Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Flight risk

Kyle is 22 months old, which means he is still young enough to ride on a plane for free. Whether or not he should is a question we probably should have discussed when we bought plane tickets for last weekend's trip to Florida. Consider our choices: by purchasing a ticket for our son, we would be able to fly together as a family, without a stranger sitting next to us by the window. Kyle would not be forced to sit on Jennifer's lap or my lap, and he would be spared from having our seat belt buckles dig into his back. He would not be close enough to the seat in front of him to kick it, and the comfort of his own seat, combined with the soft purr of the jet engine, would likely quell him to sleep for most of the flight. On the other hand, by not purchasing a ticket for Kyle, we would save 250 bucks.

We chose to save 250 bucks.

As the millions of my avid readers know, this was not Kyle's first flight, but it seemed like it. The last time Kyle boarded a plane, George Bush was president and the stock market was dropping faster than a bird glued to a bucket of bowling balls. While many people would like to forget that period of time, Kyle actually did, so this whole plane thing was new to him.

I think the entire flight would have gone well for Kyle had it been as turbulent as the takeoff from JFK early Friday afternoon. The plane jerked. It rocked. It fell suddenly. I sweated profusely. Jennifer's life passed before her eyes. But Kyle laughed and smiled. Apparently he thought he was on a new ride, something like those crazy tea cups at the amusement park. Sadly for him, but much to our relief, the plane steadied as it hit cruising altitude. Our prayer time ended, and Kyle became bored.

First he wanted off our laps. Then he wanted back on. Then he wanted to be on the floor. Then he wanted all his books on the floor with him. Then there was no more room on the floor, so he wanted to be back on our laps. We had downloaded some children's videos on an old iPod Nano we own, and he seemed interested in that for a while. By "while," I mean five minutes. He then flung it away and wanted to be back on the floor.

We thought food might help pass the time. We fed him snacks he always enjoyed at home, including his favorite cookies. This worked for a while, but then, like he does at home, Kyle started flinging his food. Unfortunately, unlike home, Kyle did not have much room for tossing. The passenger next to us received a lap full of Cheerios, I received bits of sandwich, and Jennifer was socked in the face with a water bottle. When she regained consciousness, Kyle was kicking the seat in front of us so hard that the passenger there nearly swallowed his tray table.

Then came the landing. As we began our descent, Kyle decided he was not interested in a lollipop or even the straw cup he drank during takeoff. We desperately tried to give them to him, since sucking on them was the only way for him to pop his ears and avoid the -

We were too late. Kyle felt pain from the air pressure.


Our child screamed. His face turned purple as his lips quivered. We tried desperately to make him stop, practically forcing a lollipop or the straw cup into his mouth. He kept pushing them away. People were turning around, and we realized we had become that family: the one that wakes everyone up with the screaming child. The one business travelers complain about at the staff meetings. The one that makes people swear to never get on a plane again. The one that helps control the population by convincing young couples that they'd rather have a dog.

"WAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!" screamed our child, ramming his head into my chest as I tried to rock him back and forth. A flight attendant stopped by. I feared she was going to give us a few parachutes and tell us we'd have to leave.

"Have you given him a lollipop?" she asked. When I told her we had, she walked away. She was very helpful. Later another attendant came by and asked us the same thing. Apparently no other kid has ever refused a lollipop before.

Thankfully, we soon were on the ground, and Kyle's crying stopped. His sense of humor came back, and he laughed as he waited with us at the car rental pick-up spot. For the rest of our time there, Kyle was a joyful kid, entertaining all the guests at his great-grandmother's 90th birthday party (which was the reason why we flew down). We had a great time, too... so much so that we had even forgotten the unpleasant fact that we had another flight to take to get home.

That happened yesterday. I won't get into as many details about that trip, only to say that it was very similar to the trip down, though this time he did spare our sanity a bit by taking a brief nap. I'm just glad we made it back alive, and with our eardrums in tact.

We will be driving for our next trip. I think might wait a good number of months before we fly again. The break will be good for Kyle, good for us, and good for humanity in general.

And you can be sure that next time we will buy Kyle his own seat.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Taking the morning train

As you probably know, my family lives in a New York City apartment. While there are a good number of perks that come with this, including the complimentary 2 a.m. wake-up alarm service provided by the local bar patrons, there are a few downsides. One such downside is the fact that the floor is not entirely ours. We live on the third floor of our building, which means our feet touch the ceiling of the second-floor apartment beneath us. If we choose to be the friendly and respectful type, and we often do, we have to limit some of our behavior. We try not vacuum or make other loud noises very early or very late in the day, and we keep our clog dancing to a minimum.

Sometimes, though, no amount of kindness can avoid a complaint, either to you or your landlord. Believe it or not, some city dwellers are actually irritated by the noises they hear above them, and I'm not talking about sounds caused by the occasionally necessary chair-smashing or pogo stick race. No, these people are bothered by walking or simple furniture movement. Somehow they don't grasp the concept that, by living in an apartment, you might have to hear some noises made by people who live above you. I once had a downstairs neighbor approach me frantically to complain about the slight tapping noise made by my coffee table whenever I put my feet on it. That's nothing compared to another person we know who is so bothered by simple noises she had called her upstairs tenants to complain daily, and she threatened to have them arrested by the police or deported. She says the tenants blast their radio and host wild dancing parties whenever we're out (since we never heard such things), but other tenants in the building say noise has always been a problem with her. They told us that she once called and threatened (in the most polite way, I'm sure) to stab a pregnant woman who had made the dreadful mistake of dropping something on the floor. She's a sweet old lady, once you get to know her.

Fortunately, this person does not live directly below us. The tenants who used to live there were very kind to us, and tolerated the many noises Kyle started making once he transformed from a little immovable baby to a fast-moving, foot-stomping, wild and crazy noise machine. But they're gone now, and we are just waiting to see whether our new downstairs neighbors will be as friendly.

In the meantime, we have become a little too comfortable with an empty apartment beneath us. We're living it up, giddily stomping on the floor whenever we feel like it. Our son is enjoying it, too, as our neighbors' departure just so happened to coincide with his new love for a toy he received nearly a year ago from my aunt and uncle. Kyle has spent many mornings this month riding a blue plastic train through the apartment, running over anything in its path and bumping into walls. When the steering wheel doesn't turn the train far enough, he often stands up and flips it around, sliding its four wheels on the floor. He also manages to drive the train over small obstacles by lifting the front wheels, passing them over the object, and then dropping them back onto the floor with a THUD! He then does the same with the back wheels. Sometimes he also removes the back of the train seat and throws it to the floor. This all happens before eight in the morning, even on Saturdays.

If our neighbors were still downstairs, we probably would have hidden the train in our room each morning, but it's been so much fun watching him play with it. In the weeks he has been using it, his driving skills have greatly improved, though he has yet to master parallel parking. He often leaves the vehicle right in the middle of a traffic lane, where an unsuspecting visitor or dad might create more noise on the floor with his or her body after tripping over the thing.

Soon, though, we will have to be quiet again. Hopefully the neighbors we get downstairs will be tolerant of our kid, just like the previous neighbors were. Even so, I suppose we will have to return to our old morning routines, keeping quiet out of respect to those living beneath us. Kyle will have to limit his train riding to the late morning and afternoon hours. I guess that's the way things will have to be until we move to the suburbs or have a ground-floor place. It's too bad, really, because Kyle has truly grown to love the train. The only thing he seems to love more is his toy jackhammer.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Hidden treasures

Behold, the elusive yellow plastic circle thingy:

This is one of ten pieces belonging to the Tupperware "Shape O" ball. Chances are that you probably had this shape sorter when you were a child, as it was developed many years ago by cavemen to teach their kids how to recognize the wheel they just developed, along with other shapes and objects still on the drawing board. Kyle received this toy for Christmas, and at that time the ball contained ten pieces. Since then, the circle has become our own Loch Ness Monster, with knowledge of its existence kept alive merely through rumor and folktales. The circle vanished so early during its stay here that many have wondered whether it was even part of the set. There's one belief that Tupperware deliberately did not include a circle piece and left a slot for one in the ball to screw with children's minds and teach them some sort of lesson about life.

Then, sometime in February, any denial over the existence of the circle was shattered. In the fog of our living room (our radiators give off a lot of steam), our Loch Ness Monster reappeared as mysteriously as it had disappeared. I leaped in excitement and was about to call all our friends and neighbors, but then realized that perhaps they would not quite understand the significance of the yellow plastic circle thingy's return, and I did not want them to ruin the moment. Turns out that was a wise move, because the moment was incredibly brief, as the piece vanished within days, returning to the stuff of legend for several more weeks. Sometimes it would come back and take its friends away in the night, leaving Kyle to play with only half the shapes he should have. In recent days, though, all pieces have returned to their rightful place, including the yellow circle. Its reappearance allowed me to finally take a picture of it, proving that it does, in fact, exist. I plan to showcase it on a talk show next week.

The disappearance of the elusive yellow plastic circle thingy is not the only phenomenon happening in our New York City apartment. Other objects have also mysteriously vanished. A set of twelve Sesame Street mini-books Kyle received as a gift now has just ten books. A jungle play set that came with six colorful balls now has only two. Several stuffed animals are MIA, and so is a Curious George book. Who knows where they all went, though I suspect the Curious George story may have vanished to the same watering hole the man with the yellow hat always seems to be visiting whenever his monkey runs amok.

Perhaps the greatest mystery of all is the disappearance of Kyle's first birthday gift, the Oball. Jennifer and I are not sure exactly when it ceased to exist; we just noticed one day that Kyle had stopped playing with it, and we have not seen it anywhere. The only known photographs I have of it, in fact, are from his birthday. I believe this is the largest of all the objects that have vanished, and I am puzzled as to how it happened. After all, we live in an apartment. Sure, it's no studio, but it's no townhouse, either. We're on one floor with adjoining rooms, a so-called "railroad apartment." We do not have our own yard, our own deck, or our own killer sand creature like the one in "Return of the Jedi." If we did, then the disappearance of these things would make more sense. Our home appears to have very few hiding places, but somehow, someway, these objects have found a good one.

While we hardly ever see Kyle play with these toys after they go into hiding, he might know where this perfect hiding spot is. That could explain how some things unexpectedly reappear. Such was the case several months ago, one morning shortly after Jennifer went to work. Kyle had left me in the middle of a deep conversation and ran to his bedroom. I didn't bother to follow, since his bedroom is a relatively safe place, if you overlook the snake pit, which I often do. Kyle did not spend much time in his room, and I sat there and watched him run out, back towards me with a big smile on his face... and a straw cup filled with water in his hand.

Funny, I thought to myself, I don't remember giving him a straw cup today. I hadn't yet, in fact, since it was still early in the morning, shortly after his breakfast, and I normally don't fill one up with water until later in the day. I e-mailed Jennifer and asked her if she gave him one before she left. She e-mailed me back saying she did not. I looked back at Kyle and saw him smiling and drinking away... and I wondered just how old that water was. Thank God it wasn't milk. Kyle must have retrieved that straw cup from the hiding spot, where it had sat overnight, or perhaps days or weeks, next to the Oball, the Sesame Street mini-books, the jungle play set balls, and the yellow plastic circle thingy.

Of course our son is not telling us where this hiding place exists, as he likes to find any way to build leverage over his parents. So I must go from day to day, wondering what's happening to most of his toys, trying to figure it out without going crazy crazy crazy. I am sure they will turn up eventually, but not before more toys, including something bigger (like his Elmo doll or the crib), will disappear. Or maybe there is no secret hiding place. Maybe Kyle's just selling is toys for profit on eBay. That certainly would explain how he was able to afford that new stereo system in his room.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

The Grinch Who Stole Easter

Easter certainly was a different experience for us this year. When the day began, Jennifer and I were full of excitement, looking forward to Kyle's reaction to his basket, which the Easter Bunny had placed in the living room. By the end of the day, we were in that very same living room, tattered shells of our former selves, struggling to stay awake through the season's first major league baseball game. The rug was covered with Easter grass and plastic eggs that were once confined to the now-empty basket, along with several locks of hair that were once attached to our skulls. Inside the room at the far end of the apartment was our beautiful child, who was sleeping peacefully after screaming through his bedtime stories. I guess you could say the day did not go as well as we had hoped it would.

Last year we had it easy. Kyle's first Easter basket was simple. It has no Easter grass, and no candy. It merely contained a few toys, plastic eggs, and jars of pureed vegetables. Back then, nothing expressed love more to Kyle than a container of mashed green beans.

At church last year, Kyle did not cause much of a stir, except to flirt with the nuns, and he slept through most of the brunch we had with a couple of our friends afterwards. If I remember right, when we came home he slept a little more, smiled when we posed for pictures, and did nothing else but hug us and make adorable little baby sounds for the rest of the night.

This Easter, Kyle was possessed by demons. He fought with us much of the day, and he cried angrily whenever he didn't get what he wanted, which is often nearly impossible to figure out. He screamed through much of our time at church, though that wasn't as bad as it could have been, since we've been starting to visit a local parish that has a toddler-friendly Mass. There were about 80 or so children there on Easter, with most of them running, jumping, screaming, or crying throughout the service. It was like the chimpanzee exhibit at the zoo, but with Bible readings. Afterwards we went downstairs to the church hall, where there was even more running and jumping, plus an Easter Bunny who handed each kid a bag full of colorful choking hazards. Kyle at least enjoyed that part.

The demons took a break for brunch, as we filled our son's stomach with enough food to keep himself satisfied, and ourselves with enough coffee to get through the rest of the day (the mimosas included with the brunch also helped). The peace ended shortly afterwards, when Kyle refused to take his afternoon nap, cried whenever we did not identify every car or flag he pointed at, and then, at the end, screamed as Jennifer tried to read him stories before putting him down for bed. He also kicked a few orphaned puppies and vandalized a library. It was an unnaturally difficult day with Kyle, and we were at a loss as to what could have caused it.

There was, however, an element present at this Easter that was absent last year: chocolate. Yes, the Easter Bunny chose not to continue our child on the healthy eating path it forged last year, and instead caved to the pressures of the corporations that have long funded his ventures, namely Hershey and Palmer Chocolates. I cannot say for certain that chocolates caused Kyle to become especially difficult, since some of his unruly behavior happened before he consumed any. Still, just the knowledge that there was easily-accessible candy in the home could have sent him over the edge. I will have to research this, of course, by showing him a piece of chocolate and, regrettably, consuming some myself. If there's a change in behavior, then I'll know for sure what caused it. Otherwise, we'll just blame this on the terrible twos, and continue counting the days until he turns three.