Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Sick day

It sounded like hiccups, but it was not hiccups. The sound that woke us up at 4:30 a.m. Saturday morning was one of the notorious sounds parents dread, a sound worse than a vase crashing or Elmo singing (though not much worse). It was the sound of our child becoming sick. We went to Kyle's room, cleaned him up, and put him back to bed to sleep some more. He did... until 5:30 a.m., when we heard the sound again. Once again, we changed the crib sheet and pajamas, and put him back to bed. Forty-five minutes later we were woken up again, but this time we decided there was no point in trying to sleep any more.

I hate when Kyle is sick. I know this is a surprise to many of you, as most parents thoroughly enjoy having their stomachs in knots all weekend, checking their kid's temperature and making sure the little one's drinking enough fluids. It's usually hyped as a super fun time, but it's just not for me. Whenever Kyle's ill, a gloom settles over the apartment. We spend every moment attending to him... which, come to think of it, is really no different than any other day. His reaction, though, isn't quite the same. On normal days, Kyle enjoys the attention by running around, laughing, and finding ways to climb onto things that could seriously hurt him. During this illness, the little guy sat in one spot and stared into space. You could throw a ball-shaped pillow at his head and he wouldn't react, even if you did it a dozen times. Don't ask me how I know this.

Thank goodness for pediatricians, because, quite frankly, I don't have a clue as to what I'm doing when it comes to illness. Is it starve a fever, feed a cold... or the other way around? How high is too high a temperature? Is it wrong to throw a sick kid into the air, or feed him cookies and bacon? Fortunately, the doctor on call at our pediatrician's office had some simple advice for dealing with a stomach bug that's been going around (don't sit too close to the computer screen... it may be contagious). She said to make sure he drinks plenty of fluids, including drinks with extra nutrients to make up for whatever was lost during his rough moments. She recommended Pedialyte, watered-down juice, and Gatorade, which will also give him much-needed help with his hook shot. Kyle, being as picky of a drinker as he is an eater, rejected all of these, but fortunately he still drank plenty of water and ate fairly well. It didn't take too long for him to start acting normal again.

As difficult as any illness is, this one was much better than the last time around, when we were hit by a thunderous temperature of 104 degrees. Personally, I prefer cleaning up messes to watching my son burn up like program fliers at a pyromaniacs convention. The fever made him incredibly lethargic, so much so that our kid, who can't sit still unless he's strapped in to be fed, actually cuddled. Before we noticed the temperature, he was being so sweet to Jennifer we knew something must have been terribly wrong. When we called the doctor after discovering the fever, we were told to make sure he kept eating and drinking, and to give him some Tylenol to keep the temperature down. She said we should bring him in if his fever didn't break after a few days or if it hit 106 degrees. Otherwise, we were fine waiting it out as long as he kept eating and drinking. It was good advice, but we couldn't help but worry every minute. We would check his temperature, and moments later I'd want to check it again. It was hard to tell whether Kyle was bothered more by his illness or the thermometer.

At one point I figured I'd get some comfort in hearing what other parents did in situations like this. So I turned to the greatest community forum of them all: the internet. After a few Google searches and a couple of clicks, I came across a message board of people who were in the same situation we were in. Their notes read something like this:

"I'm so glad we took our kid to the ER with a temperature of 104. She could have died!"
"I'm hot like a kid with a fever. If you want a good time click here."
"Turns out fever my kid had was caused by a severe ear infection and he needed to be rushed to the hospital for an emergency operation."
"A temperature over 103 degrees WILL FRY YOUR BRAIN!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"

The internet did not ease my anxiety. Fortunately for all of us, the fever broke the day after I read the internet's "advice." Kyle was back to his old self, and he even celebrated the return of his health by bouncing in his crib and popping open a bottle of sparkling formula (again, this was months ago; we have sparkling milk now for special occasions). I later found out from the doctor that, no, a 104 temperature will not fry a child's brain, though it might give it a good tan.

Kyle's latest illness appears over, too, and I am just as relieved. During moments like these, I am reminded that parenting is just a lifelong experience in "winging it." When I was younger, I must have believed that becoming a parent would give you superpowers. Suddenly you would know how to cure all illnesses, coach any sport, answer any school homework question, fix a car, and make sense of the tax code. After all, my parents seemed to have the answers for everything. Unfortunately, I'm still the same Dave I was five years ago, just as clueless about most things, but a lot more tired. I do say "most"and not "all" things because I am learning a lot through trial-and-error. I just hope I don't make any errors that would scar Kyle for life, or ruin the illusion that I do have superpowers.

Then again, if I do, I guess we could always have a second kid to get things right.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

A smash hit

Safety is always the top priority when traveling with a child. A kid should always ride in a car seat, and, according to experts, it is best for that car seat to be free of thumbtacks, sharks, and broken glass. Jennifer and I always adhere to these rules to make sure Kyle is not in any danger whenever we buckle him up in the back seat. Yet Friday morning, I realized that someone must not have read the "Traveling with Children" manual, for that's when I discovered there was broken glass on Kyle's seat. There also was a lot of broken glass next to the car seat, within arm reach. It all was so easy to see through the hole in the smashed window of the rear door. It's a shame that some criminals just don't think of children's safety when they break into cars.

I am not really sure what attracted this thief to our vehicle. Maybe it was the beautiful beige upholstery or the finely-scratched dull black exterior. Perhaps he thought there was something valuable in the vehicle, since it's protected by a top-notch security system known as "The Club." He could have believed the car itself was a sign of wealth, as even Jay Leno and Jerry Seinfeld have talked about saving up money to fulfill their dream of adding a 2001 Toyota Corolla to their collections. Most likely he saw the cord to a charger for an electronic device lying inside, and guessed that it belonged to a GPS, iPod or portable money-making machine.

The window was the only thing the crook damaged. The rear door and the driver's side door were unlocked, so I am guessing that he smashed the window to unlock the doors to get into the car, unless he was incredibly small and simply crawled in through the hole. He then must have looked around to see what valuables he could take. At this point, with apparently nobody around, the crook could take anything he wanted, just like a kid in a candy store on his birthday... except this candy store offered nothing more than napkins and New Jersey maps.

The crook opened the glove compartment and spilled all the items inside onto the front passenger seat. There was no GPS or iPod... just maps, flashlights, and valet and parking deck tickets dating back to 2003. The charger left out in the open turned out to belong to a cell phone that I don't even own anymore. There was an envelope inside the glove compartment that probably had about $40 in it, which I would occasionally use as "emergency" cash. The crook pocketed that. If he had considered taking the stereo, he probably changed his mind after realizing that the car doesn't even have a CD player or iPod jack. Instead it has an old-fashioned tape deck. He did grab a bag of coins I had in a compartment underneath the stereo, which I used for parking meters. However, the bag had not been very helpful to me recently, as I had picked it dry of any quarters. That meant it was filled with mostly pennies and nickels, and probably contained five to ten dollars max. It's fun to think of just how disappointed this guy must have been with my car. I'm just glad he didn't find the diamonds tucked behind the car seat, or the rare, gold-plated original copy of the Constitution squeezed between the road maps in the door. The crook also didn't touch the two Christmas tapes left in the car, including the timeless classic "Twisted Christmas," and I'm eternally grateful for that.

However, the thief did steal a little bit of our peace of mind, since, believe it or not, we never had anything like this happen to us in the six years of parking the car on the New York City streets. The break-in also did not happen at the best time (as if there's ever a good time for this sort of thing). I noticed the broken window as I was loading the car with Jennifer's bag, just minutes before I was to take her to the airport for a weekend in North Carolina. She ended up changing her flight because of it, as she wanted to be home to give support and watch Kyle as I contacted police and the insurance company. Jennifer ended up calling a car service to get to her later flight.

I patched up that hole with a kitchen trash bag and some duct tape, which I'm sure deterred anyone else from trying to break in during the rest of the weekend. I had considered getting a rottweiler, too, but decided against it with all that broken glass in the back seat. Yesterday I drove the car to the glass repair shop, and after a half-hour the window was as good as new. In fact, the car was in much better shape then it was before the break-in, since the glass guys vaccumed all of the glass, plus the seats and floor, which I had neglected for some time. Come to think of it, the thief actually helped me out by unloading the junk-filled glove compartment, giving me an opportunity to sort through all the junk and take out things I didn't need (like a brochure to some cottages in Asheville, NC, where Jennifer and I stayed SEVEN years ago).

Even so, there were two major downsides to this whole experience. One happened at the glass repair shop. As I waited for my car to be fixed, I was forced to hear, and sometimes see, the Maury Povich show. Sure, it was only thirty minutes, but it may be months before I can shake off the sound of that woman screaming at the man who turned out to be the father of her child, as Maury tried to calm her down. I may need therapy to get the echoes out of my head. The other downside occurred shortly after discovering the break-in. Jennifer called US Airways, the airline taking her to North Carolina, and told customer service what happened and that she needed to take a later flight. The airline, being as heartless as it is, told Jennifer that she would have to pay a fee for changing her ticket and would have to pay the difference between the ticket she had bought and the new, very expensive ticket... a total that cost more than $300. Jennifer could have just hung up and gone standby, but this was an important family weekend she did not want to risk missing. Since we haven't flown much recently (we spent all the holidays in the northeast), we decided to cut our losses and switch the ticket.

One of my friends said it best: in the end, US Airways robbed us more than the guy who actually broke into our car. Go figure!

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

It's fun to play at the YMCA

So here we are again. I am once more in a death match with one of my archenemies, January. January fights with numbingly cold weather, snow, sleet, high winds, and the Baltimore Ravens. Most days I fight back with gloves and $2.20 for a medium coffee at the nearby cafe. Last year, January won. Kyle and I would stay huddled up in our apartment, watching the frost build on the windows as we counted down the days of winter using a piece of chalk and a large stone slab we keep in the kitchen. We would slowly go crazy, and by March it was hard to tell who was babbling more.

Sure, we had the ability to go outside, but who wants to do all the work? In addition to getting yourself all bundled up, you have to make sure your child is even warmer than you are by putting extra sweatshirts on him, sticking him in a full-body warm suit, wrapping him up in a giant sleeping bag called a "Bundle Me," and finding his hat, socks and gloves, one of which is always missing. The child never loves this process, and throughout is making a face like this one:



And there's plenty of noise that comes along with this face. Once all this is completed, and you're out of breath because you've spent the last twenty minutes fighting with a miniature person and looking for that missing hat, you suddenly smell something, causing you to undo everything you just accomplished. A half hour later, you walk outside, into the frigid cold with no place to go but the local coffee shop, shivering and wondering why you even bothered when you notice that your child's tears have turned into little icicles that are stabbing his cheeks. The next day you don't bother with it all and January wins.

That was last year, the year I became acquainted with the cruel winter hurtle of stay-at-home parenting. It caught me a little by surprise, as I had grown accustomed to eating up lots of time by going on walks during the late summer and fall months. Once I lost the walk, I had to find a way to get through the day and fill the eleven hours I had with him, two of which, thank God, were taken up by nap time. It was no easy task, but I trudged through it with noisy toys, book reading, and wrestling. Eventually we ran out of things to do, but fortunately spring came, and I was only three-quarters crazy by then. This year, I have a special tool up my sleeve: the YMCA.

As you may recall, we became members of the Y in October. We thought Kyle would enjoy his childhood more by learning how to swim...



This part of the YMCA experience did not go so well... that is, until the second-to-last week, when Kyle suddenly started liking the water, even laughing at some points during the swim. By then it was too late to sign up for the next swim class. When we checked, the only class available was a class for older kids, in which Kyle would have learned how to fight sharks and alligators. We didn't think he was ready for that. So now the Y is being used solely as a refuge from January's angry wrath.

The Y has an "open gym" period for kids on Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, during which the gym is filled with toys, slides, tunnels, and mats for kids to use. It's a mini slice of heaven for those of us who stay at home, even if that slice is filled with dozens and dozens of kids running wild and throwing things. For a little more than an hour, I weave around all the little people, tripping over a few as I follow my child, who just likes to run everywhere. It can be loud and a bit overwhelming, but it's also a break from reading "Curious George Takes a Train" again and again. It's an exchange I'm willing to make.

Plus, the Y gives us opportunities to create new goals and developmental milestones for our children. For example, on Monday Kyle crawled through one of the tunnels for the first time. Now, four months ago I would not have thought much about tunnels or would have thought it was a big deal should Kyle go through one. But after weeks of seeing him run around them and then look at them with curiosity without going in, I became anxious for the moment when he'd try one. When it happened, I took pictures and sent them to Jennifer at work. She responded with an email expressing how happy she was. We'll throw a party and present him with a trophy next week. We are proud of our little explorer. Obviously this skill will come in handy many years from now, when he has to tunnel through the piles of money he has made by being so smart.

Kyle is also learning some life lessons at the YMCA. Even as his ego was stoked by tunnel triumph, he was humbled by his lack of people skills needed to hold on to whatever he was playing with. Several times he'd be pushing a small gym cushion around, when a young girl, perhaps three years old, would come along, briefly act like she wanted to share it with him, and then would grab it away and run off. This kind of thing happens most times we visit the Y. Whenever it does, Kyle acts stunned and sometimes cries a little. As much as I hate seeing this sort of thing happen to my child, the fact is the toy wasn't his own. I'd like to interfere, but that really wouldn't be right, since Kyle needs these moments to better interact with other kids. So, I just tell him that he just learned a little lesson about life: you give a woman a little room, and she'll take everything you've got.

Overall, the gym has been a great experience, and a much-needed relief from cabin fever. It gives us a chance to leave the apartment without freezing. It also gives Kyle an opportunity to have fun and meet other kids. Best of all, there's no water to fear. The only thing Kyle has to worry about are the usual YMCA dangers: flying basketballs and the Village People.

Of course, I don't mean to sound like a spokesperson for the YMCA. I am sure any gym that offered the same kind of play time would be great; the Y just happens to be close to our home. Plus, stay-at-home parents tend to get a little excited about anything that makes the job easier or keeps our sanity in tact. I am especially grateful for our neighborhood's abundance of coffee shops, the existence of easy-to-use strollers, Amazon.com, Netflix, and, most importantly, my good friends Matt and Mickey, who come by almost every week to grab lunch or a beer. Without them, or the Y, I wouldn't stand a chance against the brutality of January. Now, with these forces at hand, I can fight back and safely say that January's days are numbered.

(badum-CHING)

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

So long, Santa

It had to happen. On Sunday we took down our Christmas tree. We would have loved to keep it longer, but it was brown, and parts of it were snapping off with the slightest touch. It was also emitting that "dead tree" smell. Chances are we were violating several fire codes by keeping it in our living room, and a person probably could have set it ablaze by simply thinking of fire around it. No doubt it was time for it to go. At least the tree still looked healthy around Christmas, and it didn't fall on our child. That's really all we wanted out of it.

So right now, as I write this, one of the major symbols of all the joy we had this Christmas is lying on the sidewalk in front of our place, out in the frigid cold, next to several bags of trash. Our whole block has become a graveyard of Christmas trees, as many of our neighbors have disposed of theirs. Welcome to January, forever the hangover of the holiday season.

The end of the holidays is hitting me harder than it has in a long time. Perhaps it's because of the stark differences between the Christmas season and the moment we're in now. During the Christmas season, we had warm, sentimental Christmas tunes sung by the likes of Nat King Cole, Bing Crosby, Ella Fitzgerald, and Frank Sinatra. Now, all day long, we hear a robotic Elmo try to get through "Happy Birthday" without sneezing. During the Christmas season, we'd have gifts wrapped in shiny paper covering the floor. Now all those gifts are unwrapped, including a robotic Elmo who, all day long, tells us a story about a wolf eating grilled cheese sandwiches with three little pigs. During the Christmas season, we all sat by the Christmas tree, admiring the glow from the multi-colored lights. Now the tree is on the curb, and all day long we sit around the robotic Elmo, listening to its bad jokes about cows going out to the MOOvies... as I quietly plot revenge on my brother for buying our child this gift.

Instead of blaming my brother, I suppose I should blame Kyle for the heightened post-Christmas blues. My dad once told me that part of the fun of having a kid is reliving the holidays through them. This year that proved to be true. Kyle may not know yet what Christmas is all about, but this year he seemed to enjoy it. He had us read "The Night Before Christmas" and "The Little Drummer Boy" over and over again. He would point to his advent calendar and would help us add something to its nativity scene each day. Most of all, he would become excited about the tree. Each evening we'd go into our dark living room, and, as Kyle stood by, I'd fumble around for the plug. Once I stuck it into the power strip, I'd turn around and see Kyle staring wide-eyed at the tree, with a big grin on his face. Thanks to Kyle, I found myself looking back at the tree in awe. The reaction quickly became one of my favorite parts of each day.

Kyle did notice the tree was missing on the day we removed it. When he first walked into the living room, he looked at the corner where the tree stood. Upon seeing that it was gone, he then looked around the coffee table and checked the couch. Apparently he wanted to make sure we weren't hiding it from him. Once he determined that the tree wasn't stuffed under the couch cushions, he simply walked over to one of his toys and started playing with it. He took it better than I did. However, I'm guessing that won't be the reaction we'll get a few Christmases from now, when he understands everything. I'm sure the end of the season will hit me even harder then. Maybe I'll join in the crying. Jennifer would love that.

Then again, it's still more fun to blame the post-Christmas blues on my brother and that loud-mouthed doll. I think I'll continue to do that. Perhaps, by the end of the month, Elmo might also find himself on the curb. One can only hope.