Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Like a Rolling Rock

I turned 33 on Thursday.  I remember when Boston Celtics legend Larry Bird turned 33, in part because the media said his age finally caught up to his number.  They made a big deal of this because Larry Bird was OLD.  His feet needed surgery, his back was falling apart, and he'd get halfway to the basket and then forget why he was there.  Bird was in the "twilight" of his career and would retire three years later.  Nobody has heard from him since.

Of course, 33 is old for a basketball player.  I guess I could now say my dream of playing for the NBA is now officially over.  At least I still have time for Major League Baseball.  To be honest, turning 33 did not make me feel old.  Having a kid nearly three years ago did.  And now I'm bracing for another one.  I think I pulled a back muscle just thinking about that.

Fortunately, even an old guy like myself can still have some fun, and on Saturday I went out with friends to celebrate.  Jennifer and I hired a sitter for the night, one we've used a few times now (she's very skilled and terrific with Kyle).  Our close friends Matt & Amanda and Mickey & Bonni also found sitters for their kids.  That meant the three couples were able to have a kid-free night at Dinosaur, an excellent barbecue restaurant in Manhattan (and excellent barbecue is not easy to find around these parts).

While everyone had a great time, the night was different for each of the couples, depending on their varying stages of parenting.  The newest parents of the bunch, Mickey and Bonni, have a girl who's almost three months old.  Parting with a child that small is at times heartbreaking, even if you're leaving the child just to get a leftover sandwich out of the fridge.  Mickey said they missed her as soon as they left their apartment to head to the restaurant.  They weren't worried because she was getting plenty of love from Mickey's mother, but once the night was over they were eager to return home.  It was cute.

Matt and Amanda (seen to the left with my lovely wife Jennifer) have an eight-month-old boy.  It's a fun age for a kid to be.  Their little guy is not a tiny fragile baby anymore, and he's been moving around, exploring things and trying to become friends with their dog.  By now, Matt and Amanda have left their child with a sitter several times.  Like Mickey and Bonni, they miss their little guy, but they're now used to leaving him every now and then.  Yet there's always the concern that something might go wrong, and parents with an eight-month-old still want to make sure they can be reached at all times.  Matt's phone was on the table all night, and he occasionally glanced down to make sure he didn't somehow miss a call.

Meanwhile, Jennifer's phone was on vibrate and buried under a pile of coats.  We were practically halfway through the meal before we realized that.  My phone had been tucked deep in my pocket, where it's sometimes impossible to hear, especially in loud restaurants.  Good thing the sitter knew where we were having dinner, so she could have had us paged if Kyle suddenly became a pyromaniac. 

Don't get me wrong: we still miss our child when we go out, especially if it's for a while, and often we can't help but talk about him.  And, yes, we often do leave a phone out in case the sitter calls us.  Yet I think we've just become so used to leaving him with others that it's becoming easier for us to get caught up in the night out.  Sharing an evening with these great friends certainly helped, too. 

Does that mean I'm no longer a new parent?  Hmmmmm... that might be true.  Wow.  NOW I feel old.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Gimmie Five

So, against the advice of our family and friends, we bought a minivan.  Kinda.  On Saturday we said "good-bye" to our old, reliable, and cramped Toyota Corolla, and "hello" to a new, but almost as cramped, Mazda5.  It's like a minivan, elf-sized.  To see what I mean, take a look at this picture, which I took as we were still researching vehicles:

The auto on the right is a regular, whale-sized minivan.  The one on the left is the Mazda5.  From bumper to bumper, it's practically the same length as my old Corolla (as least it looked that way when they were parked next to each other), and yet it still has third-row seating.  Some reviewers have called it a "microvan," and right now there are no other vehicles like it on the market (I hear Ford is coming out with one later this year, but we couldn't wait that long to check it out).  Mazda's website says the 5 "refuses to be categorized."  That refusal, though, apparently had no impact on the vehicle's own window sticker, which categorized it as a minivan. 

So, yes, technically, the Mazda5 is a minivan, but at least it feels like I'm driving a regular-sized car, and not a mobile home.  I can park it on the street without having to put two wheels up on the car behind it.  Its passengers will still eat their knees, just like they did in the Corolla, but now we can seat six knee-eaters, instead of four-and-a-half.  That was important to us, since two spots will be permanently occupied by car seats.  There was no way that the Corolla was going to be able to handle two car seats, especially a rear-facing one, which, according to the new guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics, is now recommended for children up to the age of 25.  Kyle already likes his new seat by the window, and he's pleased with the color, which is not red (see my earlier auto-themed post).  Plus, the Mazda5 does come with standard features that I couldn't afford when I purchased the Corolla, back when I was still eating ramen noodles for lunch regularly.  Among those features: power locks, power windows, automatic climate control, and intermittent windshield wipers.  Yes, for ten-an-a-half-years, every time I drove my Corolla through a drizzle storm, I would have to hit the wipers on-and-off every now and then, as if my arm were having spasms.

A decade is a long time to own a car, and it was probably time for the Corolla to go, anyway.  I can't say it was an easy decision, as there are a lot of memories associated with that car.  I purchased it a day before my first date with Jennifer, in fact.  The car is the reason why I almost didn't get a second date.  I was so excited about my newly-discovered haggling skills that I wouldn't stop talking about the whole purchasing experience.  She wondered if she could put up with another night of that, never mind ten-plus years.  Fortunately for me, she didn't listen to her conscience, and I wowed her by the sixth date. 

Not too long after that, Jennifer and I took our first of many road trips in that car.  It eventually traveled the entire east coast, from the shores of Destin, Florida, to the wharfs of Boothbay Harbor, Maine.  In 2003 we drove the Corolla from Atlanta to North Carolina, and then drove it back three weeks later, as newlyweds.  A few months after that we drove it from Atlanta to New York City, arriving at night and seeing the dazzling skyline through the windshield, realizing, with a bit of anxiety, that this would now be our home.  In August of 2008, Kyle would sit in the same car and take his first road trip to see his grandparents.

We drove the Corolla from New York to Boston late one October night in 2004 so that we could the Red Sox World Series victory parade the next morning.  In March of 2007, we spent six hours in it with our friends Matt and Amanda, when a snow/ice storm turned a two-hour drive to Mohegan Sun into a traffic nightmare.  The car provided an escape for Jennifer and I each year, as we would take it to the Catskills to celebrate our anniversary.  And on September 11th, 2001, I was in the Corolla, driving to my job at CNN, when I first heard that we were under attack.  I was so stunned, I don't know how I kept my foot on the gas to keep moving on the Atlanta freeway. 

The Corolla made it through countless storms, blizzards, and even a tornado.  It survived poorly-maintained roads in Atlanta and New York, and it muscled its way through three years of law school, getting Jennifer there and back safely.  It was infested with ants only once, and it had never been in a crash, although it came close when an entire bumper from another car flew into our lane during a trip to Massachusetts.  The Corolla had excellent steering and brakes, and I certainly was grateful for that.  I also appreciated its cassette player, which was still working as of last weekend (we had used it with an adapter for the iPod).  Most likely I will never again have a car with a cassette player.  There goes one more connection to the 80's and 90's, and my youth.  Dear God, did I just buy a minivan?

So, yes, we will miss the Corolla.  I'm not even sure what to call our new car: the Five?  the Mazda?  the Insane Asylum?  (after all, we will be traveling in it with two young boys)  We definitely won't say it's the "minivan," as I, too, refuse to categorize it as such, and am probably in denial.  We are awfully excited about the vehicle and the new chapter in our lives it represents.  There soon will be plenty of memories associated with the Mazda5.  Yet it's hard to part with something that's been a part of our lives for so long.  Saturday night, Jennifer remarked that it was rather sad to think of our Corolla sitting alone in some parking lot, either at the dealership or someplace else.  I also felt that way, almost sorry for the Corolla, especially in the week leading up to our big purchase.  But then I remembered an Ikea commercial I had seen several years ago.  I've found it online and attached it below (those of you who get e-mail updates might have to visit to see it).  It certainly puts things in perspective.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

He's Got Your Number

It's been a lot of fun to go on walks with my son through our neighborhood.  I've been doing this sort of thing almost daily for more than two-and-a-half years, staying in only if we have heavy rain, snow, tornadoes, or a high number of pollsters.  Until recently, Kyle had observed block after block of brownstones and other buildings without saying much about them.  Occasionally he'd want to go up on a stoop or open a gate, but otherwise he left most homes alone.  That was until the middle of last month, when he noticed the NUMBERS.

It was my fault.  I am always looking for new ways to make Kyle enjoy these walks outside, in part so I don't feel guilty dragging him out there just so I could feed my afternoon coffee addiction (it's the only way I know how to survive the toddler years).  I'd point out trees, cars, fire hydrants, and the occasional mugging, but nothing seemed to get the little guy excited.  Then, without thinking, I pointed to the addresses of the buildings. 

"Can you read that?" I asked about one of them.  I knew that Kyle already knew numbers, as I taught them to him very early on, when I was doing anything to get him away from those annoyingly loud baby toys.  Kyle stared at the number.

"EIGHT!  SIX!  NINE!  THREE!"  He was close.  The number was 398.  It seemed at first that my kid has trouble with his 6's and 9's, and might be a bit dyslexic.  But after a few more tries, he started getting the numbers right.  And that's when it struck him: the numbers are everywhere

Since then, every time we have gone out for a walk, Kyle has paused by each stoop to read off the address number.  As you can imagine, it's a very slow process, but one he absolutely loves.  Instead of going out for coffee, he now says we're going out "to look at numbers."  There's nothing like a child's happiness, so I give in.  In the meantime, Kyle has found ways to make these trips last even longer.  He now wants to climb up onto the first step of each stoop, probably to get a better look at the address.  Then he rattles off some nonsense before he shouts out the number, like a drumroll before we find out what's behind door number two:

"Digga digga digga DOO-doo!  FOUR! SEVEN! FIVE!"

That "DOO-doo" sound is his impression of the noise the subway makes before closing its doors.  Somehow that has found its way into much of Kyle's conversations these days. After he finishes reading the number, Kyle then takes a minute or so to get off the step.  Then he runs to the next home and does it all again.  What was once a twenty-minute walk to a coffee shop now takes three days.  Before the numbers, I would pick up my coffee and then go the long way home so that I could finish drinking it during the walk with Kyle.  Now every way home is the long way home.  For this reason alone we're not having Kyle take us to the hospital on his brother's delivery day...

Jennifer: "The contractions are happening more rapidly!  We have to go!"
Kyle: "Digga digga digga DOO-doo!  TWO! EIGHT! FOUR!"
Jennifer: "I don't know if we're going to make it!  The baby's coming!"
Kyle: "Digga digga digga DOO-doo! TWO! EIGHT! NINE-ummm-SIX!"
Jennifer: "Kyle, move it!  We've been out here for an hour, and we're still just a block from our home!"
Kyle: "Digga digga digga DOO-doo! TWO! EIGHT! EIGHT!"

I have to admit: it's fun to watch my son get so excited about numbers.  He probably won't get this worked up over numbers until he's an astrophysicist or an all-star pitcher studying his opponent's statistics.  At that point, he probably won't be taking as many walks with dear old dad.  So until this ends, I think I'll enjoy the long trips to get coffee.  I'm just glad he's doing this now, at the end of winter.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

A Good Night's Sleep

I did not expect to get much sleep last night.  For the first time, our son went to bed in an actual bed.  Kyle has been a big fan of this bed since it arrived two weeks ago... except at bedtime.  Each night, we read him a story, had him lie down for prayers, and gave him a good-night kiss.  Just as all that finished up, he would suddenly see the bed as a toddler-eating monster and, using his inherited survival skills, would slide off it immediately.

"No bed," he said as he scrambled to the floor each night. "Crib! Crib!"  Then he did the opposite of what I would expect of a kid his age: he climbed onto the rail of his crib to get in.  After several days of this, we were starting to wonder if Kyle was going to fight the bed for months, perhaps through the birth of our second child.  I envisioned us trying to put our new baby in the crib as Kyle conducts a sit-in protest, complete with picket signs, which basically would be sheets of paper scribbled with crayon.  There would be no way to read them, but the message would be clear: NO BED.  Kyle could possibly stage a hunger strike, too, but, considering how picky he is, I doubt we'd notice a difference.  I hope, after last night's breakthrough, we will avoid this scenario.

The evening didn't start off too promising.  Even though we tried to make the bed much like the crib by removing the pillow and comforter, the little guy wasn't fooled.  He wiggled himself off the bed immediately, calling for the crib.  We put him back in, and he tried to get out.  We put him back in again, and he tried to get out again.  Finally, we put him back in, said good-night, and left before he could climb out.  Jennifer had read advice from the SUPER NANNY (the superhero who can leap toy piles in a single bound; arch nemesis of Lex Pooper) stating that the best way to handle this sort of thing is to remain calm, put the child in bed, and not make eye contact.  So, as we were doing this, Jennifer wished the window sweet dreams, and I gave Kyle a good-night kiss while staring at the ceiling.  We almost smacked into each other as we tried to shut the door and avoid our son.

We could tell things were changing once he reopened his bedroom door.  Instead of demanding that we put him in the crib, Kyle just cackled and then tried to get back into the bed.  This happened again and again and again.  I started wondering if I'd have to eat dinner by his doorway.  But then Kyle grew tired of it, and started crying - not for the crib, but for us to tuck him in!  Jennifer did that, left his room, and then we stood there quietly, waiting for more noise.  We heard nothing.

It worked!  It worked!  Hooray!  We finally were able to get Kyle to try something new!  And it didn't take six months for him to do it!  Jennifer and I probably would have thrown a loud party, had our objective not been to get the little guy to sleep.  Once we settled down, we heard some thumping noises.  Kyle was probably hitting his foot against the wall, but it was enough to make us wonder if we'd sleep through the night, knowing that, even with the toddler rail, there was a chance our little guy could plop out of bed, perhaps head-first.  We put some stuffed animals on the floor by his bed in hopes they would cushion any fall.  Nothing like a little peace of mind.

We initially thought that Kyle's first night in a real bed would keep us awake, jumping at any noise we hear through the baby monitor.  Fortunately, since we are parents of a toddler, we carry unusually high sleep deficits.  Unless Kyle is sick, only serious noises can jolt us out of bed once our eyes close.  Jennifer and I slept until the alarm this morning, and Kyle kept snoozing until after seven o'clock.  He seemed to have a good night's sleep, too.

Now, I am by no means declaring victory here.  I did that once with a turkey sandwich, and Kyle has been fighting meats ever since.  We still might have a battle on our hands. Yet it was nice to see that it can be done, and perhaps our son will not request a room with a crib when he heads to college.  We'll see how things go tonight.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Cruisin' for Cars

My wallet has decided to go on the Slim-Fast diet, and so far it's doing remarkably well.  Last week it shed some pounds as we bought Kyle a new bed.  This month it plans to lose much more, as we are now shopping for a new car. 

It's not like there's a problem with our current vehicle, a 2001 Toyota Corolla.  Here's a recent picture of it:

She's a beauty, ain't she?  Believe it or not, even after this snowstorm, my car started up right away.   It couldn't go anywhere for a month, but at least it was alive.  This car is still so reliable, I really have no reason to sell it, except for the fact that it's now turning into a black hole and may devour our entire family at any moment.  The inside of the car seems to be collapsing in on itself, becoming smaller as our family is getting bigger and needing more space.  We could barely fit one car seat into it, and there's no way we'd be able to squeeze in two.  It's not like it was back when Jennifer and I were kids, when you'd simply strap the new baby to the roof and just be careful on the highways.  These days there are laws discouraging that, so our only option is to get something larger.

On Saturday, the family drove out to Long Island to test-drive a few vehicles.  As I said, we were looking for big, but not too big.  I still park my car on the street, and most times I have to butter the bumpers so they could slide into a spot that's smaller than the car itself.  And that's with a compact car.  I can't imagine doing that with a full-sized SUV or - gasp - a minivan.  Still, we need more space, and we'd like a third row of seats, in case we want to take a couple friends along when we flee the city during the 2012 apocalypse.  The vehicle should be resonably priced, too.  We were rather surprised to find that our choices are limited.

(Above: Kyle chooses a new car for us)
It was much easier for Kyle to pick out a car.  He walked around the showrooms, saying he wanted this one or that one, without even comparing sticker prices or fuel efficiency.  Apparently color is what matters most to him.  That shiny sedan is perfect because it's black, though that blue SUV looks great, too - why not get both?  The one color he seemed to not like, at least not at first, was the color red: the exact color of the vehicle we decided to test-drive.

"NO RED!  NO REEEEEDDD!" shouted my son in the dealership lot as I struggled to fit his car seat into the vehicle.  He then cried and fought as we put him into the car.  The saleswoman with us stood there quietly, calculating in her head how she could use this incident to convince me to add on a feature that would distract our kid, like a sun roof or surround-sound golden-plated Blu-ray player.  I could tell she was looking forward to running me over during the negotiations.

That saleswoman ended up being the best one we had.  A salesman at another dealership seemed reluctant to even show us the vehicle we wanted to see, apparently sensing the destructive force of our child.  The last salesman we saw was more than happy to show us his cars, as he was one of those guys who acted like he was one of your best friends after having known you for all of 0.5 seconds.  After seeing us cram into a "crossover" vehicle, he said something that was probably true, but difficult to hear: "You guys are in minivan denial."

So, we test-drove a minivan.  There certainly was enough space in it to hold our family, and by "family" I mean Kyle, the new baby, their parents, grandparents, and about two dozen aunts, uncles, and cousins.  Plus there's enough cargo room to fit another car inside.  The salesman raved about all of the vehicle's gizmos, including a rear-window monitor on the dashboard, since the rear window itself is too far away to actually see out it.  The minivan cost about ten grand more than we were hoping to pay, but I suppose we'd be able to afford it if Kyle continues to shun expensive foods in favor of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches... at least until he's in his early twenties.  Yet I can't see me finding a spot for it in our parking-space-deprived neighborhood.  It was a nice ride and we were glad to have the experience, since now we know for sure that we won't be getting a full-size minivan, even if we are in "minivan denial."  We stopped at a gas station during the test drive, as the trip around the block drained the entire tank.  With gas prices being what they are these days, the salesman had to sell a car to the station owner just to pay for the fuel.

We now think we know what kind of vehicle we are going to get.  We won't be able to purchase it until mid-March, as we have visitors coming the next couple of weekends.  I'll let you know our choice then.  For Kyle's sake, let's hope we have more color choices than red.