it on the way back because I didn't bother to look up. We were lucky this time. I know the next time Kyle loses something, it will likely be lost and gone forever. I hope by then we'll have a good backup... but, as it is with new parents, I doubt we will.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

The rain in Maine & the criminally insane

It was very dark, and very quiet. The road to our motel twisted ahead of us, past the thick trees and small houses, leading farther away from any semblance of city life. The sun had set just a short time earlier, as we crossed the border from New Hampshire into Maine, but with the lack of fellow travelers, it felt like we were deep into the night. Kyle was not with us that Friday evening. We had left him at my parents’ place on our way to Springvale, where one of my friends was about to get married.

The motel's sign glowed ominously from the side of the road. As we pulled into the lot, we noticed that very few people had done the same, as most of the parking spaces in front of each building’s strip of rooms were empty. The place was eerily quiet. A lone man sat in the motel’s dimly-lit office, next to a monitor that glowed with the images captured by several outside security cameras. The Holiday Inn this was not.

"You will be staying in room 138," the man said as he gave us a key with a black plastic tag. "It’s in the building farthest to the back, by all the trees and cut telephone lines. Our free continental breakfast starts at 7 a.m."

We chose this motel because a group of my friends were staying there. We met up with them after dropping off our things, and they, too, said they felt our motel resembled one of those places where serial killers hide out. Little did I know that our remarks would foreshadow the events that would happen to us later that evening.

A noise from the bathroom startled me awake shortly after four in the morning. I wasn't entirely sure what I heard, since my mind was still in that fog between dreamworld and reality. I listened more closely to make sure I was not hearing just the rain outside. A shuffling sound confirmed my fears: somebody... or something... was in the bathroom, and must have entered through the window in there.

I slowly rose from my bed and crept towards the bathroom, trying hard to not attract the attention of our intruder. I also did not want to wake up Jennifer until I knew for certain we were in trouble.

Once I turned the corner, I had a clear shot. The bathroom door was closed, and the light was on. I froze.

Then I heard the flush. Whoever it was in that bathroom had the nerve to break in and then use our toilet. I didn't know what to think. Maybe it was someone who had been living out in the woods for a while and wanted to freshen up before beginning the slaughter.

Suddenly the door started to open...

WHOOMP! I jumped on the door and slammed it shut, trapping the intruder inside. I didn't know where to go from there. Perhaps I could have used the ironing board or a chair to jam the door shut, leaving the killer with nowhere to go as Jennifer and I made a run for...

... then it dawned on me: I hadn't checked to see if Jennifer was still in bed.

"Honey?" I asked, "Are you okay?"

Jennifer opened the bathroom door. Fortunately she did not have a broken nose. She also wasn't upset with my overreaction, though I'm sure she wouldn't have been to happy if I did more than just slam the door in her face. Needless to say, we didn't have any intruders that evening.

The rain continued throughout the next day, but nobody cared since the wedding was inside. We had a blast, and, that evening, with all the wedding guests filling up the parking lot, the motel lost its horror house charm.

The next morning we came across a crazy, disheveled old man who puffed cigarettes and then sprinted across the parking lot (this is true). When he approached our group of friends and said that he had spent the last four months in the woods (also true), we figured it was probably a good time to leave Maine. Who knows what I would have ended up doing if we stayed another night after that. You can be sure Jennifer's glad to be home.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Mountain dew

This past Sunday, Jennifer and I celebrated our anniversary, marking six years to the day since our little fling became permanent. Each year we have celebrated the occasion at the same cottages in New York's Catskill Mountains. Last year, because Jennifer and I both had lots of time off and were becoming bored with merely feeding Kyle and watching "Family Feud" everyday, we spent five beautiful days up there. This year we did not have as much time. Due to time and work restraints, we arrived in the mountains late Saturday night and left early Monday morning. Basically, that left us with Sunday, the actual day of our anniversary. It was also the only rainy day of the week.

The lack of sunshine did not mean a lack of fun. In fact, there are plenty of things you can do whenever you're trapped inside a small cottage with a 15-month-old child. For example, you could wrestle...

You could throw socks at your child's head...

Or you could glue his pants to the floor and see if he is able to escape...

At this point we were running out of ideas, and fast. Years ago, rainy days did not bother us much. We would spend the afternoon inside playing cards or a board game, or we would go outside and soak ourselves while imaging the foliage on the mountains hidden behind a wall of clouds. Now that we have Kyle, we don't want to risk getting him sick by standing outside in the rain, and he's not exactly the best card player at the moment. We have yet to teach him Go Fish or Hearts, and he cheats at poker. Our only option was to play silly games with our son, trying to keep him happy until nap time.

For much of the weekend, Kyle was happy. He would move through the cottage carrying his cup of Cheerios like a vacationing adult would carry a bag of chips, snacking on them whenever he felt like it. He loved his temporary little home, and he would crack up at the things inside, like the twin beds in his room or the couch in the living room. With his toys strewn around everywhere, the cottage became Kyle's fun house... and he had so much fun, he refused to nap. Suddenly we had a few more hours we needed to fill, a kid who was going crazy, and a cup of Cheerios that had become dangerously low.

We desperately needed coffee. While we had a pot in the kitchen, we realized it made more sense to go out and get a cup and eat up time. Also, there was a chance Kyle would sleep on the way, since any form of civilization (coffee shop) was at least 500 miles from our cottage, or so it seemed. Having been in the car a great deal on Saturday, and knowing we were going to be doing a lot of driving on Monday, we were not excited about the prospect of being trapped in the vehicle again. Yet, as we watched Kyle try to gnaw through the living room table, we realized that was our only choice if we wanted to keep our sanity. So we buckled him up and drove out in the rain, searching for a coffee shop.

Turns out the car ride was the best idea we had all day (besides rolling up the car windows). Even with all the rain and clouds, we were still able to enjoy the foliage. Since Kyle was new to facing forward in the car, he was hypnotized by the windshield wipers, and quickly fell asleep. The only downside was our inability to find a coffee shop (somehow, someway, the people in the Catskills learn to live without Java Chip Frappachinos). We spotted a Dunkin' Donuts self-serve coffee stand at a gas station, and, considering all we had gone through by that point, it was perfectly fine with us. With our caffeine fix, we had enough energy to make it through the rest of the day. As darkness fell and the thunder boomed outside, we put Kyle to bed, drank champagne to toast our anniversary, and watched an excellent award-winning movie titled "Hot Fuzz."

The next morning Kyle slept in, but our alarm woke us at six. We needed to get up early so that Jennifer could be back in the city to put in a full day of work. It was a mad rush, but we managed to get packed up and on the road by 8:30 a.m. As we weaved past the colorful trees, we said good-bye to the Catskills, with the hope that we would return next year. In less than three hours we were back in New York City... and the weather was gorgeous.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Moving forward

Kyle's world completely changed on Saturday. Up until this point, whenever the little guy needed to get somewhere fast, he had to go backwards. Because his car seat faced the rear, Kyle was the last person to know when we reached our destination or had gone airborne Dukes of Hazzard-style. He'd always be wide-eyed whenever we'd go through a tunnel, since the darkness would catch him completely by surprise. On the other hand, Kyle was the first to know when the rear window was finally defrosted or if the cops were following us. That all ended on Saturday, when I finally turned his car seat around.

We may be a little behind in moving Kyle's car seat; most people typically turn it around at the first birthday. However, we had learned that a child's weight, rather than his age, should be the main factor in making this decision, so that's why we waited. That, and I just didn't feel like doing it until last weekend. Installing this particular car seat was painful on the hands and confusing on the brain (see here), and I had more enjoyable things to do, like seeing the dentist. Yet, the truth was that Kyle eventually was going to be too big to face the rear, and we wanted to move the seat before he started leaving footprints on the rear window. So, this weekend we figured he was ready.

Kyle rode in silent fascination, looking around wide-eyed at everything passing us by. His first trip facing forward was on Sunday morning, as we drove to church. For most people, this would seem to be a rather unremarkable ride. However, since we live in south Brooklyn and our church is in north Brooklyn, we use the highway running along the edge of the borough, which takes us past the Statue of Liberty, goes under the Brooklyn Bridge, and gives us a spectacular view of Manhattan and the Empire State Building. Yet, since Kyle was born in Manhattan and has yet to understand the significance of any of these landmarks, he was more impressed with actually seeing brake lights and the front sides of the street signs. He also seemed intrigued to find out that I have a role in moving the car, and that the radio doesn't magically switch stations.

The seat flip is also a big change for Jennifer, and a welcoming one at that. For more than a year, she has sat in the back seat during most trips, keeping Kyle company as I drove the car. It hasn't been the most comfortable experience in that cramped space, and she would occasionally suffer from car sickness. Plus, if the little guy pulled a seven-alarm tantrum, she would either have to sit through it, or open the door and roll out of the car. Considering that most of our drives are on highways, Jennifer often chose to stick through it. Now that Kyle's old enough to be alone, Jennifer will be sitting in the more comfortable front seat, and she'll be able to turn up the volume of the radio whenever our son starts going nuts... well, okay, she won't do that, but she'll be able to turn around and comfort him without feeling like he's screaming in her face. It's a much better situation. As for me, I'm just glad I no longer have to feel like their chauffeur. It was always strange when they tipped me at the end of a ride.

These are extremely exciting times for our little family, and I'm really looking forward to our next trip away. Who knew that moving around a car seat could fill us with such euphoria? When I look at all the types of things that bring joy to my life these days, I realize that, yes, indeed, parenthood is a very bizarre experience.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009


Sometimes I'm absolutely amazed at how New York City does it. Eight million people are crammed into 305 square miles of space, and yet there's still room for parks, tourists, and the world's largest matzo ball. It's an organizational marvel that, day in and day out, those in charge try to screw up.

Take this past weekend. On Sunday our street had a festival known as a "block party." For those of you who live in the suburbs (as I used to), a block party is like a neighborhood cookout, but instead of cooking weenies and throwing around a football in someone's backyard, you do those things on the street. Sure, city dwellers do that sort of thing in the streets throughout the year, but on block party days they don't have to worry about being flattened into a pancake by a dump truck. That's because the block is closed off to cars for the day. No driving or even parking: violators either receive a ticket or have beer spilled all over their car.

Now, the block party isn't that bad of an idea. I guess someone could argue that it makes perfect sense to close a street to traffic all day long so that a handful of kids can bust open a fire hydrant and run around (until the fire department stops their fun). The loss of one block of one street won't matter much to anyone. However, as Jennifer and I pushed Kyle around the neighborhood Sunday, we noticed our street wasn't the only one closed off to traffic. One block up from ours was shut down. So was the street two blocks down. And another street after that. And another street after that. Even part of an avenue, one of the main transportation routes in our neighborhood, was closed off. Some brilliant person handling the permits allowed all these block parties to happen on the same day! And although it was mid-afternoon, none of these parties were in full swing yet, which meant the streets were barren except for the police blockades, taunting drivers passing by. The streets that were open were full of cars driving through the neighborhood maze, looking for a lone parking spot. If you were visiting our neighborhood on Sunday, the best place for parking probably was in New Jersey.

I have a car, and I use it to do simple things like visit the supermarket, go to church, and drive the occasional motor speedway race. I know the tricks of parking in the city, and I often find a spot relatively quickly. However, there have been a number of times when I've spent more than an hour looking for a spot, with our little guy crying in the back because he doesn't understand why his daddy keeps driving around in circles, mumbling nonsensical words to himself and screaming at pedestrians who walk out in front of green lights. It's a very pleasant experience. I made sure I didn't take my car anywhere this past weekend.

By nightfall, as those looking for legal spots gave up and parked on the sidewalk, the real festivities began. Our street had a band. A loud band that rattled our windows. It was like having a rock concert on the front lawn. I would have enjoyed it, had it not been eight o'clock. Kyle was wiped out and really needed to go to bed. So, while Jennifer rocked him and sang him a lullaby, the rest of the apartment rocked to "Burning Down the House." I suppose I could have called and complained, but that would require crossing the line separating "quickly aging parent" to "cranky gramps." I like to think I still have some youth in me, even if it's dissolving faster than snow in acid. Besides, I'm sure in the near future Kyle will get excited about these block parties, and we would feel awful if someone else spoiled the fun. So, I don't want to set a precedent just yet.

Then again, if a whiner shuts down our party, I suppose we could hit another one... just a block away.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Out of the spotlight

For Labor Day weekend we went to my parents' place in Massachusetts for their annual cookout. It was a great weekend for me, as I was able to fill my stomach with meats, chips, brownies, and Jell-o cake until it nearly burst (there was beer, too!). As for Kyle... well, it wasn't his best moment. He was uncomfortable for much of the event, finding himself in an unusual place: outside the center of the universe.

In his nearly 15 months of life, Kyle has rarely seen a moment when he didn't have all eyes on him, especially at his grandparents' place. At last year's Labor Day cookout, Kyle found himself being passed around from family member to family member, as many were meeting him for the first time. They hugged him, squished his cheeks, and found any little thing he did to be absolutely adorable. Kyle, in turn, graced them with smiles, snuggles, and spit-up. It was a working arrangement, which the little guy had every right to believe would continue this year. He was wrong.

This year Kyle was the odd man out. With his newfound ability to walk on his knees (he prefers that to walking on his feet, having taken only a few steps since his first ones), our son was exiled from the splinter-friendly deck to the yard to play with the other kids. Unfortunately, most of them were at least a year and a half older than him. Those kids, all boys, had kept to themselves last year, but this year they played together, running around, laughing and having a game of chicken with plastic lawnmowers (nobody won). They hardly seemed to notice Kyle. There was one boy there who is nearly two months younger than our little guy, but because he has an older brother, he had developed faster, so he was already running around and skateboarding. Kyle simply did not fit in.

Meanwhile, on the deck, a familiar scene was playing out. The adults there were oohing and awwing over tiny hands, tiny feet, and tiny cheeks. But this year, these did not belong to Kyle. Instead, they belonged to two newborn girls, the newest members of the family, who were just weeks old. The newborns seized all the attention that belonged to Kyle just a year earlier, and, being girls, they were already excluding Kyle from their own little clique.

This all had an impact on Kyle's behavior. For much of the cookout, he sat on his knees, looking around at the other kids playing or talking to his shadow. He occasionally would ask his mom or dad to pick him up, but then realize there wasn't anything special in that. One time I was standing in a circle with my dad and cousins when I saw Kyle creep toward us, walking on his knees. He got about halfway there when he realized we were all holding drinks. Feeling that he needed one to join us, and not knowing where his milk bottle was, Kyle turned around and moped back towards his toys, downhearted like Charlie Brown at Christmastime. The little guy was not himself. This is a kid who has flirted with nuns at church, blown raspberries in a courtroom as a judge was swearing in new attorneys, and waved "hi" to strangers he passes by on the street. Most times you would not describe him as an introvert. Then again, most times he receives all the attention. It was difficult to see Kyle sitting around all by himself... but then again, on the plus side, I didn't spend the whole afternoon chasing after him like some of other parents did chasing after their kids. I drank my beer in peace.

Sure enough, once everyone had left, the chains apparently had broken off of Kyle. Suddenly he was acting silly again, talking gibberish with everyone, and greeting my parents at the door. He was back to feeling comfortable at their place, and, of course, he was once again the center of the universe.

Hopefully by next year he'll be old enough to play with the other kids. He'll also need to be used to not being the center of attention (I'm working on that now by ignoring him this week). Eventually Kyle will be ready to enjoy cookouts again. Once that happens, I'll have to make sure I'm in good enough shape to chase after him.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Food fight

We are at war with our son. We want him to eat. He doesn't want what we give him. Fighting ensues. Most times he wins.

(Above: Kyle is done, whether we like it or not.)

Kyle used to be a good eater. Back when we first started giving him pureed solid food, he would take practically anything we gave him (carrots, green beans, deep-fried Oreos), and he'd often smile and laugh while we did it. We'd smile and laugh, too, completely giving in to the false impression that feedings would be nice and easy from then on. Such is often the case with naive new parents. We didn't read the "feeding the monster" chapter in the manual that comes with every new baby purchase. Because of that, we were woefully unprepared.

For starters, we probably should have started feeding him real food earlier, as most parents do (we're realizing that now). When the little guy was nine months old and very agreeable, the doc said we could give him chewable meals, as long as the food was chopped into bite-sized pieces. I thought he meant a little snack "here and there" so we occasionally gave Kyle a bit of toast or some Cheerios. He was still swallowing down the pureed stuff, so I didn't think anything of it. Kyle was happy. Jennifer was happy. I was happy. The doc was not. At the appointment shortly after Kyle's first birthday, we had a conversation that went a little like this:

Kyle's Doc: "So what kind of food is he eating these days?"
Me: "Oh, the basic things - Cheerios, puffs, toast..."
Kyle's Doc (looking down at me, even though I'm standing and he's sitting): "No, I asked what kind of FOOD is he eating?"
Me (red-faced and slowly backing into a corner): "Ummmmm... does Honey Nut Cheerios count?"

So began our mad feeding frenzy. We bought all kinds of things for Kyle to try, thinking he'd love the new variety of choices. Instead he treated the different foods as if they were toys, except for the fact that he puts toys in his mouth. Peas and carrots were played with and then thrown onto the floor, eggs were dumped into his seat, and the bits of cheese he accidentally put into his mouth were immediately removed and handed to his dad in the most grotesque fashion, as if to say "this is what I think of your attempts to get me to try something new." We did have some success with cookies, blueberry muffins, and doughnuts, but for some reason I doubt Kyle's doc would be impressed with that.

Now after each meal, the floor of our dining room is covered with the carcasses of foods that had hoped to be the delight of our young boy, but were instead cast off, doomed to spend eternity in the fires of our trashcan. As you can see from the picture, Kyle's not just tossing out the new things; even the Cheerios now face his wrath. As we've been trying to get Kyle to eat more during the past two and a half months, he's actually trying to eat less. So much for our plan. Kyle is resisting the pureed food, too. We've talked with some friends who have kids of their own, and they say that at some point many children suddenly decide they don't want to be fed anymore. They just want to eat food on their own. I fear that our kid will starve because he has two clashing desires: he doesn't want us to feed him, but he doesn't want to eat anything outside of foods that must be fed to him. Logic is apparently not a strong suit of a 14 month old.

However, there is some hope. We have discovered that there are ways around Kyle's resistance. Generally he will eat if he tastes the food and realizes he actually likes it. Yet putting the food close enough so he could taste it requires some skill. Kyle has the arms of a Karate black belt: he can anticipate my moves and has the power to block them. With his left hand he deflects my attempts to bring the spoon to his mouth, and with his right he's swatting the jar in my other hand, trying to get me to dump it off the side of his tray. Usually, after splashing food on his eye, nose, forehead, ear, and sometimes hair, I manage to get some on his lips. I pause, wait for him to taste it, and then I move in with the rest. Suddenly Kyle is a changed man, eating the food right up. However, it's important to not recognize the change. If Kyle feels that I actually enjoy feeding him, his defenses will go back up, and the battle will begin anew.

(Above: The scars of battle)

Emerging victorious in the pureed-food battle with Kyle is like finishing a crossword puzzle or winning solitaire: it's a small feat in the grand scheme of things, but it's immensely satisfying. Yet we still have the problem of convincing him to try new foods before his next doctor's appointment, which is in two weeks. I guess I should be more concerned with my son's nutritional development than some pediatrician's opinion of me as a parent, but coming to him with nothing to show for these past three months is like flunking a class at school. Maybe I should buy him a fruit basket or something to make him forget the whole thing.

As for Kyle, he may keep fighting, but I believe he will ultimately lose the war. It's not a prediction I make with absolute certainty, but I do get the feeling he'll want to try some real foods before he starts dating. Then again, who knows what will happen in the future? Maybe pureed foods for everyone will become trendy. Kyle can only hope.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

One small step for baby

I really should stop taking off my shoes. I should wear the same pair all the time, out on the streets, in bed, in the shower, etc. It doesn't matter if my socks start to disintegrate; I don't think I'm ever going to take my shoes off again. Not after this past weekend.

On Sunday, Kyle took his first step. He was holding himself up at the playpen in the living room, when he suddenly let go and walked to the nearby living room table, doing a few tap dance steps and a waltz in between. My mother was there and watched it happen. Jennifer was also there and became ecstatic. For weeks now, Kyle had been building his confidence, testing his balance by occasionally letting go from whatever he was holding to stand in place for a few seconds. Yet until this moment he had never actually walked anywhere. This was an important milestone in the very young life of our little guy, one that no parent should have missed. Except I did miss it. I was in the next room, sitting at the computer I'm at right now, taking off my shoes.

What can I say? My feet were aching. Jennifer and I just walked back from a delicious brunch at Brooklyn's 12th Street Bar & Grill, where we had celebrated her birthday. It was hot out, my stomach was full of blueberry waffles, and I needed to wind down. Kyle had been home with my parents during our meal, and he had quietly done nothing monumental. When we came home, our son didn't stand up to welcome us, or do a little headstand to show off his new balancing skills. So I had every reason to believe this was going to be just an ordinary Sunday afternoon, and I went to my computer chair to take off my shoes.

This is how it went from there (my thoughts are in italics, while Jennifer's words are in quotes): Dum-dee-dum-dee-dum, I'm taking off my shoes. "Dave! Kyle just solved a Rubix cube!" Doo-dee-doo, left foot first, then the right. "Dave! Kyle can count to ten and do basic algebra!" Did I step in some gum? Nope, doesn't taste like gum. "Dave! Kyle has come up with a reasonable solution to our health care problem!" Say, what's this news story on the computer? Britney's back? No way! "Dave! Kyle just took his first step!" What? Did I just miss that?

Okay, so maybe I exaggerated a little, at least with Jennifer's quotes. I was floored that Kyle chose this moment to walk on his own. Sure, he included me in other milestones (the first time he stood up in the crib, the first time he laughed, the first time he dirtied the curtains), but this was a biggie, and I thought for sure I'd be there for it. After all, on most days I am with him nearly every moment from the time he wakes up at 6:30 a.m. to the time we put him to bed at night, usually around eight o'clock. I feed him, bathe him, entertain him, shine his shoes, carry him around the apartment, and change all those horrific diapers. You'd think he'd show me some respect and wait until I was there to take such a momentous step. But, nope... he seemed to be deliberately waiting for the moment when I was just out of view, in another room. No respect at all, I tell ya. I suppose there's a life lesson in there somewhere; maybe I'll figure it out once he's a teenager.

Until then, I'm not missing another milestone... I just hope my feet stop itching.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

A week away

It was cool. It was windy. The clouds were dark and threatening to burst open at any moment. Forecasters and sociologists alike were already declaring Sunday the 8th as the "least fun" day of August, and even the dogs in most neighborhoods felt the weather was unsuitable for going out and playing fetch. Naturally, this was the day we decided to take Kyle to a real beach for the first time.

We had been looking forward to this moment, in part because it was the start of our vacation, and in part because I love the chafing feeling of sand on my clothes. No gloomy skies were going to stop us from going. I was determined to put Kyle in the ocean and make him enjoy it, even if we'd both get numb in the process.

Kyle did not seem to know what to make of the beach experience, since this was his first time dealing with sand. Earlier in the day he tried to prepare for it, sitting on some dirt and having a pleasant experience with a few pebbles. He even tried to eat these pebbles, which, to him, were more appetizing than the peas and carrots he's been refusing for weeks. But sand was different. Sand's pebbles are tiny, sticky, and inescapable. Kyle tried at first to avoid the sand by attempting to jump over the gap between our beach blankets. This was difficult, considering that Kyle has yet to learn how to jump. It probably didn't help that we were all staring and pointing at him.

Eventually Kyle grew comfortable with the sand, though he did not know what to make of his dad's frequent attempts to bury his legs. And, yes, he did go into the water, though just his feet. He'll wait to try surfing next year, I suppose.

The next day Jennifer and I were in Chicago. We wanted to escape the city, so we figured this would be the natural place to do it. Notice I did not say "Kyle, Jennifer and I." That's because, upon arriving in the Windy City, we realized we had left the little guy back at my parents' place. He was safe, though the extra attention he received during his stay has given him a superiority complex that make take months to undo.

Meanwhile, we were just marveling at the ability to travel without a child in tow. Those who do not have children don't quite understand the pleasure of taking a trip with just your spouse. Trust me, I didn't understand during the years before Kyle. Suddenly we were able to pack all of our things in one suitcase. We were able to sleep until 8 a.m. We had a streak of dinners without a single Cheerio assault. Chicago was full of life, and we were willing to live it, touring downtown, visiting the Sears (Willis) Tower and Wrigley Field, eating deep dish pizza, and riding the subway without having to wait for an attendant to open that door to let strollers through. At times it even took us less than 10 minutes to get ready and leave our hotel room. It was truly a paradise... except for that annoyance of actually missing our kid.

Oh, the plight of new parents! Even though you love your little one dearly, you get excited for that opportunity to "be free" for a little while, but when you get that opportunity to be free, you spend a good amount of time missing the little one. While we never forgot him, at first we reveled in our ability to go someplace late in the evening and walk out of the hotel without a diaper bag. But shortly into our trip, things would start reminding us of the little guy. We'd hear a baby cry and think of Kyle. We'd see little blond-haired boys in the park and see our little guy. We'd hear some drunk at Wrigley blabbering away and hear our boy's drivel in our heads. Yep, we missed him.

It did help to know that Kyle was having a great time with his grandparents. We would have felt more guilty going out and having fun if the little guy were someplace else, like prison. Each day my mom let us know just how much he was enjoying his time with them, by teasing us with adorable pictures of the little guy going food shopping, playing on the couch, and washing the car (that one is dear to my heart).

(Above: Kyle applies the wax before scrubbing the tires and vacuuming the interior)

By the time we returned Thursday we were pathetic parent puddles, ready to see him. While I am not looking forward to him becoming a wise-ass teenager, it certainly will make vacations away much easier.

The week wrapped up far away from city life, up in the woods of New Hampshire, where my cousins had a small family reunion. By "small" I mean the people were small: there were at least five little kids there, though it often felt like there were more, considering how fast they moved from room to room. When the adults weren't changing, feeding, or protecting their kids from bears, they were... well, I don't know. Jennifer and I were too busy changing, feeding, and protecting our kid from bears. In the evening, after the kids were in bed, we all sat outside by the fire, which illuminated our bare skin, allowing easy tracking for mosquitoes, who feasted as well as we did earlier in the day. Throughout the night, we talked, laughed, and discussed some of the important questions of life, such as "what do you get when you cross a horse and a moose?" Deep conversations like these could happen only in the back woods.

On Sunday New York welcomed us back with open arms, and one of the worst traffic jams I've seen in a long time. Everybody was coming back from vacation at once. We were feeling completely unoriginal. Next time, to avoid traffic, we'll have to be more spontaneous, perhaps by going to a New England beach in January. Maybe we'll have better weather then.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009


This week I'm away from my desk, busy on a dangerous mission with Jennifer and our son, secret agent Kyle Bond...

I apologise for the short post this week, but a person doesn't have much time to blog when he is out saving the world and/or Great Britain.

Have no fear... Kyle Bond will return next week... in Thundercrawl!

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Everything must go!

This crib saga may be finally nearing an end, much to the disappointment of those fans who were hoping for a long-running series on it. On Saturday, I once again found myself ripping apart cardboard boxes, trying to make sense of poorly-translated directions, and wondering if Kyle's old enough to just sleep on a mattress on the floor. After several hours, the deed was done. The new crib was assembled, and this time Kyle did not try to somersault out of it. Jennifer and I celebrated by torching the old crib, only to douse it seconds later when we realized we needed its parts to get our money back through the recall. Kyle marked this glorious occasion by doing what he does best. He grabbed whatever items I had put in the crib (books, stuffed animals, the screwdriver I had misplaced), and tossed them out of it.

This behavior is nothing new. All of Kyle's things are frequent flyers. It doesn't matter what it is: if it is light enough for Kyle to pick up, and if it's not coated with crazy glue, then it will be airborne in a matter of seconds. He's been doing this for several months now, stemming back to the time when Kyle first threw out his stuffed dog after it started talking smack. Now hardly anything stays in the crib.

I don't know why he's doing this; as a new parent, most of my child's behavior is a puzzle to me. These actions don't seem to work to his advantage. It might have made some sense at first: he'd play with a toy for a while, get bored with it, and then toss it out. He'd then play with something else in his crib or playpen. Now he just tosses everything out, often without giving most toys a second of attention. Once the crib is cleared out, he gives me a look of satisfaction, as if he accomplished something grand. Then he realizes he doesn't have anything to play with anymore and starts screaming at his dad for letting this happen. At that point I stop what I'm doing, whether it be the dishes or open heart surgery, walk into his room, throw the toys back into the crib, and we begin the whole process again. Usually it goes faster the second and third times around.

(Above: Kyle is thrilled to have no more toys to play with)

Sadly, he's not throwing anything out of his playpen anymore. That's because he hasn't used it since he tried flinging himself out a couple weeks ago (yes, just like he did with the Delta crib). We put up a gate at the entrance to our living room, transforming the entire room into his playpen. I've found myself tripping over at least five of Kyle's things each time I walk through there, when I'm not tripping over Kyle himself. The little guy just keeps flinging things around, and now he's throwing things into the crib. It's as if the inside and outside have simply reversed. Apparently Kyle just doesn't like his toys. At least he's making cleanup a lot easier. If he keeps this up, maybe I'll have him help me take care of the mess in my office.

Now, one may say I'm encouraging this behavior by putting lots of toys into his crib or in the living room just to see them flung out of reach over and over again. I tend to think that this behavior, as strange as it may be, could be related to Kyle's development, and who am I to get in the way of that? Plus, I'm noticing that he's flinging things out with greater velocity. He's obviously strengthening his arm for one of three goals: to became a major-league pitcher, a human catapult, or an expert snow-shoveler. I'm excited about all prospects. With the first option, he'd get gazillions of dollars and I'd be able to live out my lifelong dream to build a mansion out of waffles. With the second, he'd be able to fling things great distances, which would come in handy years from now, when I realize that the best way to clean out the garage is to throw everything into the lake. I think the benefits of the third option are self-explanatory. In any case, I'd be a winner.

However, as I've said before, I do not intend to impose my own hopes and dreams onto my child, and I'll continue to let him practice throwing in his new crib so that he can do whatever HE wants to do. It's his life, and he can follow his own dreams with that powerful arm. If, instead of pitching, shoveling or catapulting, he chooses to use his arm to throw a football for the NFL, well, I guess I could learn to live with that. As long as it's not for the Jets.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

A Rockville and a hard place

There's an old R.E.M. song called "Don't go back to Rockville." It's a catchy, country-style tune that describes Rockville, Maryland, with lyrics such as "Going where nobody says hello/They don't talk to anybody they don't know" and a chorus that states, "Don't go back to Rockville/And waste another year." Surprisingly, the song is not included in the city's tourism videos.

That tune was running through my head as Jennifer and I took Kyle to Rockville this past weekend for a wedding on Jennifer's side of the family. This was Kyle's first wedding; he's normally not invited to these things because he doesn't like sitting still for long periods of time and he's been known to strip in public. The bride and groom wanted Kyle there anyway, and told us that some of the other guests had the same habits (most of them babies). So, when we arrived in Rockville Friday night, Kyle fit right in.

To my surprise, Rockville was much different than the place I had imagined after humming that song. There was no feeling of gloominess, no factory to enslave our child, and the people there actually said "hello." Instead of dark, empty houses and hordes of people trying to bring me down, there was a plethora of cheerful shopping plazas, complete with the essential Starbucks, cell phone shops, and discount mattress stores. The biggest problem with Rockville these days might be the actual "going" part. There may be a curse on any travel to the city. It's not one that can ruin a weekend; we had a great time, in fact. It's just a curse that makes things awfully inconvenient.

It began with our arrival. We reached the hotel around dinnertime, and we were starving. The little guy was so hungry he started to eat parts of his stroller. Jennifer and I immediately searched for food, and Jennifer's grandmother recommended that we go to the hotel's restaurant. She said it was quiet and empty, and the perfect spot to take the little guy in case he acted up. So we took the elevator down to the restaurant and found out that there was a good reason why it was quiet and empty: it was closed. Apparently no tourists like to eat dinner on a Friday night.

We went back to the room to give Kyle his food, along with the milk that the hotel staff gave us from their closed kitchen. We had no other milk because we hadn't gone out to buy some yet, and neither the hotel's gift shop nor vending machines carried it, since people visiting Rockville tend to put their children in a kennel. We were extremely grateful that the hotel came through to quench our child's thirst. After that, it was time to find more milk for the weekend, and food for ourselves.

We first tried to go to a Target store, which the concierge said was in walking distance, right behind the hotel. It turns out the Target was in walking distance only if you were planning to walk for the rest of the night. We drove a good number of blocks to get there, only to give up on our plan to go inside the store when we couldn't find its entrance. By now my stomach was starting to eat itself. We went to a nearby supermarket, which sold milk, snacks, and prepared food - that needed to be heated. When I asked a worker if there was any way the store could heat it, she laughed at us and told us to use our hotel room's microwave. When we told her our hotel room didn't have a microwave, she laughed at us again, and then went on and on about how she always reserves rooms with microwaves in them, and how crazy we were for not getting one. She had a lot more to say, but we didn't stick around to hear it.

Since it was getting past Kyle's bedtime, we decided we'd cave in and order room service. After the long day, we figured nothing would go better with the room service meal than an ice cold beer. They don't sell beer in the Rockville supermarkets, so on the way back to the hotel we stopped at a nearby package store to pick some up. Of course, they didn't sell cold beer, but why would they? Nobody wants cold beer in Rockville.

The rest of the weekend was certainly better. Kyle did well at the wedding. He had fun going to the wedding and seeing his relatives, but most of all he enjoyed seeing himself. Turns out we have a narcissistic baby. Who knew? This was the first time he was in a room with a mirror at his height, and he spent a lot time gazing at the handsome face looking back at him. The inconvenience curse still haunted us, too, but not as severely. It mostly struck whenever the little guy tried to nap. The first time he tried to snooze, he was rudely interrupted by the wedding itself. The second sleep attempt was at the post-reception cookout, when Kyle was awoken by a massive rush into the house, as the weather suddenly changed from overcast... to hurricane.

Overall, we had a great time in Rockville, despite the warnings from R.E.M. and the inconvenience curse. On the way home we hit heavy traffic that delayed us several hours, and we even had trouble finding whole milk at one of the rest areas (Burger King sells only skim, believe it or not). But we don't blame the curse for that. No, it's just one of the things you come to expect when you're forced to drive through the abyss known as New Jersey.