Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Independent Stinker

I would not say that my child has an independent streak.  To say that would suggest that there are times during the day when he actually follows my requests without question.  No, Kyle is a true revolutionary soldier, ready to fight for freedom from tyranny (Daddy) at all times, and at all costs.  The problem is, he strategizes like a two-year-old.  Half the time you don't know what he wants, and he doesn't know either.

The other night Kyle ran around the apartment with unzippered, half-open jeans.  I had put them on myself, which was a big mistake.  Kyle wanted to dress himself, after wanting to change his own diaper.  Oh, my life would be so much easier if he could actually change his diaper, but, after seeing his attempts, I doubt any diaper changed by my son would be effective, unless his face suddenly leaked.  So, I fought him with the diaper change, and then I fought him with the jeans.  Kyle wanted to put them on himself, but he wanted to wear them half-backwards and half upside-down at the same time, which is scientifically impossible.  No matter how much I reasoned with him, Kyle refused to accept the laws of physics and clothing design, and he kicked and screamed when I took over and worked to put the pants on the right way.  He then ran across the room and stared at me, his face turning purple and crying as if I just stabbed his legs.  That's why I didn't bother with the zipper.

(Above: Your dinner guest for this evening)
This is what life has become in the Age of the Tantrum.  Sure, Kyle has put up fights before, but over the past month he has become as unstable as one-hundred-year-old dynamite, while becoming even more determined to do things himself.  Don't open that door for him.  Don't get the stool to help him wash his hands.  Don't make that sandwich yourself.  Don't buckle him into his high chair.  Don't drive that car.  Should you dare try to do anything HE wanted to do - KABOOM!   WAAAAAH!  Purple face.  And that's when it becomes nutty: the door he wanted open he now wants closed.  The stool he wanted to get himself he doesn't even touch.  He doesn't want a sandwich anymore.  He refuses to release the parking brake.  The kid flip-flops more than a politician.  You just can't win. 

So, our home has become a lot more noisy.  Our landlady used to rave about how well-behaved our little guy was, always cheerfully going up and down the stairs with his dad, saying "hi" to passers-by politely, and with a big smile.  I can't imagine her feeling quite that way now, especially after our entrance on Saturday, when we opened the front door with a screaming Kyle at my chest, legs kicking as I carried him all the way up the stairs.  Prior to that, he had been screaming down the block and at our front gate, which he apparently wanted open and closed at the same time.  What triggered this?  Kyle did not want ME to remove him from the car seat.  He wanted his mommy.  His pregnant mommy.  He wanted her to squeeze into the thin space between the car and a snowbank at the edge of the road, twist herself around so that she could get into the back seat, unbuckle him, and then, with her feet still unstable, drag his limp body out of the car.  I was not going to let that happen, so boom went the dynamite.

Going out is not easy, either.  Just putting on socks and boots took about a half-hour today because Kyle wanted to do them himself and wouldn't let me come close to his feet.  The problem was, he didn't know how, and he wouldn't let me teach him.  I had to threaten to leave without him before he gave up and let me put them on.  Just be glad nobody's counting on the two of us to put out a fire or stop a burglary.

Okay, okay... I realize that some of my recent posts aren't too flattering of two-year-olds.  You might even think it's dreadful to be a parent of one.  It's not, even if this stage of parenting is exhausting.  There are still plenty of wonderful times to offset the bad ones, and moments of tranquility (nap time).  And many times it's fascinating to observe.  I'm amazed at just how much Kyle wants to do on his own, and how much he wants to be in control.  He's constantly telling me where to sit and what to read (at least he's saying "please," a small victory for me).  He still has much to learn, but he acts like he already knows it all.  Some adults act like this, too, and now I think they acquired these behaviors at age two and never grew up. 

Kyle will also say "no" to things simply because I suggested them.  He wants everything on his terms, not mine.  But there's usually a way to get him to comply without a fight.  When a fight does happen, though, Daddy almost always wins.  That's because Daddy has the ability to pick Kyle up, put him in his crib, and shut him in his room... whenever he wants to.  I think Kyle realizes that, too, and, after a while, he tends to fall in line.  There will be no revolution today.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Factor of Two

For the past month, Jennifer and I have been spreading some news which many of you already know: we are expecting a second child.  The little one is due in June, a month which will be upon us shortly.  It's practically the day after tomorrow, the way time has been flying lately.  Am I ready?  Probably not.  Am I stressed out because of that?  Nope.  At least, not yet.

You see, I am under the delusion that I've been through this before.  Sonograms and ultrasounds are no longer alien to me.  I know what the maternity ward of the hospital looks like, and I have changed enough diapers to own a major stake in the local landfill.  I've made many last-minute trips to the laundromat, and even had to clean the nursery's curtains after one unfortunate diaper change.  I have learned that "a good night's sleep" is subjective, and I have looked forward to sleeping on vacation more than the vacation itself.  The spit-ups, the tantrums, the destruction of property, the screams: been there, done that.  It's easy for me to feel confident and at ease with having a second child, until I start to really think about it, and I ask myself, Do I really have the energy to go through that again?  I dunno... maybe?  I'm starting to think that having another child is like completing a video game level on the Atari 2600: the next level might look exactly the same as the previous one, but by now you're weary, the opponents are tougher, and there's a big insect-like monster that comes out of nowhere and eats you up. 

So I guess the "big insect-like monster" in this analogy would be my son Kyle.  Hmmmm... I suppose that's not the most flattering description a father could give his first-born child.  Maybe I'll take back the "insect-like" part (though I swear sometimes he has the ability to fly into my gut, especially when I am sitting on the couch with a splitting headache), but the word "monster" isn't much of an exaggeration.  Just look at what he can do to our living room in about a minute's time:

See that smug expression on his face?  He knows what he's doing.  He knows he's creating a big mess.  In fact, he often says "big mess" when he's doing it.  Keep in mind, this picture was taken in the early afternoon.  By evening, the room is much worse, almost unrecognizable, often with half the bookcase emptied on top of all those Seinfeld DVDs, and with Cheerios and puffs scattered everywhere.  Kyle knows no mercy.  Each night after the little guy goes to bed, in an attempt to keep my sanity, I clean this mess up (with the help of Jennifer if she's back from work) so that I could sit back and watch TV without feeling like I'm inside a kid's playpen.  Sometimes cleaning the mess takes up to 45 minutes.  And this is just with one kid.  Imagine what will happen with two.

Then, of course, there are all the things I've described in previous posts.  Kyle is a demanding kid who has yet to learn the art of sympathy.  If I were to accidentally cut my finger off before breakfast, Kyle would still be screaming for waffles as I gush blood all over the kitchen.  I only wonder how he'll act once we can't give him our full attention.  Fortunately, we won't be dealing with two two-year-olds at once, since all the pregnancy books I've read don't mention any child ever being born that old.  I tip my hat to my cousins and anyone else who had twins, and then had a baby when those twins were around Kyle's age.  From what I understand, the military frequently visits homes like theirs to help soldiers prepare for the stresses of battle.

Granted, Kyle will have just turned three by the time our second child is born, so maybe he'll behave differently.  I'm not too optimistic, though, considering what I've heard from parents of three-year-olds.  From what I understand, having two kids will be fantastic later, perhaps when they're ages 7 and 4.  That's just four years from now.  Just one presidential term.  Four years with at least one kid being a maniac.  Four long, crazy, mind-numbing years.  Am I stressed out because of that?  Nope.  Not at all.  Really.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Wide World of Wreaths

Occasionally I find myself talking to someone about Disney World, mostly in the context of "When do you think you'll be taking your little guy there?"  I always say, if we do our mind-control/parenting right, Kyle won't realize that Disney World is an actual place, and not a fantasy conjured up by his friends, until he's at least seventeen years old.  Besides, who needs Disney World when your child is just as happy going to the Wide World of Wreaths, a free adventure located at the bottom floor of our building.

Each year at Christmastime, our landlady has put a wreath on the gate near the front door, and another one next to her apartment, which is behind the stairwell on the first floor.  Kyle saw them plenty during his first two Christmases, but he didn't appreciate them, as he was too busy eating his fingers.  But this time, he immediately noticed them.  From the moment they went up shortly after Thanksgiving, and he's been infatuated.  In early December, our landlady put up even more wreaths, upping the total number wreaths on the first floor to six, not including the three wreaths she has in her windows facing the street in front of our building.  We thought she was doing this because she heard how excited Kyle was about the wreaths, but when I mentioned that to her, she rambled on and on about how she never hears anything outside her door because her TV is usually on and the people living in the apartment above her (whom she complains about often) apparently have adopted a couple dozen elephants that stomp the floor while playing musical instruments loudly and out-of-tune, making it impossible for her to hear Kyle.  She said she put up the extra wreaths just because she found them somewhere, either at a discount store or on somebody else's door.  Well, this supports my long-held theory that my landlady is simply crazy... about wreaths.  In addition to all those wreaths she put up, there was the wreath on our door and the wreath on the door to the second-floor apartment, so throughout the Christmas season Kyle was in a wreath paradise.

And, wow, did he go nutty over those wreaths.  Several times a day - I kid you not - the little guy would run up to me or Jennifer and say, "Go downstaihs and wook at weafs!"  He'd then extend his arms out for one of us to pick him up and head downstairs just to look at the decorations.  Once downstairs, Kyle would point to each one and say "weaf right dere" or "weaf ovah dere," in case we didn't know where they were (yes, my son has a slight Boston accent.  He makes me proud).  He'd point out which one is shiny and which one has red bows.  He'd also tell me about the other Christmas decorations, such as the couple of carollers by the landlady's door, a small festive sled hung from a gate door, and the posted rules and regulations regarding trash and recycling pickup.  After pointing everything out about a half-dozen times, Kyle would then say "Goodbye weafs!" and we'd go upstairs, where he would immediately talk about how much fun he had looking at the wreaths, as if he just came back from riding a roller coaster or the merry-go-round.

Kyle also enjoys telling me where the wreaths are whenever we go outside.  From the stroller, he will point out even the smallest of wreaths he spies on people's homes.  Then when Christmas hit our church, the grounds crew made the mistake of putting wreaths all over the place.  Many times this past month, as parishioners sat quietly to listen to a message of peace, joy, and harmony, as revealed through the birth of Jesus, Kyle was pointing around the church and shouting, "WEAF OVAH DERE!  WEAF OVAH DERE!"

But now the Christmas season is over, and the wreaths are all gone, with the final ones disappearing today.  For the past week or so, I had wrestled with how to prepare Kyle for this moment.  At least he had a little time to adjust.  The people on the second floor removed their wreath shortly after Christmas, and we took ours down on Sunday.  Our landlady was the last holdout, and I kept wondering what would happen when Kyle asks to go downstairs to look at wreaths, and nothing's there.  What would I say to him then?  Will saying that our landlady's putting them in storage suffice?  Or do I need to make something up?  Maybe I should tell him that the wreaths accompanied our beloved Christmas tree, and were taken from our street curb by angels who magically whisked them to a faraway land, where they were guided softly towards a happier, heavenly place called Mulchland, through a loud machine with sharp knives that ripped them to shreds before spitting them out.  Right now, Kyle seems to have accepted the truth that the wreaths went into storage, so I think I will stick with that story.

Kyle did not react much today when he first noticed that the Wide World of Wreaths had vacated the building.  Once we reached the bottom of the stairs, he craned his neck around me to look for the wreath that had been next to our landlady's door.  When he noticed it was gone, he silently looked in the spots where the other wreaths had been.  Then, having assessed the situation, Kyle muttered just one word: "outside."  So, we went out.  And that was that.

Personally, I am sad to see the wreaths go, and not just because Christmas season is over.  No, I certainly had enough Christmas cheer this time around (see previous post).  What I will miss is the field trip downstairs on a particularly cold day, when I didn't feel like bundling up or fighting to get Kyle bundled up.  Even though we didn't leave the building, at least we left the apartment, and that always helped with my sanity.  But now there is nothing downstairs for Kyle to be excited about, unless he takes notice of the first floor's abundance of scuff marks or the big orange "NO SMOKING" sign by the front door.  Otherwise, it's going to be another long winter.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Snow Daze

I have come to the conclusion that having Christmas all year long is probably not a good idea, especially if you have a two-bedroom apartment.  For a time last week, it started to feel like that's exactly what we were going to have.  We didn't know it Christmas morning, which started off quietly, with Kyle sleeping past 7:30 (for the last time in his life, I'm guessing).  Our little family then gathered around the tree and opened gifts.  I gave Jennifer a silver necklace with a pear-shaped garnet stone, and she bought me a cookie jar.  It was nice to see that, even after a decade together, we still knew the way to each other's heart.  Santa gave Kyle a drum and other noisemakers because Santa must have somehow been intoxicated when he ordered his elves to make these gifts.  That's all I could think of as my still-tired brain was trying to defend itself against a full-force maraca assault.  At some point that morning, as Kyle played with an electronic device that miraculously had become ten times louder than it was when I wrapped it, Jennifer mentioned that we were at the start of a very long day.  We didn't know then just how right she was.

By late afternoon our apartment was boiling with Christmas.  Jennifer's dad, my parents, my brother Ed, and his wife Lauren were all there, along with a mound of presents big enough to need its own zip code.  Most gifts were for our spoiled child, who spent the day impersonating a Tasmanian devil.  Everyone had a great time, as we all feasted on pigs-in-a-blanket and other snacks before settling down for a delicious meal prepared by Jennifer.  As the night wore down after Kyle went to bed, we all gathered in our living room, drinking egg nog and trying to find each other around the mounds of discarded wrapping paper and packaging.  Our search-and-rescue mission for Ed, who was trapped under a sit-and-spin box, ended early because everyone dozed off by 9 p.m., having drunk my dad's potent egg nog concoction.  We later came to and prepared the apartment for our own bedtime, setting up the sofa bed and air mattress for the parents, and throwing a couple pillows outside on the fire escape.  That's when Ed and Lauren informed us that they would be spending the night at a nearby hotel. 

We haven't seen Ed and Lauren since, as they wisely escaped New York City early Sunday morning because they had to be at work the next day.  They had become a little concerned about the weather, after meteorologists on TV tweaked their forecast.  Instead of saying that Sunday was going to be "mostly sunny," as they had been all week, they were now calling for an "angry monster blizzard of doom."  We laughed it off because there was still plenty of food and egg nog left, and nobody else was planning on leaving that day.  As the wind and snow thrashed at our building like a rich brat who didn't get that pony for Christmas, I was still confident that everyone would still be able to leave by Tuesday, and Jennifer and I would then enjoy a much-needed quiet vacation at home.  Besides, we lived in New York City.  "Just wait until you see the roads tomorrow," I said.  "You'll be surprised by just how quickly they're cleared."

Monday morning, my dad and I left the apartment to get everyone doughnuts for breakfast.  We didn't make it out the front gate.  This is what it looked like:

Hmph.  I had plans to drive my father-in-law to the airport that day, so I checked to see how my car fared through the storm...

 ... not so good.  Turns out I didn't need my car, as my father-in-law's flight was canceled.  He rescheduled his departure... for Thursday.  On Tuesday, our street still looked like this:

Very similar to the day before.  The only difference is that Tuesday was the day my parents were planning to leave.  Their car is on the left-hand side of that picture, the second one in, next to the 20 inches of snow STILL ON THE ROAD.  They were not going anywhere.  In our seven years living in New York, we've never seen anything like this.  It was as if we were vacationing in the same place where we had our last week off.  New York City suddenly and inexplicably became just as skilled as Aruba in handling a snowstorm.

Now I was beginning to wish we hadn't finished off all those pigs-in-a-blanket.  My dad and I plodded through the snow and grabbed take-out lunches for everyone at one of the few diners open that day.  It's a good thing, too.  Otherwise, we'd be stuck eating some of Kyle's freeze-dried fruit and yogurt drops (we have both peach and mixed berry, so at least there would be some variety).  We later made an emergency run to the supermarket, and that evening my dad made an emergency egg nog concoction. 

The arrival of all this snow meant we weren't getting the apartment to ourselves until the 30th, five days after Christmas.  Fortunately, everyone in our family gets along very well.  Unfortunately, they all brought luggage and have a tendency to need to use the bathroom.  They also don't know our electronics as well as I do.  I had to give a 45-minute lesson on how to use our TV remotes, and at one point someone trying to turn on the Christmas tree lights accidentally shut down the whole entertainment system.  There was a lot of tending to this and that, and a lot of answering to "while you're up" requests.  The apartment seemed to shrink in size as time went on, and our living room was annexed by Kyle's bedroom. 

I still love being a host, but this week was a little more than I had bargained for.  The week I envisioned had Jennifer and me sitting on the couch late into each day, wearing our pajamas and bath robes, drooling in front of the TV while Kyle sat in a corner, playing with his new maracas.  Showers would happen late in the day, by choice and not because that's the only time the bathroom was available.  Of course, this week wasn't what our guests expected, either.  They were eager to get back to their own homes, their own beds, and their own phonographs.  But we all made the best of the situation and enjoyed the time we had together.  Nobody left our apartment maimed or killed.  On Thursday the roads were cleared, and the place was ours again.  It's peaceful now.  I am still very much looking forward to the next time everyone gets together, but I'm glad it will happen in the snow-free month of June, six months from now, as we celebrate our child's birth day.

One final note: before the snowstorm, before all the relatives visited, before the presents were opened, and before the last pig-in-a-blanket was eaten, we spent Christmas Eve with our good friends Mickey and Bonni.  We went to Christmas Eve Mass together and then dined on exquisite Chinese food.

Turns out this was the last time we would see them as a child-free couple.  On Sunday, January 2, Mickey and Bonni welcomed little Julia into the world.  Jennifer and I are ecstatic.  Mickey and I have known each other since high school, and we became best of friends in college.  He's one of the funniest people I know, and he's just an all-around great person.  Back in July, I wrote a bit about the support he and my close friend Matt have given me through these first years of fatherhood.  There's no way to describe just how much that has meant to me.  As I've said before, I now hope to return the favor.  As for Bonni, I've known for more than a decade now that she is the perfect match for Mickey.  She's caring, thoughtful, and a ton of fun to be around.  The four of us can enjoy each other's company for hours, or even days, and they're terrific with Kyle.  They are two of our absolute favorite people, and Julia certainly has a great advantage over many other kids, being blessed with Bonni and Mickey as her Mommy and Daddy.