Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Wild things

More than a century ago, back when a lack of TV left people with brains too sharp for their own good, there was a belief that drugs and crime were just not enough of a challenge for a big city like New York. That's when someone came up with the idea to house vicious creatures within walking distance of neighborhoods and schools. But local authorities didn't think that was even challenging enough, so they encouraged residents to bring their family and friends to see these vicious creatures up close, opening the door to a bona fide massacre should any of these animals break free. Hence, the city zoo was born.

Not too long ago we took Kyle to one of these zoos, a small one in Brooklyn's Prospect Park. It doesn't have the killer animals the big zoos have, unless you count the saber-toothed turtles. I have no problem with that, since the park is less than two miles from my home, and it's nice to know that I can walk down my street without fearing a lion attack.

Kyle did not even notice the lack of man eaters at the Prospect Park Zoo. He had never been to anything like a zoo before, unless you count the rat exhibit on the subway tracks. To him, this was as good as it gets. As we went from one exhibit to another, he seemed interested in everything around him: the kangaroos, the deer, and the exotic birds with their exotic droppings. The sea lions appear to have been his favorite exhibit, though it could have been because he saw their pool as one big bathtub, and they were the toys. Kyle is a huge fan of baths.

I did find it funny that we were taking someone who spends much of his day in a playpen to see creatures who spend all of their days in pens. Granted, zoos have changed a lot from the old days when animals were locked up in cages the size of footlockers. Still, it's not like they could leave at any time and go to a show across town. Kyle certainly could relate, and I used that to my advantage. During our stop at the enclosed porcupine exhibit, I was able to say to Kyle, "See those porcupines? They're enclosed in a pen, just like you are, but they are adults. Do you know why they're still in a pen? They didn't eat their vegetables." I think I could work that one for at least another few years.

In the end, the visit to the zoo was probably more for Jennifer and me than it was for Kyle. I think we were more excited to see the wildlife than he was. Sure, he smiled and made happy sounds at the animals, but he makes the same gestures at the stuffed animals in his bedroom. As for Jennifer and me, we're still adjusting to this whole parenthood thing, and it was fun to do something that parents typically do, even if it meant watching baboons pick at each other's behinds and play with themselves. At least this time around I didn't have to come up with an answer the question, "What are they doing, Daddy?"

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Every dad has his day

I'm a big fan of this "Father's Day" thing. I love how our country sets aside a day to recognize the hard work millions of dads put into parenting, and the love and care they provide their children. Most of all, I just like feeling special and getting presents. It's like suddenly having an extra birthday, without the "you're getting old" mockery.

Sunday was my second Father's Day as a dad. The first happened just two days after Kyle was born. I didn't really feel much like a dad then. We were all still at the hospital, where Kyle seemed more like a baby-on-loan than my actual kid. During those first few days at the hospital, I didn't need to do much care taking. There was a nursery for that. Nap time? Send him to the nursery! Diaper needs changing? Send him to the nursery! Can't hear the TV because of all the crying? Send him to the nursery! It was great.

However, for most of Father's Day last year, our son wasn't allowed to leave the nursery. That's because he needed to be treated for a common newborn condition called jaundice, which gives babies the complexion of a mustard bottle. Jennifer broke down and cried when she learned I wouldn't be able to spend the whole day with my son. Of course, Jennifer was sobbing over a lot of things those days, because women's hormones go wacky after giving birth. I could have told her we were all out of popsicles and she'd weep for hours. I still had a good time, and Kyle didn't seem to mind it much. To treat jaundice, nurses put babies in a device that looks like a tanning bed. For much of the day, Kyle was under the lights, snoozing bare-chested with his goggles on. As I watched him from outside the nursery, my pale skin reflected in the window and I thought, "Hey! I could use some of that! Isn't this my day after all?" My kid was less than three days old, and already I was very jealous of him.

This weekend was different. This time around, I felt like a dad, having earned my stripes as a stay-at-home parent. So, to celebrate being a father, I did as few daddy responsibilities as possible. Nap time? Send him to his mother! Diaper needs changing? Send him to his mother! Can't hear the TV because of all the crying? Send him to his mother! It was great... just like having the hospital nursery in our own apartment. Jennifer didn't mind, either - after all, she had her day last month.

Of course, I didn't spend the entire holiday just sitting around and watching Jennifer take care of Kyle's messes, as tempting as that was. We all managed to get out to participate in the day's big event: a street fair in our neighborhood. I thoroughly enjoyed it, and not just because of all the tube socks, worthless trinkets and mozzarella-cornbread pies available to me for a reasonable price. No, this event was particularly monumental because we were able to attend it without weather-protective gear. In case you haven't heard, up until Sunday (and including Sunday morning), it had been raining in New York for 243 consecutive days. Times Square has become an official water park, and certain avenues now have gondola taxi service. Yet, for Father's Day, the clouds broke, and hordes of people swamped our street fair, trying to relive the good ol' days when we'd get sun for maybe two, three, or even four days straight. We heard some live music, ate watermelon bites, and dodged the politicians and their minions who wanted our support... a feat that's even harder now that we have a baby to kiss. It was just so much fun to be outside with Jennifer and Kyle. Unlike last year, I actually was able to spend a lot of time with the little guy, and even though I do that all the time, on Sunday it felt extra special.

We finished the day with beer, pepperoni pizza and gourmet "grasshopper" cupcake Jennifer had bought me from a fancy bakery called Crumbs. I couldn't have asked for anything more, except maybe bacon on the pizza. We'll work on that for next year. Yeah, I'm a big fan of this "Father's Day" thing.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

No piece of cake

There are certain things almost all parents expect to go wrong at their kid's first birthday party. Rain can ruin our outdoor plans. The child might be overwhelmed by the many guests. Perhaps the acrobats hired as entertainment will eat all the food. There are so many factors that could hamper the celebration, but one thing you don't expect is there to be a fierce battle between the kid... and the cake.

Jennifer and I expected Kyle to embrace his birthday cake this past Saturday. We thought he might dive head-first into it, getting the chocolate sponge all over his face, and frosting so far up his nostrils that he'd be smelling and sneezing chocolate until Christmas. Instead, he wouldn't have a sniff of it. When cake time came around, Kyle twisted and turned as we tried to put a little piece in his mouth. Even when we thought we had the slightest bit of success, he'd push it out with his tongue. As he fought us, Kyle's face turned red, tears ran down his face, and he wailed as if we were doing something so despicable, only Dick Cheney would approve of it.

It's not that this was a bad cake. Perhaps if I had made it, Kyle would have good reason to protest. The last cake I made was more than twenty years ago, when I was in Cub Scouts. My dad and I cooked one up for a father-son cake-baking auction. When the auction started, I realized I couldn't part with our masterpiece, so I convinced my parents to make the highest bid for it. They did, and after shelling out perhaps hundreds of dollars, we brought our cake home. It's a good thing, too. When we cut into it later that evening, we realized the inside wasn't fully cooked. I think we saved a few lives with our bid that day.

The cake at Kyle's party was, by many accounts, delicious. Since this was a special occasion, we bought the cake at the same place we picked up the dessert for Kyle's baptism, Fortunato Brothers bakery in Williamsburg. It was a chocolate sponge cake, with chocolate frosting and raspberry and banana filling, composed of real fruit instead of pudding. Needless to say, the cake went very quickly. You wouldn't know it, though, looking at Kyle's face as we tried to give him some. He never acts that way whenever we feed him peas.

We are perplexed. Kyle should be a cake lover, since it's in his genes. His mom and dad are crazy sweets addicts, and we can't resist a good cake. We are also huge ice cream fans, and yours truly has been guilty of going through one of those Ben & Jerry's pints in one sitting. It remains to seen whether Kyle will like ice cream. I'm not too optimistic, though, considering his track record. We may just have to serve him peas and green beans at his birthdays from now on. I suppose that wouldn't be so bad. After all, that's more cake and ice cream for me.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Super soaker

I am grateful that we keep an extra set of clothes in the diaper bag for Kyle. We might need to start packing some for me, too. I could have used them Sunday morning.

We were in church, listening quietly as the priest reflected on the readings of the day. Well, Jennifer and I were listening quietly; Kyle was bobbing up and down, looking around, talking gibberish, grabbing the missals, and shaking hands with the woman behind us... all within the span of a minute. At one point he became agitated about something (maybe he was struggling to fully grasp the concept of the trinity), and he started crying. That's when I picked him up and took him to the shrine.

The shrine is this big, open room to the right of the main church. It's filled with statues of the saints and other religious artifacts. People can go into the shrine to light a candle and spend some time in quiet prayer and meditation. It also makes a great crying room. We have taken Kyle in here from time to time, and usually he calms down right away. Sunday, as I held him in the shrine much like I did in the picture to the right, Kyle remained cranky, twisting himself around in my arms, testing my ability to protect him from the forces of gravity. It didn't take me long to realize why he was so upset.

I felt something wet. And then I saw it: a wet spot, about the size of an orange. But this was not on Kyle. It was on MY shirt! That's right: my son, my first-born child, felt it necessary to relieve himself on me. In church. During the service. I had been christened.

Fortunately, for the sake of the nuns and the rest of the congregation, I had the presence of mind to not verbally express all the expletives that ran through my head at that moment. Instead, I stared at Jennifer, wide-eyed, trying to get her attention, all while trying to contain my squirming kid with the soaked pants. When she looked at me, I pointed to my shirt, and her jaw dropped. She handed me the diaper bag and I darted out the back to the restroom. We moved so fast that Kyle suddenly thought he was on a ride, and he shifted himself in my arms, facing forward to get the full effect. Wheeeee!

Now we often dress Kyle up nicely for church, and this past Sunday was no exception. When the service began, the little guy was wearing a classy green striped shirt and blue dress pants. By the time this whole adventure was over, he was wearing baby sweatpants and a blue shirt with a monkey on it that read "Go Bananas!" Sunday best, indeed.

As for my stain, I just put some bathroom soap and water on it and hoped no one would notice. As a parent, you do a lot of "hoping no one would notice." We had a great number of errands to run after church that day, and I had no other choice but to wear the shirt through all of them. At least one of the stops was at Babies R Us, where my stain fit in with everyone else's food stains, spit-up stains, formula stains, and stains I don't want to know about. Nobody did notice, and by the end of our errands I had completely forgotten about our little adventure. Later that afternoon, as Jennifer and I were at home finally relaxing, she looked at me and asked, "Are you still wearing that shirt with pee on it?"

Ah, the joys of parenthood. Nearly one year in, and still loving it.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Unhappy meal

There are certain places where babies are not welcome: the movie theater, nuclear power plants, some strip clubs, etc. However, they are not banished from most restaurants, much to the chagrin of baby-less patrons. I have heard complaints that babies have ruined dinner experiences for others by crying and screaming, throwing things, or not leaving enough money on the table to pay the bill. One of my friends told me a few months ago that he absolutely hated it when people brought babies into a restaurant. This was shortly before we were all about to go out to dinner with Kyle. My friend, suddenly realizing the company he was in, quickly added, "But your baby's fine, of course."

Yes, my friend is right. My baby is the exception. Everybody else's babies are the problem. Granted, all the other parents feel the same way about their kids... but, naturally, they're wrong. Our baby is the only angel in the bunch. That is, if you don't include our dinner out last week.

For some reason Jennifer and I were inspired to take Kyle to a fancy Mexican restaurant, meaning there were no 89-cent tacos or talking chihuahuas. When we arrived, the place was fairly empty, so we were able to get a table alone by a window. Jennifer sat at one end and I at the other, with Kyle in a child seat between our table and the next. Our son immediately started banging the table and reaching for the knives, and Jennifer and I scrambled to get everything out of his reach. Jennifer then started feeding him to keep him occupied, which worked well for about five minutes. At that point, the local factory must have shut down for the day, because suddenly the restaurant was flooded with people, and we were no longer surrounded by empty tables.

Now, a lot of restaurants in New York have a "know your neighbor" table policy, with seats so close to each other you're practically sitting on the person next to you. So when a young couple sat down next to us to have a quiet dinner together, Kyle was able be a part of their dining experience, too. Once they received their menus, our son reached around and grabbed them. Perhaps he wanted to recommend an appetizer or a good milk-based drink for them to try. We smiled and apologized, and gave them their menus back. But Kyle was not done. He went on to try to grab the couple's napkins, silverware and salt shaker, and that's when we figured he should swap seats with Jennifer.

The new location was not much better, especially once we were served. With our plates on the table, there was more for the little guy to try to grab, and less room for us to move things. He suddenly took an interest in guacamole and sour cream, and would get cranky when his mean and ruthless parents would deny him the things he cherished. To avoid an incident or those dreaded angry stares from other patrons, Jennifer and I rushed through our meals so we could take Kyle home before he really started to wail. I think I had chicken, but it's all a blur. We got the bill, with its fancy Mexican prices, and headed out the door as Kyle started to let loose.

This doesn't always happen when Kyle eats out, but we have noticed he's become a bit more impatient with age. I suppose it will get worse before it gets better. Rumor has it that angry toddlers have been known to throw plates of food at other customers and set things on fire, and many parents end up getting pizza delivered every weekend night until their kids get old enough to behave in restaurants. I guess we'll wait and see if that happens. At least we live in a neighborhood with a lot of kids, and we see plenty of toddlers going out to eat. So maybe the patrons here will be more tolerant of Kyle as he becomes increasingly unruly. I just wish their children weren't so loud.