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.