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.