Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Hello Family, Good-bye Friend

As of last night, this is what our street looked like:

This snow arrived on Sunday.  It's beautiful to look at, and lots of fun for sledding.  It does present a problem, however, when you try to go somewhere, especially when your car is one of those buried in the snow.  My parents' car is in the picture above.  They couldn't leave until today.  My father-in-law didn't drive here, but Nature's Christmas gift was also wrapped with a flight cancellation notice.  Our week is not exactly turning out as we planned.

I'll write more about that in the next post.

In the midst of all the holiday preps, celebrating, and scrambling to find food to feed our guests during their extended stay, I've been dealing with some sad news: a good friend of mine passed away last week.  Peter Freundlich and I were coworkers at CNN here in New York, and we kept in touch in the years since both of us were let go.  Peter was a brilliant, creative man and the finest writer I knew.  He was highly accomplished in the news business, having been Charles Kuralt's personal writer and the head writer/producer for CBS Sunday Morning.  When I met him, I was far less experienced, only five years or so out of college.  I was also three decades younger than he was.  Even so, he treated me as an equal, and we always enjoyed each other's company.  I met up with him several times this past summer and fall, after learning he had cancer.  Our conversations ranged from politics to parenting to our favorite television shows, and he even gave me some expert advice on my recent writing ventures.  The time often flew as we enjoyed sitting back and having a drink.  I had hoped for us to get together a couple weeks ago, but Peter asked for a rain check.  A week later, I learned that he was gone.  He was only 64.

Peter's last works were for a blog he launched after his diagnosis.  He wrote about his experience as if he were kidnapped and taken to a far-away place called Cancerland.  The blog was witty, creative, and often poignant.  You can take a look at it here (the link goes to the first month's entries, since that's the best place to start).  Since its launch, more than 25,000 people viewed Peter's blog.  I know he helped more than a few people get through their own illnesses or the illnesses of loved ones.

Peter is also a hero to those of us who were ever fired or laid off.  Nearly a decade ago, before I met him, Peter did something to his former bosses that most people would only dream of doing.  He was particularly proud of this moment.  Fortunately for us, it was videotaped.  Watch and enjoy:

Good-bye, Peter.  I'm going to miss you a ton.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Not One of My Favorite Things

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I bring to you our talking Elmo's most annoying position, discovered by our son Kyle just a short time ago:

Yes, from this position, Elmo starts asking to be picked up, but in doing so, he lifts his body just high enough to think he's standing up again.  When he starts to say "thank you," he lowers himself again, causing him to once again ask to be picked up.  That causes him to say "thank you" again, and so forth.  This sequence could, in theory, go on FOREVER, or at least until the batteries run out.  We never get to test this theory because I stop it a few minutes after it starts, since anything longer than a few minutes of Elmo's starts and stops would drive me insane.  At that point, I probably would jump on the furry red critter, smashing it to pieces, traumatizing Kyle and causing a lot of noise for our neighbors downstairs.  Still, I gotta hand it to my son: it must have taken some skill and determination to discover this outrageously annoying flaw with the toy.  I tip my hat to him, and will remember this if he ever has children.  If you happen to have any kids of your own, for your own sanity, don't EVER show them this video.

We received this Elmo from my brother and sister-in-law last Christmas.  I am certain they meant no harm from it, much like Bob Dylan probably meant no harm when he released his own Christmas album last year (listen to samples here, and please read some of the many one-star reviews).  No matter the intent, the scars are now there.  So here's my Christmas message to anyone reading this blog: if, by chance, you might be getting this toy for a toddler relative or friend of yours, please think about it for a long time, play the above video again, maybe fifty more times, and then think about it some more.  Wouldn't a nice pair of socks be better?

Thank you, and have a wonderful Christmas.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Adventures in Babysitting

Jennifer and I went to one of those fancy-shmancy restaurants Saturday night.  I had a perfectly-grilled pork chop, with sides of bacon, fried egg, and collard greens, while Jennifer enjoyed a savory black angus hanger steak, topped with a baby shiitake mushroom, onion, and potato puree.  We toasted our friend Amanda on her birthday, shared several stories from each other's lives, and laughed at a good joke or two.  Then came the grand finale: coffee and desserts, featuring apple crisp, brown sugar cake, and chocolate custard tart.  Absolutely delicious.  At the end, after sharing another (less hearty) laugh over the bill, we applauded the chef, blew kisses into the air, and went to the coat room to pick up our jackets and Kyle.

(Above: Enjoying a night without having to apologize
to other patrons)

Oh, if it were only that easy.  No, this past weekend, Jennifer and I did something we hadn't done since becoming parents: we hired a babysitter.  Both of us had wanted to go to Amanda's party, but our usual babysitters, my parents, were unavailable that night because they live in Massachusetts.  We have no other relatives in the area, and all our other friends either had plans that night or claim they are allergic to diapers.  So, we enrolled in one of those online sitter services, thinking that the internet's the best place to find someone you can trust with your child's life and all your possessions.  Nearly a hundred people responded to our request.  I'm not kidding.  They were all free on a Saturday night, and, for just a few bucks, they were all willing to spend that evening with a two-year-old maniac.  Surely, most of these people have some serious mental problems.  We needed to weed out the worst of them with only a week to go, and we soon realized that was not going to be enough time.  I was going to give up and stay home, but then Amanda and her husband Matt offered us a solution: their nanny Joyce was willing to watch our little guy!  Jennifer and I took our friends up on their offer. 

Now, leaving your kid with someone new is no easy task, especially when your kid is a toddler.  Two-year-olds like having certain things done a certain way... anything straying from the norm will lead to whining, crying, and, at times, bodily harm.  Of course, that's bodily harm to the person watching our son.  Kyle hurts himself only when he's in a good mood and running into tables or walls.  Since we didn't want our friends' nanny to lose a limb, we did everything we thought possible to make her job easier.  We wrote out all the important phone numbers, some of our rules for Kyle, and a detailed description of the bedtime routine, complete with charts, diagrams and escape routes.  We then placed key items, such as Kyle's favorite foods and blankets (which are sometimes one in the same), in easy-to-find spots.  Then, when she arrived, we went through all the routines with her, covering most of Kyle's habits in the half-hour of time before we had to go.  As always, I was more guilty of rambling than Jennifer was.  Joyce smiled, laughed, and nodded politely at everything I said.  I think she just wanted me to go.  Kyle immediately liked her, and gave her a book to read to him.  He almost didn't say "bye" to us. 

I completely trusted Joyce (she's done really well with our friends' child and has plenty of toddler experience), but my stomach was still in knots on the subway ride to the restaurant.  We were taking a big, but necessary, step.  Once we were at the restaurant, we placed our phones on the table, just so we can immediately respond to any problem, and I started to relax.  Jennifer called just before bedtime and learned that everything was going well.  But then, five minutes later, my phone rang.  The caller ID said "Joyce."  I grabbed the phone and darted outside, nearly knocking over a few waiters on the way out.

What could be wrong?  Was Kyle okay?  Did something happen at dinner?  Did he break something?  Did he break the sitter?  Did he torch the apartment?  Did he get arrested?  Anything was possible.  I answered the phone and paced back and forth outside.  With the car noise, my racing mind, and the nanny's thick accent, it took a while before I could figure out exactly why she called.  She wanted tea.  Tea.  That was it.  Our apartment was cold because the heat doesn't work when it's slightly above freezing outside, and Joyce was hoping to make herself a warm drink.  She needed to know where we kept the tea and mugs.  Apparently everything else was fine.  Kyle was getting along so well with Joyce, he almost forgot he had parents.  After explaining where we kept everything for tea, I double- and triple-checked to make sure there were not any problems.  Joyce said there were none.  There was a laugh in her voice, and I could tell she just wanted me to hang up. 

There were no more phone calls after that.  We enjoyed the rest of our dinner, and when we came home, Joyce was sitting on the couch, watching a bad TV movie (I forgot to show her where we keep our DVDs).  She said she had a good time with Kyle, and would do it again.  We thanked her, paid her, and called a car to take her home.  And that was that.  Our first sitter experience was done, and nobody was injured.  Kyle was asleep in his crib, looking very content with his blankets.  The next day he talked about how much fun he had with Joyce.  We had fun, too, though the next time might be a little better... I'm guessing I'll be a bit calmer then.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

O Little Town of NYC

Last weekend, with Jennifer's sister in town, we went on a little trip to go see the local Christmas tree.  It was all lit up, even in the daytime, and there was a pretty good crowd there for a Friday afternoon.  Looking at the tree, I couldn't help but think back to days when I would become excited seeing the big Christmas tree all lit up in my hometown.  I smiled, looked at my child, and thought, Wow, do you have a screwed up sense of what "normal" is.

(Above: Kyle helps us find the Rockefeller tree.)
Kyle's hometown tree is, of course, that tree.  The Rockefeller tree.  It's the skyscraper for the squirrels, covered in 30,000 light bulbs, with a star big enough to have a planet orbiting it.  People from all around the world come to see the tree, to stare, to drool, to shove others in the Christmas spirit, and to take lots and lots of pictures, most of which will end up buried on a hard drive or lost in a stack of prints in some shoebox.  To some, the tree is one of those things you have to see "at least once in your lifetime," up there with the Grand Canyon and the World's Largest Toilet.  Visiting this tree is usually a big deal, but for Kyle, it's just someplace to go on a Friday afternoon.  Sure, he enjoyed seeing it, but he's been more excited about the wreaths our landlady hung at the entrance to our building. 

My hometown tree never receives the same attention Kyle's does.  For much of my childhood, the tree stood at a busy intersection in the center of town, on an island between traffic lanes.  There were no crowds clamoring to see it, hoping to be lucky enough to get a good shot of it.  If you were close enough for a good shot of my hometown tree, you were lucky if you weren't whacked by an oncoming vehicle.  The powers that be have since moved the tree to a safer spot, inside a park that was built on the remains of a mill that had burned down.  Not exactly Rockefeller Center.  Kyle's hometown tree is surrounded by shops such as Botticelli, Coach, Kenneth Cole, and Crabtree & Evelyn.  My hometown tree now sits next to the post office and Dick's TV and Appliance.

Then there's the whole tree-lighting thing.  Kyle will grow up being used to seeing his hometown tree get lit up on national television by a mayor who's routinely courted for a presidential run (my hometown mayor would be lucky to get courted for a radio spot, pitching sofas for the local furniture store).  The ceremony includes an hour-long ice skating and singing extravaganza, featuring world-renown performers such as Mariah Carey, Sheryl Crow, Josh Groban, and the Rockettes.  How wild is that?  I don't remember my hometown doing anything big for the lighting when I was growing up.  I'm guessing the tree was lit without fanfare by a scruffy, overweight chain-smoking town hall janitor who probably just plugged it in when he finished stringing up the lights.  He'd then dodge cars like Frogger, crossing the busy intersection, toward his illegally-parked pickup truck.  For the rest of the night, people in the town would drive by and say, "Oh, look!  The tree's lit!  When did that happen?  No, don't stop! We can't delay if we want to get a table at Pizza Hut!"

I'm still amazed at how many famous things Kyle will take for granted.  The Rockefeller tree.  The Empire State Building.  The Brooklyn Bridge.  The Statue of Liberty.  That smell from New Jersey.  It might take Kyle a while before he realizes just how special these places are, and how far people go to experience them.  Perhaps he will view the suburbs the way many people view the Big City.  He might get excited over the simple things, like malls with free parking.  Hey, it could happen... and if it does, I know where to find a Christmas tree he'll love.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Let's Make a Meal

My brother and his wife hosted Thanksgiving this year at their new home outside of Boston.  Apparently they wanted to test out their new fire alarms and dishwasher, as well as scuff their floors to make their new place feel more like home.  Kyle was eager to help out, as he had been looking forward to this trip for some time, talking frequently about his aunt and uncle's "new house" in the days leading up to Turkey Time.  As soon as he arrived there, he took off, running through the kitchen, into the dining room, past the living room, down the hall, and back into the kitchen.  There was so much space!  He ran around and around all day, breaking occasionally to climb stairs, open cabinet doors and jump near the shelves holding fragile artifacts from my brother's trips overseas.  The little guy must have covered about 43 miles before the day's end.  He kept everyone busy, and Jennifer and I appreciated having others around to help out.  I was also grateful for the egg nog.

(Above: Artistic rendition of our Thanksgiving turkey)
Everyone loved the dinner my brother and sister-in-law prepared.  We filled our bellies with turkey, stuffing, sweet potatoes, green bean casserole, squash, freeze-dried yogurt drops, and Teddy Grahams.  It was a feast for everyone.  Dinner was capped off with dessert, which included pumpkin pie, apple pie, cupcakes, and more Teddy Grahams.  The food was delicious, and surprisingly non-toxic, considering that my brother had helped cook it. 

After the meal, we went to the living room to watch football while Kyle terrorized one of the cats.  The cat, one of two tuxedo cats owned by my brother and his wife, had made the mistake of walking into the room where Kyle was standing.  The little guy loves pets, perhaps because he feels a kinship with them, since they are close to his size and do a lot of whining over food.  Our son likes to run up to our friends' dogs, place a hand on them to "pet" them, and run away snorting with laughter.  With this cat, he didn't even get that close.  He simply stood in the center of the room where the cat was and clapped his hands.  The cat froze at the top edge of a couch, scared of this three-foot clapping monster.  It trembled as Kyle walked closer, wearing a silly grin and still clapping.  Then, with Kyle still several yards away, it turned and somehow slid down a two-inch-wide gap between the couch and the wall, and was not seen again for the rest of the day.  I think it ate part of the seat cushions for its dinner.  Better to do that than confront the killer clapper.  Kyle said the "cat has a boo-boo" and then started doing laps around the house again.  From what I hear, the cat re-emerged after we left, when the house was safe again.

It certainly was a lot of fun to visit family and friends during the holiday break, and to not have to search for parking while doing that (oh, the simple things suburbanites take for granted).  Jennifer and I also took advantage of having my parents there, who are ready-and-willing babysitters.  Since we have yet to gain the courage to put our first-born's life in the hands of a stranger, this weekend was our first opportunity to have a date, just the two of us, since our Aruba trip in August.  Wow, was it refreshing.  Jennifer and I used this valuable adult time to go to the cinema... and see a movie about a boy wizard and his magical friends.

Sunday was slap-happy traffic day.  We spent most of the day fighting other highway drivers, most of whom either had a death wish or were using a vehicle for the first time.  We then roamed our neighborhood for a half-hour or so, looking for parking (oh, the simple things suburbanites take for granted).  Once that was over and Kyle was in bed, Jennifer and I sat on our couch, put on the TV, and enjoyed a quiet evening at home.  We enjoyed the Thanksgiving weekend tremendously, but it sure was busy.  Now that it's over, we've begun the madness that is the Christmas season.  I'm still clueless as to what to buy Kyle this year.  Maybe we should get him a cat.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The Pop Boils Over

It's very easy to get angry at a two-year-old.  Even with all their charms, toddlers really are three-foot-high tyrannical, violent, self-centered punks.  And I say that lovingly.  My own two-year-old was especially difficult last week, and I had some trouble putting together a blog entry as I spent much of Kyle's nap times with my head on my desk, trying to unwind.  Who knew that someone with less than three years' experience in the world could know just how to make your blood bubble for hours?  Apparently anyone who has had a two-year-old knows.  "Terrible twos" is a cliché, but there's a reason for that.

It's very easy to forget that the person I'm dealing with is only two.  That's a problem in itself.  I spend a lot of time with Kyle, maybe too much time.  It makes me delusional.  I start thinking that he's more mature than he is, believing that I can understand him, and he understands me.  Sometimes I think we're having actual conversation when I realize later that half of what I said sounded like someone throwing up.  "BWAAAAAAAAAHHHHHH!!!"  Not exactly intellectual stimulation.  Kyle replies so well that I think we're onto something and maybe doing some father-son bonding, but then he goes ahead and does something that drives me batty, like throwing a brick across the living room, near the shrine for our TV.  That might be followed by a screech that makes nails-on-a-chalkboard sound like Miles Davis.  With an adult, you can criticize such behavior by saying the person is being "childish" and "acting like a two-year-old."  Unfortunately, two-year-olds are expected to act like two-year-olds.  Whenever my kid acts like an adult, he is sick with a fever.

Still, as a parent, I have this bizarre, self-destructive tendency to try to correct this behavior, thinking that a reasonable kid would realize that what he was doing is wrong and stop doing it.  Or maybe a reasonable kid would cry or get upset because he realizes he's in trouble.  Again, such thoughts come with the delusional thought that a two-year-old is reasonable.  Kyle, instead, gets a good laugh out of a scolding.   In fact, a scolding of any sort usually encourages bad behavior.  It's as if Kyle goes through a checklist once he gets into trouble.  Did you jump in the tub?  Check.  Screech?   Check.  Hit Daddy?  Check.  Kick?  Check.  Head-butt?  Check.  Bite?  Check.  Throw something?  Check.  Break something?  Check.  It's as if Kyle's saying, "Well, if I'm gonna get in trouble over one thing, I might as well get in trouble over EVERYthing." 

Kyle is a creative kid and knows when he's on a roll.  That's when he'll start experimenting.  At times it's very stressful, as it was that day he ran away from me, on the sidewalk, several feet away from moving cars, and didn't listen when I shouted for him to stop.  Other times, it's just irritating. On one particular morning, after all the throwing and screeching and ripping up books, Kyle was quietly playing with Play-Doh at the kitchen table as I sat next to him, exhausted from chasing after him.  I was resting in a quasi-vegetative state, trying to figure out what would be more effective at waking myself up: using energy to get coffee, or just banging my head against the table.  I looked at Kyle and saw him tilt his head down toward the chair.  He looked up at me and smiled.  Then he did it again, and that's when I realized... he was spitting.  Really, Kyle?  I thought to myself.  You're going to start spitting?  Now?  When did you think of doing that?  And on the chair?  Really, Kyle?  Really?  He had never done it before, but now he thought the time was right to start spitting all over the place.  That's when I slowly pulled my aching body up, told him "no," and got a head-butt to the stomach.  Then a kick.  Then a whack in the face.  Check, check, check.

So what do I do about this?  There are your standard punishments we all remember getting when we were kids, and I have tried a good number of them.  But we remember these punishments because they were effective when we were four, five, or six years old... not when we were two.  For a two-year-old, it's all a game, and Kyle loves seeing me get red in the face.  When I'm not behind the wheel or debating politics with my dad, I'm usually not a hothead, but as I have tried to get a message through to Kyle, I have found myself yelling angrily at levels I didn't think possible, so loud that our neighbors dial 911.  The result?  Giggling and a repeat of what he just did.  Other scolding methods also go nowhere.  The kid just doesn't understand "getting into trouble" yet.  You can't even threaten to skip dessert or throw a toy out the window.  It's a shame, 'cause his Elmo doll could use a good hurl. 

Then, last week, in the midst of one of Kyle's worst streaks of bad behavior, I gave up.  I stopped yelling or trying to punish him.  I just firmly told him not to do something or had him repeat what he did wrong ("no eating the couch"), and I often just removed him from the situation.  I was actually following advice that others had given me a while ago, but had forgotten in the two-year-old's assault on me.  You know what?  It worked.  Or, at least, it has worked for nearly a week.  I know that Kyle is feverishly creating a new plan to get the "angry dad" game going again, and will strike when I least expect it.  And he will win.  That's just what two-year-olds do.  For now, I'm just happy something is finally working.

Yet, this battle takes up just part of the time.  At other times, a two-year-old will laugh with you, give you a hug, or say or do something so out-of-the-blue and wacky that you hurt your side laughing.  He might even avoid confrontation and listen to you, as Kyle did most of the day yesterday.  And even on the most turbulent days, when nothing seems to be going right, there might be a quiet moment when you're sitting down and that two-year-old comes over to you and gives you a smile.  A wide, glowing smile that tells you that you are his best friend, and the person he enjoys being with each and every day.  And at that point, you forget just how easy it was to get angry at a two-year-old.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Toddler Takeover

Kyle was determined to "own" story time from the moment we arrived.  We were ten minutes late, and the leader was halfway through the first story by the time we walked into the small room in the back of a local coffee shop.  We probably would have arrived there earlier had this not been a last-minute plan of desperation.  Yesterday's weather was gloomy, the playground likely was washed out, and the gym was not open at the YMCA.  Kyle had woken up long before the sun, and Jennifer had another early morning at work.  That meant the little guy was stuck with me alone for a bit longer than usual, and he was quickly running out of ways to test my patience.  With Kyle just minutes away from spray painting the refrigerator, I had to come up with something fast, and that's when I found a card in the office with the story time hours.  I had been mildly curious about it, so I figured we might as well check it out.  No doubt it would be better than staying at home and dousing fires.

Kyle and I quickly scoped out the place when we walked in.  There were about twenty people there, half of them less than three feet tall.  I had to watch my step.  All the adults were either moms or nannies, making me the only dad in the room.   I felt a little awkward, like Ronald McDonald at a PETA meeting, but as a stay-at-home dad, I've become used to being the lone man.  I quietly took a seat along the wall.  Kyle, meanwhile, went straight into action.  He's at a stage where he doesn't follow anybody, and he was ready to undermine the woman who was leading the story time.

"Mommy, Daddy and KYLE!" he shouted at her.  It was his way of introducing himself, as he has yet to figure out how to say, "My name is Kyle and you shall bow to me."  The leader said "hello" back, and then the niceties were over.  It was time for rebellion.  The little guy struck first at the seats.  About ten pillows of all colors were spread out on the floor for toddlers to sit on.  Kyle wanted them gone.  He immediately started collecting the seats, apparently in an attempt to steal the leader's audience.  He picked up two or three at a time and stacked them in a pile next to me.  Soon other toddlers joined in the fight, and within minutes, all the seats were gone, replaced with a handful of kids wandering aimlessly with their pillows, not listening to any stories and blocking the view of those who were.  Kyle's plan was working.

The little guy's next operation was aimed at the books themselves.  Either he did not like what the leader was reading, or he wanted to read the picture books himself.  Personally, I didn't mind the stories, except maybe for the one about the crack-dealing homicidal pyromaniacs.  Kyle, though, was determined to get new books.  With the seats now gone, he easily ran to the other side of the room, and squeezed himself between a chair and a table blocking a bookshelf. 

"Book!  Book!" he said loudly in my direction.  The leader pretended not to hear and kept reading.  I ignored him, too, and pretended some other kid sitting in the back was my child.  I had hoped that the lack of attention would convince Kyle to do the reasonable thing and sit down.  Instead, he kept calling to me as he attempted to climb onto the table.  Even though Kyle has spent a lot of time at the gym, he doesn't have a good set of guns just yet, so he managed to only get his chin above the table.  At this point, his rag-tag team of followers was quickly dissipating.  They were apparently embarrassed by the head of the rebellion, who  dangled by his chin on the table, looked weaker as slipped down.  Also, the leader of story time had just begun a monster tale, and it's hard to be the enemy of someone reading a monster tale.  Even Kyle was half-interested, and he paused a moment to listen.  That's when I took the opportunity to get up and carry him back to my seat.

Once the leader finished the monster story, she encouraged the kids to take part in an activity.  She passed around sheets of paper with big green circles on them, and told the kids to turn the circle into a face.  She then gave each kid a bowl filled with eye, ear, nose, and mouth stickers.  Kyle wanted to make a demonstration out of this silly game, to embarrass the leader into submission.  While other kids were having fun creating images, Kyle spent his time pulling out the stickers one-by-one and placing them on the paper without even peeling the backs off to make them stick.  Once the bowl was empty, Kyle stepped backwards, into the middle of the room, and clapped.  Mission accomplished!  But, by now, the rebellion was over, as Kyle was all alone in his quest.  I helped him put the stickers back into the bowl, and he humbly handed them over to the victorious leader, who all along seemed oblivious to his attempts to overthrow her.  She gave him a small bag of "Veggie Booty" and thanked him for coming, saying she hoped to see him again soon.  Once we were outside, Kyle threw the snack to the floor in disgust.  He demanded that we quickly went home.  For my son, an hour without being in total control was simply too much to bear.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Free Fallin'

Nearly three years ago, back when Jennifer and I were able to go places without an extensive checklist and spare set of clothes, we had dinner with some friends in North Carolina.  As we ate, their first child, who was just two at the time, decided to turn their china cabinet into his very own rock wall.  Before reaching the summit, he ran into a little trouble with gravity.


After a brief moment of silence, the two-year-old, now face-down on the floor, started crying.  His parents tended to him quickly, lifting him up, giving him a hug, and then placing some ice, wrapped in a towel, on his bruised forehead.

"No," said the kid, to our surprise.  "The other kind."

"Oh," said the dad, as he rose from his seat, taking the ice with him.  He walked to the kitchen and quickly returned with the ice, this time wrapped in a surgical glove.  The boy smiled and took it from him, pressing it to his head.  That's when it hit us: this is our future.  This is what life is like with a little boy.  The fall didn't jolt me.  Neither did the cry.  No, my rude awakening was the realization that the boy had done this sort of thing so often, he already had a preference for the way he receives his ice.

Kyle is now just a couple months younger than that boy was when he took that spill.  He has yet to fall off our own china cabinet, but I really think that's simply because we don't have a chair near there to help him up.  If we did, there's a good chance Kyle would try to climb as recklessly as possible.  That's because Kyle loves to fall.  

(Above: Kyle "falls" at the YMCA.
As you can see, he is in much pain.)
Falling is Kyle's new hobby.  Just as other kids learn to play catch, sing songs or build things, our son has taken to tumbling to the ground and saying "uh-oh" as if he did it by accident.  He trips over things that aren't there.  He falls off the couch.  He turns church pews into professional wrestling rings.  So far, he hasn't been seriously hurt, though if you do happen to respond to Kyle's "uh-oh," he will follow it up by saying "boo-boo" and pointing to a part of his body he supposedly hurt, even if he fell onto a pillow.  Anything for a little sympathy, or a cookie.

I did stress the word "seriously" in the last paragraph because I would be lying if I said Kyle never hurt himself.  Sometimes certain things get in the way of his act, like crib rails.  On more than one occasion, during a fall or a wild jump, Kyle has smacked his jaw into his crib, cutting his lip.  And, wow, do lips bleed.  Normally this sort of thing happens at bedtime, so, instead of softly putting him to bed with his blankets by his side, I am rushing him to the kitchen sink, his face wrinkled more than a pug's as he's breaking new decibel levels, with a red river flowing over his mouth, teeth, tongue, and chin.  After I go through a dozen or so napkins, tossing them to the floor looking like they mopped up a surgery, Kyle's lips heal, and I put him back to the crib... where he pretends to fall again.  He has yet to master the concept of "cause and effect."

So, my hopes and dreams for the little guy are changing again.  Instead of becoming a professional athlete/President who wins a Nobel Prize in physics while his paintings and sculptures are on display at the Louvre, Kyle might become a stuntman instead.  I think I will be able to accept that.  There are worse professions.  At least he hasn't taken an interest in journalism.  Still, I'm holding out hope that all this falling is, like many other things, just a passing phase.  It has to be, for my own sake.  The thing that Kyle loves most of all is falling on me, especially after 9:30 am, when all the energy I had for the day is used up.  I often have to absorb, without warning, a fast-moving head to the gut, shoulder, or chin.  A successful block will only lead to another try.  If it continues this way for much longer, I will be the one requesting a favorite type of ice pack.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Taking Candy from Strangers

On Sunday, Kyle trick-or-treated for the first time.  This was a momentous occasion for us.  Sure, the little guy did go outside in costume for his previous two Halloweens, but to say he actually trick-or-treated is the same as saying that someone who put on a pro football jersey and attended a game actually played pro football.  I hear from a very reliable source that I look pretty good in my Tom Brady Patriots jersey, but you can't call me a member of the Patriots.  Truth be told, if you put me in as quarterback in a real NFL game, chances are I'd be on the ground in fetal position, wailing for my mom within twenty seconds of game's the first snap.  It takes more than just the costume to be a full participant.

During the past three Halloweens, Kyle's costumes have, unintentionally, reflected his current state of development.  He was a cow at his first Halloween, fitting because, at four months old, he often stayed in one place and pooped a lot.  For his second Halloween, Kyle was a vampire.  Yes, Kyle was very trendy at the time, but the costume mostly reflected his desire to bite people and drink their blood.  This year he was Bamm-Bamm, the club-carrying child of Mr. and Mrs. Barney and Betty Rubble, of the Flintstones TV show.  The resemblance between Bamm-Bamm and our two-year-old son is uncanny.  Both have bright blond hair, both prefer walking without shoes or socks, and both can turn a living room into a disaster zone within a few minutes.  Kyle does know a few more words than Bamm-Bamm, but he uses them with the same eloquence.  For us, there was no other choice for this year's costume.

Armed with a pumpkin bucket and a felt dinosaur bone, our little Bamm-Bamm went outside for our neighborhood's Halloween festival, which is no small event.  As a Halloween costume parade marched down a street not far from our home, Kyle watched all kinds of spooky creatures pass him by, including monsters, witches, zombies, and Senator Chuck Schumer.  The senator was indeed part of the parade, though he chose not to wear a costume.  Perhaps he felt he didn't need to.  After all, for many Americans these days, an incumbent lawmaker, especially a Democratic one, is scary enough as is.  We joined the parade for a block or so before jumping out of it to get some free candy.

It took Kyle some time to get the hang of trick-or-treating.  Thanks to many agonizing weeks of practice, Kyle could say "trick or treat" without a problem... but he did not know what to do after that.  To the confusion of the candy-givers, Kyle would not hold out his pumpkin bucket.  Sometimes he would pull it away or take a few steps back when someone was trying to give him a treat.  At one point, he even tried to give the candy-giver some of his own candy, not quite realizing that trick-or-treating is a one-way transaction.  I think he started to get the hang of things by the end of the night.  He certainly enjoyed the feel of candy falling into his pumpkin bucket, as he often would beam a wide smile or laugh after receiving some.

Once trick-or-treating was over, the three of us went home to inspect Kyle's loot.  Jennifer and I did our parental duty, checking each piece of candy to make sure no wrapper was open, and making sure Kyle did not receive anything dangerous, such as razor blades or political pamphlets.  We also would have let Kyle try some candy, if he seemed at all interested.  But Kyle didn't care about eating his candy; he enjoyed just looking at the wrappers and their many colors.  He also spent a good amount of time emptying his bucket, putting the candy back into it, and then emptying it again.  To him, that was almost as much fun as the trick-or-treating itself.  Even if he didn't eat any candy, Kyle can still be proud of having taken part in a tradition shared by millions of kids throughout our country.  We are certainly proud of him.  And on Sunday I, too, took part in a tradition shared by millions of dads throughout our country: after the little guy went to bed, I dug into his bucket and enjoyed a sample.  I love Halloween.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

A Nightmare on Sesame Street

There's nothing more exciting than waiting in line for a ride or a show.  Jennifer and I love it.  That's why we returned to Sesame Place on Saturday.  We had heard that the park will be soon closing for the year, and we did not want to miss out on another good dose of standing on our feet for hours.  Also, since the tickets we purchased in July covered an extra admission, the price was right, too.  Nothing like free waiting.

This trip was remarkably different than our summer trip.  First of all, having settled my issues with Cookie Monster, I was able to go unarmed.  Second, the water park was not as much fun this time around, as all the pools and rivers were drained.  In July, when Kyle refused to try any rides, the pool was the one thing that made visiting the park worth it.  This time around, I couldn't even get him to go in it.  He's so finicky.  

The whole park was decorated for Halloween.  Banners of the Sesame Street characters now featured them in costume.  Floral arrangements were turned into pumpkin patches.  There were even "Trick or Treat" stands for the kids.  Overall, though, the park was not very scary, and that was a bit disappointing.  They certainly could have done more.  Maybe they could have put a jar of live tarantulas next to the scary-looking pizzas in the cafeteria... or, better yet, have a mechanical severed head of Snuffaluffagus on a pole outside the entrance of the restrooms, quietly welcoming patrons with a "Heeeeey, Biiiirrrd."  No, the closest thing they had to anything creepy was Elmo's on-stage impersonation of Michael Jackson.  They'll have to do better if they really want to be a Halloween destination.

We did watch a couple of the park's Halloween shows.  Kyle enjoyed seeing his favorite characters, but I don't think he fully appreciated the plots.  When I tried to discuss them with him later, hoping to dissect the allegorical meaning behind the Count's polka dance, my kid merely said, "I had fun with Elmo and Cookie Dah-doo."  We're not quite ready to take him to a Broadway show just yet.  Still, he seemed engrossed by what was going on.  I was impressed that he was able to sit still for a good twenty minutes.  I'm starting to think that I should talk to our pastor about somehow adding Cookie Monster to the family church services.

We also had a minor breakthrough: Kyle enjoyed "Ernie's Bed Bounce," which he shunned the last time we were there, after waiting five hours in line.  Last time Kyle set foot in the bouncy room, he stood at the edge, begging for his mother to take him out.  This time, he immediately ran away and tackled a poor girl at the other end, before running back and tackling another girl.  As I've written before, my son is gifted when it comes to women.  When he was not working his moves, he jumped around, tumbled a few times, and laughed.  He just needed a couple of months to get over his fear of that ride.  Maybe by next summer he will want to go on one of those upside-down roller coasters.  I'm keeping my fingers crossed.  A ride like that certainly would make waiting in line worth it.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Man Vs. Wild

I have squished more than a few bugs in my day, and even conquered the monster cockroach-like water bugs of the South, but I never considered myself much of a exterminator, or even a hunter of beasts.  For years, I had no reason to combat the wild, as I, like most of you, do not have to kill to obtain shelter and food, unless the supermarket is unnaturally crowded with idiots.  Rarely do I test wits with a creature from the outside, but I found myself doing just that last week, when a mouse chose to camp in our apartment.

(Above: A reenactment of the mouse's first visit)
Contrary to popular belief, not all New York City apartments are crawling with mice, rats, roaches, or obnoxious sports fans.  Believe it or not, this mouse that first visited us a couple months ago was the first one we faced since moving to the city in 2004.  We were stunned when we saw it scurry across our dining room and into a closet.  At first we thought our eyes were playing tricks on us, but as we opened the closet door, we saw it sitting in the back, staring at us.  A quivering, scared, defenseless little mouse.  Or so we thought.  Having never dealt with a mouse before, I grabbed a small bucket, thinking I could easily drop it on the thing, much like the way it's done in the board game "Mouse Trap."  I naturally felt that the expertise I received from playing that game when I was ten would help me in real life.  What I was to do once the bucket fell onto the mouse is anybody's guess.  The board game didn't go that far. 

Surprisingly, the plan didn't work.  As the mouse darted out of the closet and over a bunch of boots, I gracefully flung the bucket down sideways and watched it bounce away as the mouse ran freely in the opposite direction... and under Kyle's bedroom door.  We gasped.  This mouse broke a sacred barrier, and it now deserved what was coming to it.  No more sympathy.  We barged into Kyle's room, turned on the lights, and looked in every basket and in every corner for the thing.  Kyle groaned as we clanged around everywhere.  Despite our rigorous search, the mouse somehow escaped, and we were forced to give up.  I did not sleep well that night.  The mouse had won round one.

We were better prepared for its next visit, which happened a couple days later.  The mouse once again scurried across the dining room, and under the closet door.  I pulled out some glue traps we had bought (the humane traps, unfortunately, had attracted ants), and placed them along the door.  We waited on our couch in the next room and watched as the mouse ducked its head out from under the door and sniffed at the bait.  Just as we were about to pop the champagne to toast our victory... the mouse evaded the traps!  It ran back across the dining room and disappeared again, having won round two.

We didn't see our visitor again for a good month after that.  I had hoped it was gone for good, but that was foolish thinking.  It is too hard to resist the free buffet offered each night on the floor of a two-year-old's home, and a little more than a week ago, the mouse came back for more.  Once again, we laid out the traps, and once again it ran off, towards our apartment's hallway.  We assumed it fled out our front door, since there's a hole by the bottom edge of it that leaves us vulnerable to very small crooks.  The mouse had won round three.

I then realized that the mouse had initially entered our home through a quarter-size hole in the dining room wall that had been created by previous tenants.  I clogged it up using aluminum foil and duct tape, the two tools that can be used to combat all kinds of problems, from leaky dams to scalp itch.  Of course, at the time I was not aware that, in blocking the hole, I was trapping the mouse INSIDE our apartment.  Apparently it hadn't left that closet as we had assumed. 
Two days later, as Jennifer was working late, I sat on the couch and spied the mouse running from the hallway and back into the dining room closet.  It then ran from the closet and back toward the now-blocked-hole, pausing once to look at me and blow a raspberry. That finally pushed me off the edge.  I grabbed a broom and stood in the dining room, my mouth foaming and eyes wide, ready to attack it once it crawled past me.  But this mouse was too smart and cocky.  As I stood there, it still managed to run by, and even stop to insult me once again... crawl crawl crawl - PFFFFT!- crawl crawl crawl... before disappearing back into the hallway, perhaps into the pantry there.  I doubled up the useless traps there and waited with the broom.  It did not show its head again, and eventually I put the broom away and went to bed.  For the rest of the week I would plot the mouse's demise.

This past weekend, as the family took a brief trip to Massachusetts, I tried a new scheme using the traps we had.  As I laughed and rubbed my hands together maniacally, I placed the glue traps in new locations.  I also left two humane traps in the hallway, positioned in the most attractive way possible, and away from any location where there were traps before.  Somehow, someway, by some miracle, it worked!  When we came home late Sunday night, one of the humane traps was closed, with the critter inside it.  I was giddy with excitement as I put the trap into a bucket and brought it a few blocks outside so that it could be back with "nature."  Far away from our apartment, next to a tree alongside the road, I opened up the trap and watched the little thing fall to the ground and wiggle around.  I walked away immediately, denying it any chance to mock me again.  This time the last laugh was mine.  HAHAHAHAHAHA!

Okay, maybe my obsession became a bit out of hand, but it paid off at the end.  I fought the beast that had intruded our home, and won.  The mouse is gone, and our child is safe.  You can be sure that mouse won't show its face around here again.  This apartment ain't big enough for the both of us.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

What's Mine Is Yours

One part of this parenting experiment that I particularly enjoy is the teaching.  Right now, Kyle is a little sponge, absorbing all kinds of things Jennifer and I tell him, and giving off odors if left alone too long.  We have taught him a few songs, numbers, the alphabet, and how to parallel park.  He seems to be grasping most concepts, and he dodges those he doesn't understand by repeating what we say or trying to change the subject.  He already would make a good politician.  The teaching process was going very well, up until a few weeks ago, when I discovered that he didn't understand the difference between "my" and "your."

I think the problem has its roots in our morning ritual, just before we go outside to watch pigeons attack tourists.  I often say to Kyle, "Go get YOUR hat," and he grabs his baseball cap.  Then I say, "I'll grab MY hat," which is either a baseball cap or a fedora (and whip), depending on where we are going.  Even though I don't stress the words "your" or "my," apparently Kyle's sponge brain has sucked them right in, but in the wrong way.  I noticed this recently, when Kyle grabbed the hats without my guidance, and said "My hat!" when he gave me mine.

"No, Kyle," I said once I realized his mistake, "You don't say my hat is 'my hat;' you say my hat is 'your hat.'  When you say 'my hat' correctly, you are talking about your hat.  Got that?" 

Kyle then said something about food.  This was not going to be an easy lesson. 

This sort of thing continued for several more days, until I convinced him to say "Daddy's hat" and "Kyle's hat."  I figured that would buy me some time until I worked out a better way to get him to understand what I meant.  It was by no means a solution to the problem, as the "my-your" confusion extended beyond headgear.

Shortly after my discovery, we visited our new neighbors downstairs, who have a five-year-old daughter and two-year-old son.  I was talking with their dad when the girl told me that Kyle wants to take all the boy's toys.  I looked over and saw Kyle hovering over a pile of the boy's Legos, saying, "My toy.  My toy.  My toy," as he pointed at each block.  The boy shouted back "NOOOO!"  Suddenly it became clear to me why Kyle still doesn't have any friends.  I tried to explain that Kyle actually meant "your toy" but I don't think anyone really believed me.  The boy still hugged his toys, believing Kyle was going to grab them from him.  Kyle has done this with other kids, and around the neighborhood he is developing a reputation of being a selfish hoarder, though he's simply trying to tell people what stuff is theirs.

As I try to break him from this confusion, I am carefully choosing my words, but it's not easy.  Just the other day, as Kyle brushed his teeth, he pointed at me, signaling that I should grab a toothbrush and join in the fun.

"Sure," I said, "I'll go get my-" Then I paused.  How's he going to learn "my" if I keep using it to refer to my stuff?  I thought.
"I mean," I then said, "I'll go get what YOU say is YOUR-" I paused again.  You're getting too confusing, Dave.  What then will you say when you actually mean YOUR?  Hear that?  It's your brain exploding.
"Ummm," I continued, "Daddy will go get his toothbrush."  I shook my head in disgrace as I stood up from my seat.  Great.  Our son is going to start talking in third person, just like Elmo.  That's all we need in this apartment: another Elmo.  One is bad enough.  Another could trigger a nervous breakdown.

I'm guessing we'll figure this out eventually.  I can't imagine him going on a date without knowing the difference between "my" and "your" ("Hey, baby, can I have my number?"), or trying to get a job ("As you can see from your resume, I'm more than qualified to work at my company.").  I've tried telling him, "When you say 'my' you mean 'Kyle's' and when you say 'your' you mean 'Daddy's.'"  That seems to be helping him a little bit, though now I wonder what will happen when he tries to give his mommy a hat.  Your guess is as good as mine.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Days with Dad

For the first half of this week, Jennifer was away on a work retreat.  She and a group of her fellow lawyers stayed at a compound along the Hudson River, spending nights around a campfire, telling ghost stories, singing "Kumbaya," and drafting 200-page invoices for their clients.  It was a huge bonding experience.  Kyle and I, meanwhile, spent that time at home, getting to know each other better.

Granted, this probably would be a lot more exciting if I was not already a stay-at-home dad.  It would have been a classic Hollywood moment, with me panicking over dirty diapers, tripping over Kyle's toys and falling face-first into a pile of Legos, and pulling my hair out and shouting at the sky as Kyle runs around with something dangerous and destructive, like a chainsaw.  That would have been HILARIOUS!  But that wasn't what happened, since I have a routine down, having done this job now for more than two years.  This is obviously a let-down for the little guy, and he expressed his dismay on the way home from dropping Jennifer off, often repeating, "Mommy.  Mommy."  A few days alone with her would have been exciting.  A few days with my parents would have been exciting.  Heck, even a few days with a pack of wolves or our crazy landlady would have been a kick for him.  But a few days with Daddy?  Just more of the same.  The weather didn't cooperate, either, so my plans to spice up the week with a little skydiving and rappelling fell through.  We went to the YMCA instead, and he simply ran around in circles, throwing red rubber balls.  Ho-hum.

So, really, this week hasn't been much different than previous weeks, except for a few days I was the one feeding Kyle breakfast. Turns out he's just as impatient in the morning as he is at lunchtime, when he cries at his highchair, demanding his food and milk, as if I was going to put him there and forget about him.  Silly kid.  That only happens at nap time.  When we weren't eating or snoozing, we did the usual stuff: grabbing an afternoon coffee (usually for me), playing with toys, reading books, or competing in wrestling/tickling matches.  I don't win those anymore... even the coffee can't compete with that kid's energy.  So, it really was just more of the same... except this week we lost our kitchen table and chairs.  I had sold them on to make way for a new set, which arrived today. 

Of course, since Kyle has yet to understand the intricacies of modern commerce, he had no idea what was going on.  I probably should have given him more warning.  He seemed awfully confused.  We came home Sunday night from dropping Jennifer off, and I was in the middle of feeding him dinner when the buzzer rang.  In came two women, and they just took the table and chairs, and left.  I went back to feeding Kyle.  He ate well that night, as I'm guessing he figured that, if he didn't finish his meal, the women would come back and take him away too.  Of course, that would never happen.  I'd never sell my kid over an unfinished meal.  After all, if I sold him, who would rake the leaves once we own a home?  However, I'm sure I could get a good price for all his toys. 

The empty dining room was the big thrill for Kyle this week, as he kept pointing to it and saying, "No table!  No chairs!"  There were a few other moments he enjoyed, too.  My friend Mickey stopped by on Tuesday for lunch, and the little guy hasn't stopped talking about it since.  "I had fun with Mickey," he repeated over and over again, as if to emphasize that he wasn't having fun with Daddy right now.  He even said he had fun with the kids who live downstairs, though he only saw them for about 10 seconds as we passed them by in the hall.  But that's Kyle's way.  He has fun with me by pretending that he's not.  His smiles give him away.  He's a little wiseguy.  I don't know where he gets it from.  I think I'll blame my own dad. 

So, yes, I suppose he did enjoy the "extended" routine, and hanging out with dear old Dad.  Yet, it was no secret that he missed his mother, and when she came home last night, he jumped around with so much reckless excitement that he accidentally whacked his chin on the edge of his crib.  He's okay, though, as the injury wasn't too severe.  I'm just glad that didn't happen under my watch.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Going by the Weyside

UPDATE: The Weyside did close after I wrote this post, but now it is back open, under new management.  Check its website for more information.

Another thing: my blog does not have a large readership, so I was surprised to see how high up it appears in a web search for "the Weyside." If you check my other posts, you will see that my blog is intended to be humorous.  Some of the Weyside's "handicaps" below (like the thin walls) have been exaggerated for that purpose.  However, my feelings about the Weyside's magic are sincere.

This past weekend, Jennifer and I celebrated our seventh anniversary by going here with Kyle:

This little oasis, nestled in New York's Catskill Moutains, is called The Weyside Inn and Cottages.  It's a charming place, with cottages along a small lake, and a few other rooms across the street (we always stay in the cottages).  I discovered this place through an internet search back in 2004, when Jennifer and I were looking for someplace peaceful to celebrate our first anniversary, and we have been going there for each anniversary since.  When you find a place you like, why change?  Unfortunately, this past weekend might have been our last trip there.  That's because the Weyside is for sale.

(Above: First Anniversary, 2004)
I've always felt there was something magical about the Weyside.  It somehow has a way of giving you a peaceful stay despite the fact the two pairs of lakeside cottages are each adjoined by walls so thin you could almost walk through them.  The cottages' furnishings are magical, too.  A couch in our favorite cottage has springs poking into the bottom of its cushions, and yet it's remarkably comfortable.  A pillow on it has an everlasting blue stain that has somehow survived for years, perhaps centuries.  Incredible.  From the couch, you can see the beauty of mountains through a window that magically attracts an unnatural amount of flies. 

Okay, the Weyside isn't exactly a luxurious resort, but at least its rates ($80 our first year!) have reflected that.  We figure the place was furnished in the 50's or 60's and hasn't been touched since, outside of a few improvements in the kitchen.  Still, the place is always clean, the sheets on the bed are fresh, and toilet still flushes.  Being able to sit out on the back deck facing the pond and stare at a gazillion stars on a clear, silent evening made up for the lack of room service.

(Above: Fourth Anniversary, 2007)
Jennifer and I are a bit heartbroken over the imminent loss of the Weyside.  We have a lot of fine memories there.  Life slowed down for us at the Weyside, and we would relish doing simple things, such as cooking on the grill, walking around the pristine lake, or scaring birds by throwing rocks into the river.  You can't scare a bird in the city, and a lot of the lakes here are often covered with a greenish goo.  As for grilling, I hardly ever get to do that in New York, as the smell of charcoal really stinks up an apartment. 

We associate a lot of important moments in our lives with this place.  Jennifer studied for the LSAT and many of her law school exams here.  I received a major promotion just before one of our weekends there and had to take part in a conference call on the way home (that was the only way I could use my cell phone, as there is practially no coverage in the area).  When work became difficult in the month before I had to leave the company, a weekend in the cottages provided a much-needed break.  In many ways, the Weyside has served as a brief sabbatical before a new, often tougher, part of our lives was about to begin.  And then came Kyle.

(Above: Fifth Anniversary, 2008)
Kyle was just three months old when he first visited the Weyside.  He immediately trashed the place with all his baby gear and incessant drooling.  Somehow we were not banned from coming back, and each year we've enjoyed seeing the little guy's excitement when we first enter our cottage.  This past weekend he discovered that the rooms have doors, and he spent much of his time practicing his opening and slamming skills.  He also ran around the Weyside's little playground and attempted to terrorize birds by throwing rocks into the water (he's his dad's son).  By the time the weekend was over, I think the little guy was ready to move here.

(Above: Seventh Anniversary, 2010)
Unfortunately, it doesn't look like we'll be moving in at all.  I dug through my wallet and realized I was several dollars short of having the $800,000 asking price for the place.  The friendly owners of the Weyside believe anyone who does end up buying the cottages would shut them down and put something else there, like a music school, a McDonald's, or a monster truck arena.  It's simply not making money as a vacation rental spot.  We're not really surprised, either.  The Catskills aren't exactly booming, thanks in part to the sour economy.  Many places around the Weyside are for sale, and a restaurant near the place has been closed and on the market for at least five years.  It's a rough neighborhood these days, with squirrel and moose gangs taking over many of the streets.

So, on Monday, we packed our bags and said "good-bye," probably for the last time.  There's always a chance we'll be back, but I'm thinking we'll be spending our next anniversary at some other place.  That place might have fancy things like thicker walls, but I know we won't regard it with same kind of fondness we have for the Weyside.  Not yet, at least.  It just won't be able to compete with all the wonderful memories.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

It's a Twister! It's a Twister!

Late Thursday afternoon, after my daily session of staring into space and drooling as Kyle napped, some thunderstorm clouds rolled our way.  "Hmph," I thought, "Looks like we might get some rain."  I checked, the never-fail source of inaccurate forecasts, and it said the city was under a flood watch.  I shrugged it off, since a drizzle can trigger a flood watch in New York.  It seemed as if we were about to have your typical September thunderstorm: a little bit of bark, but not much bite.  I shut down the computer just as Kyle woke up from his nap. 

At around 5:30 pm, Kyle and I were at his bedroom window, watching the oncoming storm.  It was one of those classic father-son bonding experiences.  As the little guy stared at the darkening clouds and listened to the thunder, I knelt down beside him and talked about how exciting thunderstorms can be, recalling the days when I was told that thunder was simply "angels bowling."  He seemed confused by the bowling reference, and, in hindsight, I realize I probably should have updated the story for modern-day New York, saying instead that the thunder was an angel driving by with his car's bass up way too loud.  Still, it was a fun experience together, and I seemed to be dissuading any belief he may have that thunderstorms are something to fear.  Little did I know, about ten minutes later, I'd be awfully close to needing my own underwear changed as well.
Suddenly the sky turned a dark green, as the sun checked out early.  I put the lights on in the apartment as I moved Kyle away from his window.  I felt a twinge of nervousness as the skies became even more foreboding.  It no longer felt like we were going to have an ordinary storm.  Then the rain came and removed all doubt.

Water gushed from the sky like a waterfall.  The wind picked up and slammed our open windows, making our blinds flutter inward like white flags of surrender.  I ran around the apartment, quickly closing the windows, and then, with Kyle in one arm, I stood at the entrance to our apartment's small hallway, keeping the windows in view but far enough away.  We waited there as the storm thrashed everything outside.

I did not realize then that a tornado was hitting our street.  We did not see a funnel cloud approach us from the distance, so there was no time to let the horses and chickens out of the barn and run into our underground shelter.  No, this twister seemed to land on us from above.  While the wind did roar, I couldn't say for sure that it sounded like a train, a tornado's definitive sound.  As I looked through our third-floor window, it was hard to see or hear anything clearly, and there was no way to tell if this was the real deal, or just a very intense storm.   I probably should have been suspicious when I saw a woman on a bike flying past us and laughing maniacally, but with the city being overrun by bicyclists these days, that didn't surprise me one bit.

Kyle knew something was up. As I stood there holding him, he remained still, and watching the storm through our windows.  He didn't ask to be let down.  He didn't ask for food.  He didn't bite my arm or slap my face (lovingly).  No, the little guy was absolutely silent.  I don't think he likes the way angels bowl.

And then, it was over.  I figure the whole thing lasted less than ten minutes.  The winds died down, and the deluge became a drizzle.  Shortly afterwards, our neighbors knocked on our door to see if we were okay.  They then asked, wide-eyed, "Did you look outside yet?"

While still holding Kyle at my side, I walked out our building's front door and immediately saw the damage.  The tree directly in front of our apartment remained, but the trees to the left and right of it were gone.  The tree to the left of us had smashed through an SUV, which was parked in a spot where I frequently keep my car, but hadn't that day.  A section of the sidewalk there was ripped apart by the tree's roots.  The tree to the right of us looked like it was cut in half lazily with a chainsaw.  The bottom part of the tree was still firmly in the ground; the top part was lying in the middle of the road.  From end to end, our street was blocked by downed trees and branches.  I was grateful that my car was parked on another street, untouched by the storm.

(Above: Our street after the storm.  To the left is the tree by our place that was cut in half.)

(Above: Nature mistakes a tree on our street for a banana)
Outside of a few water leaks, our place was not damaged by the storm.  Unfortunately, that could not be said for the three buildings adjacent to us.  The top of a massive tree behind those buildings, which may have stood there for more than one hundred years, crashed down on the back of the buildings, blowing out windows and destroying a deck and part of a fence.  Fortunately, nobody was hurt on our street, and that's a miracle in itself.   

Clean-up of the mess was swift.  Chainsaws buzzed at 250 decibels well past midnight, forcing Jennifer and I to get out of bed and move to the sofa bed.  Just seconds after we took all the cushions off the couch, pulled out the bed and put sheets and blankets on it, the noise finally came to an end.  By morning cars were once again driving down our street. 

The crushed SUV became an instant circus, with crowds gathering and gawking throughout the next few days, some posing for pictures in front of it with their kids (I am not kidding).  News crews were there, too, and helicopters circled the skies for an entire day, ruining the concentration of outdoor chess players and crossing guards.  The media could not get enough of our block, as the SUV was the early Christmas gift for television producers, wrapped up in police tape and topped with a big shiny tree.  The image appeared all over the web, on the front page of The New York Times, and in newspapers across the country and around the world.  Everywhere, people were seeing the pictures from our street, spitting out their morning coffee (or tea), and exclaiming,  "NEW YORK was hit by a TORNADO?!?!"

Then they exclaimed even louder, "NEW YORK has TREES?!?!"

I'm still trying to wrap my mind around it.  I spent nearly four years living in the South, but never saw a tornado there.  Who would have guessed that I'd experience my first one in New York City? 

Today the neighborhood is looking a lot better.  Most of the downed trees and branches have been cleared away, and the famed SUV is gone, headed for the Smithsonian.  Kyle now has a new activity, too.  He likes going around the neighborhood, pointing at the remaining tree stubs and saying, "Broken tree!"  To him, the tornado has become a part of everyday life in New York, like riding the subway, driving past the Empire State Building, or selling plasma to pay the rent.  He might come to expect tornadoes every year.  I sure hope not, though. One tornado is enough for me, thank you.  I don't need a trip to Oz.  I already have a munchkin.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Pet Peeves

Will Kyle ever have a pet?  I like to think he will.  Not now, of course.  Our current apartment building has a strict "no pets" policy.  We had to pay off our landlady to receive an exemption so that we could take Kyle home from the hospital.  We plan to move eventually, perhaps to one of those fancy places with a dishwasher, and maybe then we'll get a pet. 

Kyle seems ready for one, and he seems to like dogs.  He bonded with two of them on Saturday, as our family met with some of our friends for a picnic in a park near the beautiful and aromatic East River.  One dog was Penny, a Jack Russell Terrier belonging to our friends Mickey and Bonni, and the other one was Bailey, a lab-beagle mix belonging to our friends Matt and Amanda (and supposedly their two-month-old son Evan, though Evan has yet to do owner duties such as walking and feeding him).  Kyle knows these dogs well, as Bailey was the first one he ever met, and Penny was with him when he took his first walk.  The little guy spent much of his time playing with the dogs and handing them things to chew on (sticks, leaves, smaller animals, dad's arm, etc.).  He was having a great time, and, as we left the park later that afternoon, I couldn't help but wonder how long it'll be before we have a dog of our own.

Yet, there's still a question as to whether Kyle wants a dog or just enjoys playing with other people's pets.  He might not welcome one in our home.  It's no secret that dogs don't always welcome new babies.  Maybe the reverse is true.

For example, each morning, as Jennifer and I eat our cereal in front of the morning news (we have a thing for local murders and fashion tips), Kyle stands by us, whining and pointing at our bowls, waiting for us to drop him a scrap even though he ate a full breakfast a short time earlier.  I often give him a few Cheerios after he rolls around or balances a ball on his nose.  With a dog in the house, Kyle would have to compete for the scraps, and, considering that dogs have sharper teeth and claws, the little guy might end up sitting in the corner and sulking.

Then there's the whole toy problem.  Right now Kyle's toys are scattered throughout the apartment, ready at a moment's notice for him to grab and shove into his mouth.  Enter a dog, and most of those toys will have to be put away to make room for the pet's new chew toys.  We'd probably have to put Kyle's things on a very high self so that the dog wouldn't be able to reach them, and chances are we'd have to keep our son in his crib or the fire escape as he played with them.  We wouldn't want his stuff getting mixed up with the dog's.

And, finally, there are the walks.  Each weekday morning and afternoon, the little guy and I explore the neighborhood.  Kyle really enjoys these trips outside, and he often points out all the trees and fire hydrants along the way.  Should we get a dog, I probably would have to give it first dibs on the trees and fire hydrants.  And because I'd be busy walking the pet, I wouldn't be able to give Kyle as much attention.  The obvious solution would be to send Kyle to school.  Then, after a long day of classes and avoiding bullies, as the little guy looks at a large pile of homework to do, he probably will ask me why I am sending him to such a wretched place, and I'd have to be honest and say, "Because you wanted a dog."

We're still debating whether getting Kyle a dog would be a smart move.  At least we still have some time to make a decision.  I don't think we will be moving out of our pet-free apartment any time soon, and there's always a chance Kyle could have a little brother or sister by the time we leave.  If that's the case, the little guy might be too busy feeding him or her sticks and leaves to even desire a pet.  I guess we'll just wait and see what happens.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Water Fight

Apparently I am a very bad parent.  And so is Jennifer.  Just ask our son, especially after bedtime or nap time.  One night last week, at around 10:30 pm, this was the sound echoing through our home:


As he lay in his crib inside his darkened room, our child begged us for the substance that is essential to all life on this planet.  Kyle was not asking for diamonds, rubies, Legos, or other expensive treasures.  No, on this hot summer night, all he wanted on his dry lips was a sip of water, and yet his parents refused to give it to him.  Such inhumanity!

"Waaaaatteerrrr...teerrr... eerrrrrr.  Waaaaaaaah." 

Here's a little detail Kyle might not tell you: about two minutes prior to his pathetic sobbing, his mother was in his room, letting him drink from a full bottle of water.  Fifteen minutes prior to that, his father was doing the same thing.  Not too long before that, one or both of them helped him drink.  All this came after the "going-to-bed" ritual, during which he drank the equivalent of a small town reservoir.  Now, I understand that children his age have a very short memory, but there's no way he could have forgotten all the water he just drank.  It became apparent to me that something else was at play when he started asking for water less than a second after he handed me back the bottle.

"Water please.  Wahhhh-wahhh-wahhh.  Water, water please."

This is Kyle's latest maneuver in the so-called War Against Bedtime, and it's his strongest one yet.  I'm impressed.  Earlier tactics to get his parents to stay in his room involved relentless cries, begging for a blanket or toy he did not have, or throwing up (a rarely-used tactic often followed by the maneuver of actually being sick).  The previous tactics could be easily remedied with a washcloth or ignored.  But when your child is crying desperately for water, and even as going as far as asking nicely with the magic word, it's very hard to sit back, relax and eat dinner, which is what Jennifer and I were trying to do during that night last week. 

Jennifer had come home about a half-hour after Kyle went to bed.  She was tired from a long day of shaving monkeys (I'm really not sure what she does, so I make my best guess).  I had an exhausting day with our own little monkey, and I was in the middle of cleaning up the landfill replica Kyle had created in our living room.  We were both hungry for dinner.  That's when Kyle made his first request for water.  Since Jennifer hadn't seen him yet, we thought that maybe she could give him something to drink and say "hello."  Big mistake.  If you're trying to undermine the War Against Bedtime, the last thing you should do is make personal contact.  It shows weakness, and it makes the little guy act up even more the next time you leave.  We kept hoping that eventally Kyle would get his fill, but he did not quiet down, even after a half-dozen more water deliveries.  We ate our food to the sounds of the screams.  And, even though we knew he had enough water inside him to make it to morning, it was hard for our hearts not to break as the desperate cries echoed throughout the apartment, especially on that hot night.  Kyle had us right where he wanted us. 

That night was a victory for the little guy, and he was certainly eager to celebrate.  He had a big grin on his face as he guzzled down the water, and occasionally he'd pause to chew on the straw and mock us.  The fun, playful Kyle always returned once he had the water in his hands.  Once we pulled it away, he once again acted as if we wrapped him in chains and threw him into the desert.  Had it not been for the body's natural tendency to actually want some sleep, he could have gone throughout the night.  Fortunately he did doze off before eleven o'clock.

Since that wildly successful night in the War Against Bedtime, Kyle has been trying this maneuver every time we put him in his crib for a nap or for the night.  What was once a sweet moment, with one or both parents wishing our little guy a good night's sleep as he smiled and buried his head into his blankets, has turned into boisterous pandemonium, with Kyle crying for his water and kissing him good-night, flinging his blankets into his crib, and running out of the room before he could fling everything back out.  He cries for a little bit after that, but he's starting to notice that we're not coming back.  I think recent days have exposed a miscalculation on his part, too... as the days have become much cooler, we have become less sympathetic.  We know now that he has plenty of water, and he shouldn't be thirsting for more.  Kyle will just have to come up with a new trick, though I'm sure we'll eventually find a way to beat that one, too.  The little guy will certainly win more battles, but there's no question his parents will win the war.