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.