Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Let's Make a Meal

My brother and his wife hosted Thanksgiving this year at their new home outside of Boston.  Apparently they wanted to test out their new fire alarms and dishwasher, as well as scuff their floors to make their new place feel more like home.  Kyle was eager to help out, as he had been looking forward to this trip for some time, talking frequently about his aunt and uncle's "new house" in the days leading up to Turkey Time.  As soon as he arrived there, he took off, running through the kitchen, into the dining room, past the living room, down the hall, and back into the kitchen.  There was so much space!  He ran around and around all day, breaking occasionally to climb stairs, open cabinet doors and jump near the shelves holding fragile artifacts from my brother's trips overseas.  The little guy must have covered about 43 miles before the day's end.  He kept everyone busy, and Jennifer and I appreciated having others around to help out.  I was also grateful for the egg nog.

(Above: Artistic rendition of our Thanksgiving turkey)
Everyone loved the dinner my brother and sister-in-law prepared.  We filled our bellies with turkey, stuffing, sweet potatoes, green bean casserole, squash, freeze-dried yogurt drops, and Teddy Grahams.  It was a feast for everyone.  Dinner was capped off with dessert, which included pumpkin pie, apple pie, cupcakes, and more Teddy Grahams.  The food was delicious, and surprisingly non-toxic, considering that my brother had helped cook it. 

After the meal, we went to the living room to watch football while Kyle terrorized one of the cats.  The cat, one of two tuxedo cats owned by my brother and his wife, had made the mistake of walking into the room where Kyle was standing.  The little guy loves pets, perhaps because he feels a kinship with them, since they are close to his size and do a lot of whining over food.  Our son likes to run up to our friends' dogs, place a hand on them to "pet" them, and run away snorting with laughter.  With this cat, he didn't even get that close.  He simply stood in the center of the room where the cat was and clapped his hands.  The cat froze at the top edge of a couch, scared of this three-foot clapping monster.  It trembled as Kyle walked closer, wearing a silly grin and still clapping.  Then, with Kyle still several yards away, it turned and somehow slid down a two-inch-wide gap between the couch and the wall, and was not seen again for the rest of the day.  I think it ate part of the seat cushions for its dinner.  Better to do that than confront the killer clapper.  Kyle said the "cat has a boo-boo" and then started doing laps around the house again.  From what I hear, the cat re-emerged after we left, when the house was safe again.

It certainly was a lot of fun to visit family and friends during the holiday break, and to not have to search for parking while doing that (oh, the simple things suburbanites take for granted).  Jennifer and I also took advantage of having my parents there, who are ready-and-willing babysitters.  Since we have yet to gain the courage to put our first-born's life in the hands of a stranger, this weekend was our first opportunity to have a date, just the two of us, since our Aruba trip in August.  Wow, was it refreshing.  Jennifer and I used this valuable adult time to go to the cinema... and see a movie about a boy wizard and his magical friends.

Sunday was slap-happy traffic day.  We spent most of the day fighting other highway drivers, most of whom either had a death wish or were using a vehicle for the first time.  We then roamed our neighborhood for a half-hour or so, looking for parking (oh, the simple things suburbanites take for granted).  Once that was over and Kyle was in bed, Jennifer and I sat on our couch, put on the TV, and enjoyed a quiet evening at home.  We enjoyed the Thanksgiving weekend tremendously, but it sure was busy.  Now that it's over, we've begun the madness that is the Christmas season.  I'm still clueless as to what to buy Kyle this year.  Maybe we should get him a cat.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The Pop Boils Over

It's very easy to get angry at a two-year-old.  Even with all their charms, toddlers really are three-foot-high tyrannical, violent, self-centered punks.  And I say that lovingly.  My own two-year-old was especially difficult last week, and I had some trouble putting together a blog entry as I spent much of Kyle's nap times with my head on my desk, trying to unwind.  Who knew that someone with less than three years' experience in the world could know just how to make your blood bubble for hours?  Apparently anyone who has had a two-year-old knows.  "Terrible twos" is a cliché, but there's a reason for that.

It's very easy to forget that the person I'm dealing with is only two.  That's a problem in itself.  I spend a lot of time with Kyle, maybe too much time.  It makes me delusional.  I start thinking that he's more mature than he is, believing that I can understand him, and he understands me.  Sometimes I think we're having actual conversation when I realize later that half of what I said sounded like someone throwing up.  "BWAAAAAAAAAHHHHHH!!!"  Not exactly intellectual stimulation.  Kyle replies so well that I think we're onto something and maybe doing some father-son bonding, but then he goes ahead and does something that drives me batty, like throwing a brick across the living room, near the shrine for our TV.  That might be followed by a screech that makes nails-on-a-chalkboard sound like Miles Davis.  With an adult, you can criticize such behavior by saying the person is being "childish" and "acting like a two-year-old."  Unfortunately, two-year-olds are expected to act like two-year-olds.  Whenever my kid acts like an adult, he is sick with a fever.

Still, as a parent, I have this bizarre, self-destructive tendency to try to correct this behavior, thinking that a reasonable kid would realize that what he was doing is wrong and stop doing it.  Or maybe a reasonable kid would cry or get upset because he realizes he's in trouble.  Again, such thoughts come with the delusional thought that a two-year-old is reasonable.  Kyle, instead, gets a good laugh out of a scolding.   In fact, a scolding of any sort usually encourages bad behavior.  It's as if Kyle goes through a checklist once he gets into trouble.  Did you jump in the tub?  Check.  Screech?   Check.  Hit Daddy?  Check.  Kick?  Check.  Head-butt?  Check.  Bite?  Check.  Throw something?  Check.  Break something?  Check.  It's as if Kyle's saying, "Well, if I'm gonna get in trouble over one thing, I might as well get in trouble over EVERYthing." 

Kyle is a creative kid and knows when he's on a roll.  That's when he'll start experimenting.  At times it's very stressful, as it was that day he ran away from me, on the sidewalk, several feet away from moving cars, and didn't listen when I shouted for him to stop.  Other times, it's just irritating. On one particular morning, after all the throwing and screeching and ripping up books, Kyle was quietly playing with Play-Doh at the kitchen table as I sat next to him, exhausted from chasing after him.  I was resting in a quasi-vegetative state, trying to figure out what would be more effective at waking myself up: using energy to get coffee, or just banging my head against the table.  I looked at Kyle and saw him tilt his head down toward the chair.  He looked up at me and smiled.  Then he did it again, and that's when I realized... he was spitting.  Really, Kyle?  I thought to myself.  You're going to start spitting?  Now?  When did you think of doing that?  And on the chair?  Really, Kyle?  Really?  He had never done it before, but now he thought the time was right to start spitting all over the place.  That's when I slowly pulled my aching body up, told him "no," and got a head-butt to the stomach.  Then a kick.  Then a whack in the face.  Check, check, check.

So what do I do about this?  There are your standard punishments we all remember getting when we were kids, and I have tried a good number of them.  But we remember these punishments because they were effective when we were four, five, or six years old... not when we were two.  For a two-year-old, it's all a game, and Kyle loves seeing me get red in the face.  When I'm not behind the wheel or debating politics with my dad, I'm usually not a hothead, but as I have tried to get a message through to Kyle, I have found myself yelling angrily at levels I didn't think possible, so loud that our neighbors dial 911.  The result?  Giggling and a repeat of what he just did.  Other scolding methods also go nowhere.  The kid just doesn't understand "getting into trouble" yet.  You can't even threaten to skip dessert or throw a toy out the window.  It's a shame, 'cause his Elmo doll could use a good hurl. 

Then, last week, in the midst of one of Kyle's worst streaks of bad behavior, I gave up.  I stopped yelling or trying to punish him.  I just firmly told him not to do something or had him repeat what he did wrong ("no eating the couch"), and I often just removed him from the situation.  I was actually following advice that others had given me a while ago, but had forgotten in the two-year-old's assault on me.  You know what?  It worked.  Or, at least, it has worked for nearly a week.  I know that Kyle is feverishly creating a new plan to get the "angry dad" game going again, and will strike when I least expect it.  And he will win.  That's just what two-year-olds do.  For now, I'm just happy something is finally working.

Yet, this battle takes up just part of the time.  At other times, a two-year-old will laugh with you, give you a hug, or say or do something so out-of-the-blue and wacky that you hurt your side laughing.  He might even avoid confrontation and listen to you, as Kyle did most of the day yesterday.  And even on the most turbulent days, when nothing seems to be going right, there might be a quiet moment when you're sitting down and that two-year-old comes over to you and gives you a smile.  A wide, glowing smile that tells you that you are his best friend, and the person he enjoys being with each and every day.  And at that point, you forget just how easy it was to get angry at a two-year-old.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Toddler Takeover

Kyle was determined to "own" story time from the moment we arrived.  We were ten minutes late, and the leader was halfway through the first story by the time we walked into the small room in the back of a local coffee shop.  We probably would have arrived there earlier had this not been a last-minute plan of desperation.  Yesterday's weather was gloomy, the playground likely was washed out, and the gym was not open at the YMCA.  Kyle had woken up long before the sun, and Jennifer had another early morning at work.  That meant the little guy was stuck with me alone for a bit longer than usual, and he was quickly running out of ways to test my patience.  With Kyle just minutes away from spray painting the refrigerator, I had to come up with something fast, and that's when I found a card in the office with the story time hours.  I had been mildly curious about it, so I figured we might as well check it out.  No doubt it would be better than staying at home and dousing fires.

Kyle and I quickly scoped out the place when we walked in.  There were about twenty people there, half of them less than three feet tall.  I had to watch my step.  All the adults were either moms or nannies, making me the only dad in the room.   I felt a little awkward, like Ronald McDonald at a PETA meeting, but as a stay-at-home dad, I've become used to being the lone man.  I quietly took a seat along the wall.  Kyle, meanwhile, went straight into action.  He's at a stage where he doesn't follow anybody, and he was ready to undermine the woman who was leading the story time.

"Mommy, Daddy and KYLE!" he shouted at her.  It was his way of introducing himself, as he has yet to figure out how to say, "My name is Kyle and you shall bow to me."  The leader said "hello" back, and then the niceties were over.  It was time for rebellion.  The little guy struck first at the seats.  About ten pillows of all colors were spread out on the floor for toddlers to sit on.  Kyle wanted them gone.  He immediately started collecting the seats, apparently in an attempt to steal the leader's audience.  He picked up two or three at a time and stacked them in a pile next to me.  Soon other toddlers joined in the fight, and within minutes, all the seats were gone, replaced with a handful of kids wandering aimlessly with their pillows, not listening to any stories and blocking the view of those who were.  Kyle's plan was working.

The little guy's next operation was aimed at the books themselves.  Either he did not like what the leader was reading, or he wanted to read the picture books himself.  Personally, I didn't mind the stories, except maybe for the one about the crack-dealing homicidal pyromaniacs.  Kyle, though, was determined to get new books.  With the seats now gone, he easily ran to the other side of the room, and squeezed himself between a chair and a table blocking a bookshelf. 

"Book!  Book!" he said loudly in my direction.  The leader pretended not to hear and kept reading.  I ignored him, too, and pretended some other kid sitting in the back was my child.  I had hoped that the lack of attention would convince Kyle to do the reasonable thing and sit down.  Instead, he kept calling to me as he attempted to climb onto the table.  Even though Kyle has spent a lot of time at the gym, he doesn't have a good set of guns just yet, so he managed to only get his chin above the table.  At this point, his rag-tag team of followers was quickly dissipating.  They were apparently embarrassed by the head of the rebellion, who  dangled by his chin on the table, looked weaker as slipped down.  Also, the leader of story time had just begun a monster tale, and it's hard to be the enemy of someone reading a monster tale.  Even Kyle was half-interested, and he paused a moment to listen.  That's when I took the opportunity to get up and carry him back to my seat.

Once the leader finished the monster story, she encouraged the kids to take part in an activity.  She passed around sheets of paper with big green circles on them, and told the kids to turn the circle into a face.  She then gave each kid a bowl filled with eye, ear, nose, and mouth stickers.  Kyle wanted to make a demonstration out of this silly game, to embarrass the leader into submission.  While other kids were having fun creating images, Kyle spent his time pulling out the stickers one-by-one and placing them on the paper without even peeling the backs off to make them stick.  Once the bowl was empty, Kyle stepped backwards, into the middle of the room, and clapped.  Mission accomplished!  But, by now, the rebellion was over, as Kyle was all alone in his quest.  I helped him put the stickers back into the bowl, and he humbly handed them over to the victorious leader, who all along seemed oblivious to his attempts to overthrow her.  She gave him a small bag of "Veggie Booty" and thanked him for coming, saying she hoped to see him again soon.  Once we were outside, Kyle threw the snack to the floor in disgust.  He demanded that we quickly went home.  For my son, an hour without being in total control was simply too much to bear.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Free Fallin'

Nearly three years ago, back when Jennifer and I were able to go places without an extensive checklist and spare set of clothes, we had dinner with some friends in North Carolina.  As we ate, their first child, who was just two at the time, decided to turn their china cabinet into his very own rock wall.  Before reaching the summit, he ran into a little trouble with gravity.

Bump-bump-THUD!!

After a brief moment of silence, the two-year-old, now face-down on the floor, started crying.  His parents tended to him quickly, lifting him up, giving him a hug, and then placing some ice, wrapped in a towel, on his bruised forehead.

"No," said the kid, to our surprise.  "The other kind."

"Oh," said the dad, as he rose from his seat, taking the ice with him.  He walked to the kitchen and quickly returned with the ice, this time wrapped in a surgical glove.  The boy smiled and took it from him, pressing it to his head.  That's when it hit us: this is our future.  This is what life is like with a little boy.  The fall didn't jolt me.  Neither did the cry.  No, my rude awakening was the realization that the boy had done this sort of thing so often, he already had a preference for the way he receives his ice.

Kyle is now just a couple months younger than that boy was when he took that spill.  He has yet to fall off our own china cabinet, but I really think that's simply because we don't have a chair near there to help him up.  If we did, there's a good chance Kyle would try to climb as recklessly as possible.  That's because Kyle loves to fall.  

(Above: Kyle "falls" at the YMCA.
As you can see, he is in much pain.)
Falling is Kyle's new hobby.  Just as other kids learn to play catch, sing songs or build things, our son has taken to tumbling to the ground and saying "uh-oh" as if he did it by accident.  He trips over things that aren't there.  He falls off the couch.  He turns church pews into professional wrestling rings.  So far, he hasn't been seriously hurt, though if you do happen to respond to Kyle's "uh-oh," he will follow it up by saying "boo-boo" and pointing to a part of his body he supposedly hurt, even if he fell onto a pillow.  Anything for a little sympathy, or a cookie.

I did stress the word "seriously" in the last paragraph because I would be lying if I said Kyle never hurt himself.  Sometimes certain things get in the way of his act, like crib rails.  On more than one occasion, during a fall or a wild jump, Kyle has smacked his jaw into his crib, cutting his lip.  And, wow, do lips bleed.  Normally this sort of thing happens at bedtime, so, instead of softly putting him to bed with his blankets by his side, I am rushing him to the kitchen sink, his face wrinkled more than a pug's as he's breaking new decibel levels, with a red river flowing over his mouth, teeth, tongue, and chin.  After I go through a dozen or so napkins, tossing them to the floor looking like they mopped up a surgery, Kyle's lips heal, and I put him back to the crib... where he pretends to fall again.  He has yet to master the concept of "cause and effect."

So, my hopes and dreams for the little guy are changing again.  Instead of becoming a professional athlete/President who wins a Nobel Prize in physics while his paintings and sculptures are on display at the Louvre, Kyle might become a stuntman instead.  I think I will be able to accept that.  There are worse professions.  At least he hasn't taken an interest in journalism.  Still, I'm holding out hope that all this falling is, like many other things, just a passing phase.  It has to be, for my own sake.  The thing that Kyle loves most of all is falling on me, especially after 9:30 am, when all the energy I had for the day is used up.  I often have to absorb, without warning, a fast-moving head to the gut, shoulder, or chin.  A successful block will only lead to another try.  If it continues this way for much longer, I will be the one requesting a favorite type of ice pack.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Taking Candy from Strangers

On Sunday, Kyle trick-or-treated for the first time.  This was a momentous occasion for us.  Sure, the little guy did go outside in costume for his previous two Halloweens, but to say he actually trick-or-treated is the same as saying that someone who put on a pro football jersey and attended a game actually played pro football.  I hear from a very reliable source that I look pretty good in my Tom Brady Patriots jersey, but you can't call me a member of the Patriots.  Truth be told, if you put me in as quarterback in a real NFL game, chances are I'd be on the ground in fetal position, wailing for my mom within twenty seconds of game's the first snap.  It takes more than just the costume to be a full participant.

During the past three Halloweens, Kyle's costumes have, unintentionally, reflected his current state of development.  He was a cow at his first Halloween, fitting because, at four months old, he often stayed in one place and pooped a lot.  For his second Halloween, Kyle was a vampire.  Yes, Kyle was very trendy at the time, but the costume mostly reflected his desire to bite people and drink their blood.  This year he was Bamm-Bamm, the club-carrying child of Mr. and Mrs. Barney and Betty Rubble, of the Flintstones TV show.  The resemblance between Bamm-Bamm and our two-year-old son is uncanny.  Both have bright blond hair, both prefer walking without shoes or socks, and both can turn a living room into a disaster zone within a few minutes.  Kyle does know a few more words than Bamm-Bamm, but he uses them with the same eloquence.  For us, there was no other choice for this year's costume.

Armed with a pumpkin bucket and a felt dinosaur bone, our little Bamm-Bamm went outside for our neighborhood's Halloween festival, which is no small event.  As a Halloween costume parade marched down a street not far from our home, Kyle watched all kinds of spooky creatures pass him by, including monsters, witches, zombies, and Senator Chuck Schumer.  The senator was indeed part of the parade, though he chose not to wear a costume.  Perhaps he felt he didn't need to.  After all, for many Americans these days, an incumbent lawmaker, especially a Democratic one, is scary enough as is.  We joined the parade for a block or so before jumping out of it to get some free candy.

It took Kyle some time to get the hang of trick-or-treating.  Thanks to many agonizing weeks of practice, Kyle could say "trick or treat" without a problem... but he did not know what to do after that.  To the confusion of the candy-givers, Kyle would not hold out his pumpkin bucket.  Sometimes he would pull it away or take a few steps back when someone was trying to give him a treat.  At one point, he even tried to give the candy-giver some of his own candy, not quite realizing that trick-or-treating is a one-way transaction.  I think he started to get the hang of things by the end of the night.  He certainly enjoyed the feel of candy falling into his pumpkin bucket, as he often would beam a wide smile or laugh after receiving some.

Once trick-or-treating was over, the three of us went home to inspect Kyle's loot.  Jennifer and I did our parental duty, checking each piece of candy to make sure no wrapper was open, and making sure Kyle did not receive anything dangerous, such as razor blades or political pamphlets.  We also would have let Kyle try some candy, if he seemed at all interested.  But Kyle didn't care about eating his candy; he enjoyed just looking at the wrappers and their many colors.  He also spent a good amount of time emptying his bucket, putting the candy back into it, and then emptying it again.  To him, that was almost as much fun as the trick-or-treating itself.  Even if he didn't eat any candy, Kyle can still be proud of having taken part in a tradition shared by millions of kids throughout our country.  We are certainly proud of him.  And on Sunday I, too, took part in a tradition shared by millions of dads throughout our country: after the little guy went to bed, I dug into his bucket and enjoyed a sample.  I love Halloween.