Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Cut it out

Nobody believed us when we said our son had hair. "It's just bright blond," we'd tell people, as they'd roll their eyes and scoff at us. If only these nonbelievers took the time to actually examine our child, then they would see the truth. For months, Kyle's head was like the "Magic Eye" images that were so popular a decade ago: at first glance, he appeared bald, but if you looked at his head just the right way, and maybe crossed your eyes a little bit - BOOM! - you would notice that it was, in fact, covered with follicles. Kyle's invisible hair was supposed to save us oodles of money, as I suspected at the time that he would not need a haircut for some time, at least until 2015.

But suddenly things changed. Kyle's hair went from invisible to Einsteinian in a matter of weeks, and this past Saturday we found ourselves taking Kyle to a barber for the first time. We went to a place in the neighborhood that specializes in kids' haircuts. Inside, by each barber chair, televisions blared cartoons and children's shows, and toys and lollipops were within reach in case of an emergency. There were a few chairs in the back, where babies waited patiently for their turn, reading the Sports Illustrated for Kids Swimsuit Issue and occasionally making wisecracks about the barber or the local politicians. Kyle, fortunately, did not have to wait that long for his own cut.

At first, the experience did not seem to go that well. Kyle was placed in a chair that resembled a fire truck, complete with a siren... no, wait, sorry - there was no siren, only Kyle, crying away. As he sat in the truck, not wanting to be a firefighter, Jennifer tried to console him. I continued to take shots with the camera because I'm amused by pictures of my son wailing, unless he's crying because he fell off the couch. Jennifer's kind words were no match for the torture of sitting in a little red vehicle, and, after several minutes, the barber halted operations. Once Kyle calmed down, we tried again, but this time on the regular chair, with our son sitting on Jennifer's lap.

Jennifer and I were certainly pleased with how the haircut went after that. Kyle was no longer crying, and he enjoyed playing with the toys. Jennifer liked the professionalism of the staff, and the fine job they did cutting Kyle's hair while he was occupied. I was just happy they didn't slice off his ear. Once we were done, we received a certificate recognizing Kyle for surviving his first haircut. At the bottom of it there is a quote from President John F. Kennedy, saying, "One person can make a difference...." I kid you not. Now some of you, and even some historians, may think this quote does not belong on a certificate for a child's first haircut, but it really does make some sense. After all, Kennedy had the best hair of any president of the twentieth century, and maybe the "one person" he was referring to was his own barber. He probably would have been proud to have his quote on such a prestigious document. Stapled just above the quote, a bit haphazardly, is a little plastic bag containing a lock of Kyle's hair.

Our son is looking quite sharp with his new haircut. Now whenever Kyle and I go out, only one of us looks like a slob. Less than 24 hours after getting the trim, he even attracted the attention of a girl his age. No doubt his hair played a factor in that. Unfortunately, Kyle's social skills are still a little inadequate, as he once again ignored the girl and focused more on climbing up and down an armchair. I guess a new haircut doesn't solve everything.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Time keeps on slippin'

On Saturday night I pulled a muscle in my lower back. I was in a bit of pain, but it was not anything severe; I just was not able to limbo much on Sunday. I hurt my back as I was moving a wooden bench from one room to another, as we were cleaning up after a get-together with friends to celebrate my upcoming birthday. I had moved the bench with no problem before our guests arrived, so either a shift in the earth's gravitational pull changed its weight, or my back was just waiting until after the party to give me its own gift. I immediately started yammering about the back pain to Jennifer, another sign that, yes, indeed, I am one step closer to becoming one of those people who answers someone's "Hello" with a list of the day's ailments.

I turn 32 tomorrow. It's not exactly the same as turning 18 or 21. There's no rite of passage, no wild party, no waking up the next morning on a stranger's bathroom floor and wondering what happened to your pants. Yet while it lacks all those joys of youthful birthdays, it also doesn't have the doom, gloom, and the "I'm gonna be in a senior home soon" feeling that turning... say... 40 does. Thirty-two just sits there, and that's fine with me. Having a kid is enough of a reminder that you're getting old.

One example of that hit me about a week ago, during that visit to my parents' place. We were watching PBS, as people my parents' age tend to do, when an Irish music special came on. This was probably because of the St. Patrick's Day holiday, though I'm guessing it was the sort of thing PBS runs on a regular basis. We watched an old clip of the Clancy Brothers performing on the Ed Sullivan Show. The four men sang on a stage of fake trees and rocks, frozen in their positions as if posing for a sweater catalogue (to see what I mean, here's the clip on YouTube). I believe their sweaters were beige, but it was hard to know for sure since the clip was in glorious black & white. These were, indeed, images from ancient times. As we sat there and watched, we figured that the performance must have happened in the early 1960's. And that's when I had a chilling realization: the early 1960's were about 15 years or so before I was born. Fifteen or so years before Kyle's birth... is the early 1990's! That means, to Kyle, bands like Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Dave Matthews, and R.E.M. will be just as archaic as those relics in sweaters are to us. Ugh.

There once was a time when I was on the good side of these realizations. About seven years ago, a former coworker of mine, who was in his early 40's, found out I was born in 1978. It dawned on him that the movie Star Wars is older than I am. "Don't you find that strange?" he asked. I told him I didn't. After all, it would be like someone asking him if it was strange that he was younger than the telephone. I'm not sure if my answer led to some sort of mid-life crisis, but not too long after that, from what I'm told, this same friend walked into work one day wearing vacation shorts and sandals, and basically told his boss to take his job and shove it. I haven't heard from him since. Today, I'm starting to see myself in his shoes, thinking how strange it is that certain things are older than Kyle. Maybe someday I'll find myself asking him, "Don't you find it strange that you're younger than Snakes on a Plane?"

In the end, though, it's still all about the physical pain. Before Kyle, I would sometimes go through a day without a sore muscle. Now, each morning I could use an ice pack, a back rub, and two shots of morphine just to get out of bed. Between all the picking-up and playing, that kid demands a workout, and, unlike the gym, he'll make you pay if you don't do it. So that's why it was a bit surprising that it was the bench and not my kid who threw out my back on Saturday. Maybe Kyle's just waiting until tomorrow to give me his gift. I just hope I'll be able to get out of bed the morning after.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The Rain King

Nature is playing a dirty game. Each winter she fights with me, and so far I have emerged victorious, still walking and speaking coherent sentences by the time spring rolls around. Yet, instead of conceding defeat, Nature has been unfairly going after my child: poor, defenseless Kyle (okay - maybe not so defenseless, as he's quite skilled at plucking flowers from the ground and cutting down trees, but he only uses those skills to do good deeds). How could Nature be so cruel?

This past weekend, Kyle was supposed to enjoy what so many suburban kids take for granted: the backyard. Those of us who grew up in the suburbs knew that, if we ever wanted to run around or play baseball or basketball, all we needed to do was walk out the back door and there was a whole yard of grass waiting for us. Of course, we didn't always use that option, as it was easier to drive our parents crazy by doing those things inside. Still, it was always nice to have the ability to easily escape to the backyard, especially when my mother needed someone to wash the dishes. In the city, the door to our home leads from one hallway to another hallway. To get to anything resembling a yard, you must walk down a couple flights of stairs, out another door, down the concrete steps, out the metal gate, past the trash barrels and dog droppings, across the street, and down several blocks without tripping over the crazy man talking to himself. Then, if you're not mugged or hit by a car beforehand, you will arrive at what's called a city park, which, on weekends, is so filled with people that only occasionally you might find a free patch of grass, but often that's covered with litter or rabid squirrels. That's not the case at my parents' place. There, all you have to do is open the door, and suddenly you're outside and able to run wild.

Except for the times when we visit, as we did this weekend. It was my mother's birthday on Saturday, so we thought we'd surprise her with the gift of her grandson. Good thing she was thrilled to see him, and he her, since there was no way they could escape each other. Rain poured the entire time we were there. We knew we were in trouble from the moment we began our drive to Massachusetts Saturday, as speedboats passed us on the highway. By Sunday, the rain had turned my parents' wonderful backyard into a swamp, and the air had turned cold and windy. Kyle did not go outside all all, except for the brief moments between the house and the car, and the car and the mall. Jennifer and my mom took Kyle there, as suburban cultural rules require at least one visit to the mall on rainy days. On Monday, we set sail back to New York, finally escaping the heavy dew once we hit Connecticut. Upon coming home, we wrung ourselves out and then took Kyle for a walk on the pavement outside. The next day, Tuesday, was a beautiful spring day. Nature laughed at us.

Kyle did have plenty to do inside my parents home, and he broke only a few precious heirlooms. His grandparents spoiled him a lot with toys and tickles, keeping him occupied enough to give Jennifer and me a break to do important things, such as sitting back on the couch and staring at the ceiling in silence. It could have been worse, I suppose.

Yet being trapped inside is no fun, and I am starting to wonder whether Nature has indeed put a curse on our son. This is not the first time Kyle has been denied the backyard. The weather prevented us from going out during our last visit there, at Thanksgiving. When we came over for my parents' annual Labor Day cookout, the weather was fine but Kyle was not feeling well and didn't really play much (I'll still blame Nature for that, since her breezes carry viruses around). So, we haven't had a good track record since August, and even then we experienced cold and cloudy weather during Kyle's first beach trip. We have some more visits coming up, and those should tell us for sure whether Kyle truly is the Sunshine Killer.

If that is the case, then I'll have to find some way around it. Perhaps we could buy a home with its own backyard for Kyle. He would then be able to go out and play at any time, which would take some of the sting away from rainy days at my parents' place. That would give us back the edge against Nature, though a down payment on a new home in the New York City area could cost us tens of thousands of dollars. Maybe we'll just get him a better raincoat instead.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Going slightly mad

My son is playing mind games with me. He's winning, too. At less than 21 months old, he knows he has the power to crush me like he does a graham cracker, and then toss me overboard with the rest of his food. And he's not afraid to do that whenever he thinks it'll be "fun."

I am certain Kyle has been plotting this from the womb, from the moment he felt annoying pokes and heard a goofy voice say "Did you feel that, kiddo?" He set the groundwork for his plan way back in 2009, when he would give smiles and laughs to me freely, and treat me like I was the greatest person in his world. He knew he was creating an addiction, which he would use to get back at me. How else would you explain my overwhelming desire for the approval of someone whose idea of a good time is racing across the kitchen floor on his butt?

Then, last month, with everything in place according to his plan, Kyle launched Operation Daddy-Go-Crazy. First came the clinging... to his mother. If Jennifer was doing the dishes, Kyle would want her to pick him up. If Jennifer was getting ready to go out, Kyle would grab his jacket. If Jennifer was going to the bathroom, Kyle would want to go too. Meanwhile, if I were to put on my jacket and boots, kiss Jennifer good-bye and say that I was going on an expedition to the arctic and may never return, he probably would have whined that I took Jennifer away from reading to him. When the three of us played together, Kyle would quickly turn it into a game of two. One night, after Jennifer and I raced Kyle's toy cars across the floor, the little guy ran to them, picked them up, and then handed Jennifer both cars. I just sat there, with nothing in hand, dejected as Kyle ran over me to grab the cars after Jennifer rolled them again.

At first I thought Kyle's behavior was part of that "cling-to-one-parent" developmental stage you read about in books and on the web, but I have since felt it's actually something more sinister. Kyle is deliberately doing things to get at me, especially when other people are around. When it's just the little guy and me going out for a walk, he will gladly hold my hand. Forget that when Jennifer is around, and even last week he insisted on holding a friend's hand over mine. When it's just the two of us, Kyle and I have been practicing counting to ten. I get it right most times, and Kyle's not so bad at it himself. But later, when I saw my landlady and told her that Kyle could count to ten, all he said was "doy doy doo." I swear he was trying to embarrass me and make me look like a liar. When I take him to restaurants now, he sometimes makes high-pitched screams capable of breaking the glasses on the table. He then looks at me to see whether it was loud enough to get us kicked out. When he sees my disapproving look and hears my scolds, he concludes that, no, he was not loud enough and tries again until the other patrons start throwing food at us and we're forced to run away.

What did I do to deserve this? I care for the little guy each day, I hardly ever forget to feed him, and occasionally we do have fun together. Why, I thought, was he going to these lengths to shun me and embarrass me in public? Why did he apparently have a sudden disdain for me? It didn't seem right. Then during a walk last weekend he let his guard down. He laughed as he pulled his arm away from me. At that moment I saw that his behavior was not because of any ill will toward me; he just wants to drive me crazy. Right now he thinks it's fun. Knowing that, I think I'll just let the operation continue... I'm halfway toward Insanityville, anyway, so I might as well let him finish the job. I'll get my revenge later, when he'll be embarrassed to have his crazy dad around. Those will be fun days, indeed.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

A dental case

Well, I suppose this was inevitable. On Monday my "friends" at Columbus Circle Dental made a startling discovery: one of my far back molars has - gasp! - a cavity. Now, for most people this is no big deal; cavities are as commonplace as snow in the winter or glue sniffers in Congress. But for me, this is huge. In my nearly 32 years, I have never had a filling. Now I am scheduled to have my first just days before my next birthday.

I didn't see this coming. My enamel was rock-solid, or so I thought, and in the week prior to the appointment, I started flossing again, brushed more rigorously, and stopped putting chocolate syrup on my salads. This was supposed to be a fail-safe routine, one that had worked so many times before. It seemed to work for most of Monday's appointment, too. The dental hygienist did not notice anything wrong, and by the time the dentist checked my teeth I was already thinking of what kind of snack I'd have to toast another clean bill of health, imagining chocolate or butterscotch morsels dropping onto a big bowl of Edy's Caramel Delight. Suddenly the dentist jerked my head forward while pulling on a tooth with a tool commonly seen as a torture device in most James Bond movies. He asked if I felt that, and I told him "yes." He then pulled out a mini-camera, shoved it into my mouth, and on a monitor way too close to my face, I saw my tooth, magnified four hundred billion times. It smiled at me.

"There it is," the dentist said. "Tooth decay." I heard a clasp of thunder outside and a black crow cawing. Oh no, not tooth decay! I pumped my fists into the air, looked up at the ceiling and gave a bellowing yelp (that was the best I could do with the saliva sucker and mini-camera still in my mouth). The dentist suggested that I was overreacting just a tad, and that the decay wasn't that severe and could be filled within 15 to 20 minutes. So I went ahead and made an appointment, and then tried to get a new toothbrush. They were out, or at least that's what they said. I'm guessing they just want me to stop brushing so that I would need more fillings, or, better yet, an expensive root canal. In this economy, they could use all the money they can get. I hear that next week they plan to start handing out candy bars.

We've been working hard to make sure Kyle does not share my fate. It took me three decades to get my first cavity, and, like any father who lovingly demands his son to be an overachiever, I expect Kyle to remain filling-free for at least fifty years.

Actually, to be honest, I'll just be happy if he keeps all his teeth by then. According to some parenting reports, we were a little late to the teeth-brushing game, and my dentist says we probably should have brought him in for a checkup a few months ago (I thought he didn't need to go in until he was three years old). In the meantime, Kyle has been feasting on cookies, waffles, and doughnuts while avoiding vegetables as if they're poison. He's our child, for sure.

So far we have had mixed-to-poor results with our brushing exercises. Sometimes he seems to enjoy it, but most of the time he flings the brush to the floor, where it lands on a pile of all the food he rejected. Often it's easier to get him to chew on the toothpaste tube than the toothbrush. If those things had bristles, we'd be all set.

I think he resists because he like the show he gets when it happens. Often I pull out my own toothbrush in front of him and make growling noises as I vigorously clean my teeth, much like I do each night before going to bed. Sometimes I let him grab the handle of my brush as I grab the handle of his. He's actually becoming better at brushing my teeth than his own. The whole exercise is exhausting, though, and afterwards I need a big dose of dark chocolate and soda to wake me up. Meanwhile, Jennifer has developed a Grammy-worthy song called "Brush, Brush, Brush Your Teeth," which sounds a lot like "Row, Row, Row Your Boat." Kyle smiles as she sings, and he allows her to put the brush in his mouth and move it slightly. By the time they're done, Jennifer will have sung this song about twenty times, moving her ever so closely to the brink of insanity.

Yes, it is a lot of work to make our son brush, but believe me it's all worth it because now we know that his dozen teeth are, finally, somewhat clean. I am sure the people at the dentist's office will approve, whenever we get around to bringing him there. Then again, they'll probably just tell us he's not flossing enough and then will charge us for that advice.

There is one nice thing about these brushing exercises: unlike other parts of Kyle's upbringing, these leave room for failure. If we screw up, we will get a second chance when his adult teeth come in. And that gives us some hope that he, too, can go the distance without a cavity.