Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Going by the book

Bizarrely enough, right now our child is more of a bookworm than a couch potato. Each morning we put the TV on to catch the latest incorrect weather forecast, and Kyle practically ignores it. We also turn "Sesame Street" on those days when bad weather or a loose mountain lion keeps us inside, but, as of now, Kyle hasn't cared much for it. He will watch for a little while, become bored, and walk away. Half the time I don't even notice he's gone because I'm too wrapped up in the show's plot, sitting on the edge of my seat and wondering if Oscar the Grouch will ever learn how to love.

Lately, whenever Kyle runs off, he heads to a basket in his room that contains many of his books. About a month or so ago, he would grab one of those books and then hand it to Jennifer or me. He would then sit down on the floor and wait for us to sit and read the book to him. Now he often doesn't bother with us. He just sits somewhere with the book and starts reading it to himself, usually out loud. Each book sounds the same to the outside observer, as he has not quite mastered actual reading. He has the rhythm of the books, but all the words he says are variants of "doy" or "doo." The books can keep Kyle riveted for a good fifteen minutes, which is an eternity for a toddler. It's enough time to clean up half the toys he scattered all over the living room floor.

As much as I am proud of my son for attempting to read, I must say he's not exactly doing anything challenging. I have yet to see him thumb through anything by J.D. Salinger, Vladimir Nabokov, or James Joyce. No, Kyle sticks to simpler fare, usually illustrated stories about a frog who's afraid to swim and a monkey that's curious about everything except for bananas and swinging from trees. I am looking forward to his reading skills improving, so that he eventually will start checking out books that make more sense, like all the ones by Dr. Seuss.

Even though our son is right now avoiding complicated stories, he does not necessarily need pictures or a plot to entertain him. It's not unusual to find him on the kitchen floor, going through some of our cookbooks, some of which do not have any pictures. I am not sure why he enjoys them as much as he does, especially since he's still a very picky eater. Maybe he will be inspired somehow. I keep expecting to turn around one day and find him cooking a soufflé. So far, I've been disappointed.

When he's not trying to cook, occasionally Kyle does get us involved in his reading. Sometimes he hands me a book and sits down, much like he did a month or so ago, but after I sit and start reading, he grabs another book and starts reading to himself. Apparently he likes using me as his background noise. I have become his stereo or iPod. Once he's finished doing his own reading, he'll simply walk out of the room, leaving his background noise "on" as I finish the book he gave me. He will then go to the living room to fling around the toys I had just put away.

Being left to read Kyle's books is not the worst thing in the world, as it is the only real reading I am able to do these days. Back before the little guy was born, and when I was working in the city, I would use the subway commute as reading time. I read all kinds of novels, from a book about Tom Brady to Catch 22 to the entire Harry Potter series. Just before Kyle arrived, I started the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy series, and had read four out of its five books when the little guy was born. Today, that fifth book remains unread. It's still sitting on my night stand, mocking me, but each night I have no energy to lift it up, as I tend to fall asleep the instant I lie down. Running after a 20-month-old almost all day can exhaust a person pretty quickly.

For any sort of adult reading, I live vicariously through my wife Jennifer. She is still able to read books during her commute by subway. She's been telling me about all the stories she's reading, including the latest vampire novels, a complicated murder mystery, and a bizarre mash-up of zombie tales and Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. I return the favor by giving my musings on the quiet old lady who whispers "hush" and the young boy who makes the perilous mistake of giving a cookie to a hyperactive mouse. The only mystery I deal with is that of the Man with the Yellow Hat, who often disappears just when his curious monkey runs amok. Where does he go, and why does it take him so long? The books keep those details hush-hush, and that leads me to the reasonable assumption that he's involved in some sort of organized crime (his code name is probably "Mr. Yellow"), or he's been spending some time at an hourly-rate motel with his "friend" Ms. Needleman.

Hmph. I guess I really do need to find a way to squeeze more adult books into my routine. I'm sure it will happen someday, at least by the time Kyle starts school. Then, once I finally have a quiet home, I will have time to dust off the bookshelf, grab a good novel and read it on the couch. That is, unless there's something good on TV.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

All you need is love (and cookies)

At just 20 months, Kyle has not yet mastered the art of romance. Sure, he enjoys flirting and all, especially with supermarket cashiers, but asking a girl out is not something that comes to him easily. Considering that he's my son, he may need a little more than a few more months for it to come naturally (about 200 more months might be just about right). Until then, Kyle's life is going to be filled with a lot of awkward moments, especially during this time of year, when knowing how to be suave is incredibly important, almost as important as having a good excuse for why you forgot to buy flowers on Valentine's Day.

Sometimes Kyle can be a little overbearing in his approach. For example, during gym time last week, he tried to make friends with a 3-year-old girl (he apparently likes the older women) by giving her a couple of small toys he had just picked up off the floor. At first she rejected him flat out by not accepting the gift, likely because he is half her age and she didn't want to start anything that would lead to a May-December relationship. Kyle persisted by pressing her with the toys. She then took a step back, hoping that he may stop his advances, but he simply took that as a sign that she simply did not understand what he was trying to do. So, instead of backing away, he reached out even more, this time by pushing out her arms and trying to put the toys in her hands. Apparently he was not going to take "no" for an answer. The girl, though, was not going to give in. She darted away, leaving Kyle alone, standing there with the toys and without her number. He was unsure of what to do next, and for a moment he pondered what he did wrong. He thought everything was going so right, and now, with his heart crushed, he wondered if he could ever learn to love again. This lasted about 10 seconds, up until the point when he saw how much fun other kids were having on the slide. He ran to it and forgot all about the girl.

Kyle experienced another awkward moment at church on Sunday, except this time he was the one feeling suffocated by someone else's advances. As everyone listened intently to the priest's wise words, Kyle was thumping his shoes on the floor as he walked to the back of the building, pulling his mother along with him. Jennifer says, as they stood there, Kyle suddenly was ambushed by twin girls who are just about his age. They each came up to him and hugged him. Kyle did not know what to do with all this affection. He was scared, and he did not hug back. Instead, he just stood there, frozen as the girls took turns squeezing his little body. This may have been the moment when Kyle learned how to pray, as his face expressed a desire to receive some sort of divine intervention to help him break free from the onslaught of affection. Eventually the girls stopped hugging, and Kyle was able to sneak away. He did not make eye contact with them for the rest of the service.

The girls probably would have had better luck if, instead of hugs, they gave him cookies. My parents knew that was the way to his heart, and when they visited us this weekend, they gave the little guy a big cookie shaped like Sesame Street's Cookie Monster. "COOK-IE!" said Kyle. Of all the words Kyle can speak, this is the one he says the clearest (we have already scheduled appointments with our dentist to fill his cavities in 2016). Kyle smiled widely as he ate the treat, and for the rest of the weekend he showered my parents with kisses and hugs. It was love... at least, for as long as the cookie lasted.

So it appears that the perfect relationship for Kyle is one where he can give a girl toys and receive cookies in return. Aggressive hugs will go unrequited. Unfortunately, the kind of give-and-take Kyle is seeking rarely happens in the adult world, unless "toys" are replaced with "diamonds." He will be expected to return hugs, too... even the overpowering ones. Kyle will learn that hard truth someday, hopefully before he's in his twenties. Before then, though, I suppose he'll have to deal with the rejection, the awkwardness and the unwanted squeezes.

One thing's for sure, though: while girls may not express their love to him with cookies, at least his grandparents certainly will.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

A Super time

I am very, very happy the New Orleans Saints won the Super Bowl. As a New England Patriots fan, nothing gave me a greater thrill this year than watching the much-hated Indianapolis Colts lose to the underdog, the team from the Bayou that had never been to a Super Bowl before. As much as I despise the Colts, I really liked the Saints this year, and had become a big fan of them after they crushed the Pats during the regular season... if the Pats were going to lose that badly, it had better be to an incredibly talented team, and now there's no doubt the Saints are the best of the bunch. The Pats had no chance at winning it all, anyway, as it turns out everyone on the team, including the waterboy, was injured this year (we're hearing now that quarterback Tom Brady had been playing without a left arm for the final three games of the regular season). Head coach Bill Belichick also traded away the entire defense halfway through the season for several good draft picks next year and a handful of gumdrops. It might not seem like a sound strategy, but Belichick has brought three championships to New England, so we tend to trust his decisions, even when he seems like he's back to sniffing glue.

Jennifer, Kyle and I watched the first half of the game at a Super Bowl party, hosted by our good friends Nicole and Chad. We had a lot of fun watching the game on their HDTV while gnawing on BBQ ribs, drinking beer, and eating homemade desserts. Years ago, we would have seen the entire game at one of these parties, but that was before the little guy arrived. Kyle certainly had fun watching the game and giving out high-fives, but it wasn't long before we came dangerously close to his bedtime. We knew if we stayed too long we ran the risk of having a cranky kid who would cry relentlessly and get into fistfights over politics. We departed before that could happen. By the time the game ended, Kyle was in bed, and I was sitting on the couch at home, watching it with Jennifer and no one else. I couldn't cheer as loudly, but at least I had a reason to cheer.

As much fun as that was, it's still much better for me when the Pats are in the big game. I hope they return to the Super Bowl during Kyle's childhood, especially when he's old enough to appreciate it. By appreciating it, I do mean as a Pats fan. As many of you know, I am doing the cardinal sin of trying to raise a Boston sports fan in New York City. We cheer all things Patriots and Red Sox, and boo all things Jets and Yankees. Sure, Kyle will become confused whenever we sing about rooting "for the home team" during the seventh inning stretch, but I think in the end he will thank me for it.

At least, that's what I hope. As Kyle grows older and closer to an age when he will start paying attention to sports, I do wonder more often whether I will be able to convince him to root for his dad's home team over the local clubs. After all, New York city is a big sports town, and chances are he'll become friends with a lot of New York sports fans once he enters preschool. There's no guarantee my efforts to make him a Boston fan will work, and the fear of walking into his room someday and seeing an Alex Rodriguez poster on his wall is enough to keep me awake some nights.

Yes, I have written about this several times before (you see the picture of him from last year, taken moments before a Yankees fan made fun of his mother), and I have gone into some detail about ways to convince him that the New York teams, especially the Yankees, are evil. But as we go through each sport season, I can't help but wonder whether Kyle and I will root with each other or against each other. This may not seem like a big deal to some of you, but Jennifer recently met someone who is a Boston fan and has kids who are Yankees fans, and he has told her that it's a nightmare. I understand he often goes to bed crying, wondering where he went wrong as a parent. I am hoping to avoid that. Maybe I need to step up our efforts, perhaps by having him sleep to replays of the 2004 World Series or Super Bowl XXXVI so that a loyalty to Boston will sink into his subconscious. Or maybe I just need to continue sharing all of my sports moments with him, so that he will cherish these times and associate my teams with wonderful bonding experiences with his dad. That, and a steady dose of empty threats to kick him out of the house and set his toys on fire if he ever roots for the Yanks or Jets (or the Colts), just might do the trick.

I guess I have a few years to go before any of this will ever matter, anyway. Even though I still will think about the future of sports in our home, I will just be happy watching games like Sunday's Super Bowl and having Kyle with me, clapping away, even though he doesn't know yet who really deserves his cheers.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Now on home video

In 1989, a little-known indie film named "Back to the Future, Part II" hit movie screens. This timeless, and prophetic, classic followed the adventures of a young man and his scientist friend as they traveled to the far-flung future: the year 2015. They discover that the people of 2015 will drive flying cars, zip around on hoverboards, and wear self-drying jackets. I think some of the movie's predictions were a little far-fetched (the Cubs winning the World Series comes to mind), while other parts missed the mark completely (does anyone really think newspapers, like the "USA Today" Marty reads, will still be around by then?).

Yet one part was spot-on: the main characters of the future talk to each other using video. Back when the movie came out, the only way to communicate by video was to record yourself on a VHS tape (using a heavy camera that rested on your shoulder), send it in the mail, and wait for your friend to send a tape back. Fortunately, we didn't have to wait until 2015 for all that to change. My friends, the future is already here... and for Kyle, it's just part of the routine.

Once every couple of weeks, Kyle finds himself in the same room with my parents, even though they're in Massachusetts and he's in New York. It's all thanks to the magic of the internet. My parents bought a camera for their computer just for this purpose; they did not want to go too long without seeing Kyle, and they did not want him to forget about them, as if he would suddenly not recognize them and reject all the attention and toys they bring each time they visit. This video conferencing gives my parents an opportunity to also see the son they raised and set free into the world, but so far taking advantage of that does not seem to be a priority.

Kyle loves these moments just as much as my parents do. He always seems surprised to suddenly have them in my office, inside "the box." As my parents say "hello" to him, he wiggles around with excitement as he sits on my lap. He kicks my leg with excitement and then, WHACK!, bops me in the face with the back of his head as he lets off a laugh. He and my mom exchange kisses and play hide-and-seek, while my dad waved his hand at him and gets him to mimic the sounds of barnyard animals. It's a beautiful use of modern technology. One thing Kyle especially loves is something my mom came up with: she rocks back and forth from the camera, saying "Wooooaaaaahhhhh." Both of my parents do this exercise for a big part of the conversation, as Kyle cracks up and I watch in bewilderment over what has become of my family.

Often Kyle jumps off my lap and into our bedroom, as I then become "the camera man," following him as best as I can (for those of you who don't know, my office doubles as our bedroom's closet - or the other way around). Usually Kyle runs out of range, starting a new game in which my mom shouts "Where's Kyle?," prompting him to run back in view to a round of applause. He then runs off again. This also goes on for a good chunk of time.

My dad might then say, "Dave, how are you?," but before I could answer Kyle comes running back, motioning that he wants to sit back on the seat. I put the little guy back on my lap and those in Massachusetts laugh and make more funny faces. I try to say something but am suddenly speechless as my son steps on my groin and flings his head up over my shoulder and stares at the ceiling. "Is that your BELLY?" asks my mom in a playful tone as Kyle's belly button is splashed on their computer monitor. Kyle looks back down at her, smiling and pointing to his belly button as he gives me a black eye with his cheekbone.

It's usually at this time I realize that my parents are very fortunate that smell-o-vision has yet to be invented. I tell them Kyle needs a change and it's time to go, and they all exchange good-byes, mixed in with a few more "Wooooahhhh's" and "Where's Kyle?," as the little guy responds with yelps, smiles, and some forceful head-butts. Everybody laughs, says good-bye again, and after a brief pause one of my parents says, "Oh, yeah... it was nice to see you, too, Dave."

At that point, the future comes to an end, as I close the program and bring Kyle back to his room. Kyle will see his grandparents again sometime soon, once my wounds heal.