Thursday, December 8, 2011

Learning to Speak

A Bible story from thousands of years ago tells of a mighty tower that was built to touch the heavens. Seeing that man was growing brash, God decided to slow down man’s progress a bit by forcing everyone working on the Tower of Babel to speak a different language. Unable to communicate with each other, the workers went their separate ways, and the tower was left unfinished. (This curse has repercussions still today. Just try finding someone to work on your house who speaks the same language as you.) 

Parents of toddlers face a similar curse. We spend the first eighteen or so months of a child’s life being unable to understand him. Hunger, dirty diapers, thirst, exhaustion, and injury are all communicated with the same sound: crying.

Then the magical day comes: a child speaks his first word. For parents, this is an unbelievably joyful day.

He said his first word. Tomorrow he’ll add a few more. Next week he’ll be speaking in sentences. Soon after that, he can begin learning Mandarin. Medical school will surely follow. We’ll retire to that beach house yet!

Our expectations may not be entirely realistic.

My son’s first word was shoes. Once he realized that by repeating the same sound a few times he could get his parents to hold up the item in question and make complete fools of themselves, he began to seek other applications of this new skill. More words followed, and our house soon became a menagerie of concrete nouns. Then came the day he learned the word every parent hopes their child will never say…

No. It was inevitable, I guess. After more than a year of hearing things like no touching the stove, no throwing food, and no pulling the neighbor’s cat’s tale, the word was bound to surface in context. It is a harrowing day when you realize that your child can express a will contrary to yours.

Soon the word began infiltrating all manner of conversation:
Let’s go get in the car.
Let’s put our coat on.
Let’s eat some of our peas.
Let’s skip dinner and have a dessert of ice cream covered brownies slathered in caramel.

It is important to remember at times like these that language acquisition is a gift, not a curse. It’s only when your child asks to borrow the car for a cross country road trip that you’ll find yourself wishing you spoke a different language.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Trick-or-Treating with a Toddler

One of the saddest moments in a person’s life is the year they realize they can no longer go trick-or-treating. This occurs at different times for different people. Many children realize around age twelve that since their superman costume no longer fits, it’s probably time to give up tramping through the neighborhood with a pillow case begging for candy.

Other children take a bit longer. It is not uncommon to see groups of high school students roaming about on Halloween, some of them at least pretending to honor the traditions of this venerated holiday by claiming to be wearing a costume, even if it is their baseball uniform or a set of mismatched socks.

Eventually though, the dream of knocking on people’s doors and having them freely dispense candy ends for all of us. That is, until you have a toddler. I took my son trick-or-treating when he was 17 months old, deciding he was ready based on several acute observations:

1) He could walk
2) He could mumble three syllables that sounded like trick-or-treat
3) He was cute

Walking is important; if your trick-or-treater can’t walk, it might look like you are just carrying a baby around the neighborhood stumping for candy.

Coherent speech is important as well. In fact, I assert that baby-making should be planned so that the ability to walk and talk converge at the earliest possible Halloween. (Others would argue that procreation should be planned around the tax calendar, a theory that does have its own merits.)

Cuteness can not be overrated either. Let’s face it. Who’s getting more candy: the acne-speckled teenager with his hat on backward, or the toddler dressed as a skeleton saying, “Twick-uh-Tweet”?

So for now at least, I can skip staying home to pass out candy and take my own child out for a Halloween adventure. But what to do with all this candy that his pediatrician probably would not want him eating?

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

It's What's For Dinner

Every father fears for his child’s future. It’s easy to lose sleep at night worrying if your little boy will do well in school, make friends, or ask if he can join ballet.

But for me, one of my worst fears was almost realized before my son turned two.  He quit eating meat.  Not that there’s anything wrong with being a vegetarian.  There are plenty of actors, university professors, and even real people who don’t eat meat.  I am just not one of them.

For me a balanced meal is one that includes beef, pork, and chicken.  So I was understandably dismayed when my son turned up his nose at his meat one afternoon. I grew concerned when he did it again the next day. I was severely alarmed the day after that. On day four of his self-imposed meat strike I considered calling the nurse hotline.

Surely a child whose father grills ribs in the garage in December just because he misses the charcoal taste should be more inclined to be a meat eater, shouldn’t he? It didn’t matter what kind of meat it was. Hamburgers, chicken strips, fish sticks, even hot dogs, barely identifiable as meat, were rejected.

With a two-year-old, one’s options are limited when it comes to convincing him to eat. You can pretend the spoon is an airplane, a rocket ship, maybe even a helicopter, but if the toddler isn’t into winged modes of transportation, you’ll get nowhere.

I don’t know why parents think that forks resemble airplanes. And I don’t know why we expect children to respond to this. Maybe it is a holdover from prehistoric days, when food was brought to hungry cave babies by pterodactyls. Maybe it's supposed to appeal to the inner risk-taker in a child. Certainly any kid who thinks diving headfirst off a toddler bed into a pile of freshly folded clothes can see the inherent risk in eating food delivered by a flying fork, and he should respond in excitement.

Just when I was seriously considering thinking about calling the doctor, even though my son's next checkup wasn't scheduled for six months, he returned from the dark side. After I put on a veritable air show with meat on a fork one day, my son ended his meat refusal policy.  Maybe he finally saw the error of his ways. Maybe it was the pterodactyl noises. Or maybe he just pitied me making a fool of myself.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Road Trip

People who keep track of such things tell us that the most accident-prone drivers are teenagers. But I’m not so sure. I get that it is difficult to concentrate on driving when one is simultaneously texting, changing songs on an MP3 player, fixing make-up, and checking a Facebook feed. I don’t see, however, that this level of distraction is any different than what the average parent of a toddler faces on any car trip longer than the driveway.

I try to prepare for long car tips by making my toddler as comfortable as possible. I give him a small bag of cheesy goldfish, and I present him with a pile of his favorite books. Alert and experienced parents are already shaking their heads, knowing that such efforts are in vain.

I learned this the hard way once on a trip across the Midwest with my toddler. Before leaving, I made sure he was properly nestled among Bernstein Bear books, with a full sippy cup and a bowl of raisins at his side. He even had his favorite blanket. My plan was virtually flawless. We were leaving just before nightfall, giving him a short amount of time to brush up on the virtues of familial love taught by the Bernstein Bears before drifting to sleep with a full belly and a comfortable blanket while I drove four hours through the peaceful darkness.

It was three minutes before the first raisin ricocheted off the windshield. Not wanting to disrupt the calm that was surely forthcoming, I turned briefly and gave him a mild frown. Turning my attention back to driving, I had just enough time to nudge the car back across the center line before The Bernstein Bears Love Their Neighbors plopped beside me, knocking over my Mountain Dew and spilling my bag of skittles.

Unfazed, I turned again, this time to deliver a threat. I stopped short of promising to take his books and food away, thinking this would only guarantee that he would not drop into a dreamy slumber quite as quickly.

As I refocused on the road, planting my feet firmly on the brakes to avoid developing a short-term relationship with the driver ahead, I realized almost immediately that I should have considered disarmament. A brief barrage of paperback children’s books was followed by an invasion of Croc-wielding feet slamming into the back of my seat.

With one hand replacing the lid on my soda and the other hand plucking a grape skittle off the floor, I carefully navigated a lane change with my knees while admonishing my son in the rear view mirror.

I eased into my new lane, only to be cut off by a teenage girl lost in conversation on her cell phone. Watch the road, kid, I muttered under my breath. 

Friday, October 7, 2011

He's Touching Me!

At some point when I was not paying attention, child safety laws must have changed.  Otherwise I can’t imagine how my family, with three boys in the backseat, was able to make even a routine trip to the grocery store, let alone a cross-country trek to see Mount Rushmore.

My parents did not spring for luxury cars while my brothers and I lived at home.  This may have had something to do with the odd reaction that leather has to chocolate milkshakes. Or it may have been related to the repeated experiments we attempted involving crayons left in the back window on sunny days.

So we spent our childhood in Honda Civics and Buick Regals, all with enough miles on them to put Magellan to shame. The back seat was not the idyllic realm of learning and entertainment that we often see in cars today. No, it was a wrestling mat, baseball field, and dining room, sometimes simultaneously. Countless times, the backseat was also a bedroom. It was genius really. The boy in the middle moved to the floor, where he could watch the road whiz by through holes in the floorboards, while the other two unbuckled their seatbelts in order to sprawl across the newly opened middle seat. 

Now that I have children of my own, things are a bit different. The use of car seats by children older than three has become something of a law. Now, I’m sure the world is safer because of it, (Or at least the car seat makers are richer) but I think we have lost something in the process. And when I say “we” I mean we the parents who have to purchase a new car seat for each year of our child’s life until 8th grade graduation. And when I say “lost something” I am referring to the $90 price tag on each of these new car seats. And when I say “process” I mean the endless dumbfounded stares in the car seat aisle as we try to distinguish between the level four and level five child safety seat.

A typical exchange between two normally rational adults might go something like this:
“Are you sure we need another car seat?”
“Yes, it’s the law in our state.”
“But our son is six years old.” 
“Yep, I’m pretty sure next year he can be in a booster seat instead.”
“Did you sit in a car seat when you were six years old?”
“No, I slept on the floor in the back seat, but times have changed.”
“This one has cup holders.”

Don’t get me wrong; I’m all for safety.  I just don’t think when I pull up to school to drop my son off for the first day of second grade that I should have to get out of the car to unclip his safety seat. I don’t think I should need to use a chisel to clean my car because of fruit snacks dropped under a car seat in April that are discovered in November.

How are children supposed to learn about property rights, trespassing, and summary justice if they are unable to draw lines in the seats that siblings can’t cross? Being perched in a car seat makes such rites of passage impossible. The very fabric of our democracy may be at stake!  We have lost something here. Adventure, dignity, and another $90.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Someone to Watch over You

I took my toddler to an art museum recently.  (It was actually called an “Art Institute,” which, in retrospect, was a better name.)

 For those of you who don’t regularly patronize art museums, allow me to ease your mind about jumping in to such a rich, cultural experience: Don’t bother.

 We knew something was wrong when we entered the front door and were asked to leave the diaper bag by the front desk.  What kind of twisted individual parts a toddler from his diapers, cheerios, and three extra pairs of pants?  And furthermore, what exactly were we going to stuff into the diaper bag and make off with?  It’s not like anything in the art museum was actually recognizable as art.  The primary display in the lobby was a collection of wire sculptures, kind of like what you get every year when you pull the Christmas lights out of storage to find that three strands have actually braided themselves together in the attic… only a lot more disorganized.  The masses of wire vaguely resembled human beings in various painful looking poses, possibly simulating a yoga class. 

We set off into a side room that contained what I suppose were meant to be paintings.  They were in frames and contained many colors, at least.  My son was quickly losing interest in anything but trying to touch the artwork.  I pulled him away from a masterpiece containing shades of grey interspersed with red lines just before he was able to get close enough to set off the art alarm.

 This movement did not go unnoticed, however, as a thin, pale woman cleared her throat in the opposite corner and began to take considerable interest in our wanderings.  I led my son into the next room, hoping that at least one artist had been inspired by an airplane, a fire truck, or at least a noun of some kind.

 But trailing 15 feet behind us was the woman with the previously mentioned throat obstruction- now obviously revealed as art museum security.  I wondered briefly what to do.  Should I feign interest in the artwork?  Walk away and pretend the toddler tugging on my leg wasn’t mine?

 Finally I decided to brave the bent wire exercise class and make a run for the door.  We made it just before art museum security could bring us in for questioning (a good thing, too; I sure wouldn’t want to have to explain what I was doing in an art museum.)  I guess for the foreseeable future the Winnie the Pooh coloring book will be the limit of my son’s art exposure. 

Saturday, September 10, 2011

A Good Little Monkey

Every father wants his child to grow up and be a genius. We want our kids to be able to understand the world, solve problems, win Nobel Prizes, and furnish our vacation homes during retirement. To this end, we begin reading to them before they can even focus their eyes to see the pages. As my son progressed from “board books” [Books that contain upwards of seven words but are printed on heavy-duty cardboard to prevent children from destroying them and so the publisher can charge $19.99 for them] to more toddler-friendly material, I found myself suddenly remembering the books I was reading from my own childhood. And was I ever surprised. Take Curious George for example. In my childhood, the Curious Little Monkey was always in great danger. In one book alone he was thrown in jail, escaped by balancing on a power line, floated hundreds of feet in the air held up only by balloons, and landed on a street amidst rush hour traffic. The more recent renditions of George’s adventures, however, are not quite so fraught with peril.  These days George goes to the beach, and gasp, loses his picnic basket. This is hardly the material of a compelling plot. [Although this particular title does feature the Man in the Yellow Hat wearing a bathing suit, flip-flops, and sunglasses.]  In another recent Curious George story he takes a trip to the aquarium where he faces the imminent threat of entering the penguin paddock. Yes, penguins, those bloodthirsty, flightless killers.  George miraculously escapes and is made an honorary staff member at the aquarium.  Really? Is that the lesson I’m to teach my young son? Here, son, hop over this fence and play with the giraffes. When zoo security arrives I’m sure they’ll make you an honorary staff member rather than haul my butt to prison and refer me to child endangerment. Yes, gone are the days when Curious George smoked a pipe after breakfast, joined the circus, and flew rockets into outer space. H.A. Rey’s memory is not being honored here. So instead of my son learning to face adventures and hardships armed only with his curiosity, he gets gentle reminders to keep better watch over his picnic basket. This is not how Rhodes Scholars are made; I may need to rethink my retirement strategy.   

Monday, September 5, 2011

Dinner Is Served; Part 2

Eating dinner with a toddler is just like eating dinner with any normal, happy adult.  Assuming, of course, the adult is a species other than human.  Toddlers are at a stage in life where they learn new things every day.  Unfortunately, the one lesson they haven’t learned (and won’t until age 13, at least) is that not all new skills learned during the day are applicable at the dinner table.   Take throwing a ball, for example.  Now, like any good father, I began teaching my son to properly throw a ball when he was a fetus.  We fathers have several reasons for doing this, not the least of which is no man wants his son to throw “like a girl.”  (The trouble with this statement is that most girls throw just fine; it’s the guys who make a toss with their elbow tucked firmly into their ribs who bother us.)  The other reason, of course, is that we all think our sons are going to grow up to be professional baseball players.  This isn’t quite true- the average boy has a better chance of getting a college diploma and joining the circus than becoming a pro ball player.  Nevertheless, teaching my son to throw quickly and accurately receives a great deal of emphasis.  Is it any surprise then, that meatballs, chicken nuggets, chunks of hot dog, peas, sippy cups, and basically anything that has mass becomes a device for long toss at the dinner table?  It’s hard to know what to do in these situations.  When my son picked up a carrot the other night, briefly contemplated eating it, (or just took a moment to get a feel for its balance) and hurled it across the kitchen, should I have cheered his good throw or chastised his lack of manners?  Would it change your answer to discover that the carrot caught my wife right in the temple?  And why couldn’t someone have prepared me for this dilemma earlier?  As it is, I will have plenty of time to cheer my son’s throwing skills from my new bed on the couch. 

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Start Planning Today!

Saving for your child’s education is critical.  So say hundreds of financial planners, investment professionals, and college fund managers; although surely it matters not that every one of them also stands to fund their own retirement via commissions off your studious savings.  A vast majority of parents today recognize while their child is still in the zygote stage that he or she is far above average, gifted in fact, and will be attending a prestigious university, most likely Harvard.  This necessitates the creation of a college savings account.  This is not to be confused with the savings account most people are familiar with from childhood, in which birthday and Christmas money was deposited for up to several days before it was withdrawn to buy baseball cards, dinosaurs, or whatever little girls spend their money on.  No, a college savings account is a special place where parents can put all the money they have left over after buying diapers, car seats, a crib, baby food, educational toys, wet wipes, a high chair, and clothes.  Then, through the miracle of compound interest, the money grows at astronomical rates, allowing you to have enough money to pay for college when your child turns eighteen.  Provided the stock market goes up.  A lot.  Being convinced by the near mathematical certainty of this proposition, I opened a college savings account for my firstborn son shortly after he received a social security number.  I started with $25.00, which, interestingly enough, was just enough to cover the annual fee for the first year. So far, small annoyances like groceries and house payments have prevented me from sending large checks to the college fund.  However, I have mailed in several Dominoes Pizza coupons in hopes those can be applied during my son’s college years.  Occasionally we deposit whatever coins are left in the change jar [after going out for ice cream of course] and this has resulted in a substantial balance being built up, possibly enough for the application fee at a local community college.  I’m sure the teen years will provide far more opportunities for squirreling away cash.  In the meantime, I can cast haughty sidelong glances at friends who bemoan the rising costs of college and fret over their lack of preparation.  Then I can take them out for ice cream.   

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Some Assembly Required

Finding a place for a baby to sleep is easy at first. The child spends the first nine months of its earthly existence safely and comfortably nestled inside its mother.  If the child is female, the womb is enhanced by a full-length mirror, a leather couch, and a coffee bar. After the child becomes fully vested in the terrestrial experience, sleeping arrangements are still not difficult.  The hospital provides a comfortable nursery, complete with cribs, blankets, and nurses to coddle the child at all hours of the night.  Even after the child is brought home, parents are not faced with difficult decisions; a newborn can easily sleep in its car seat for several weeks, although no parent will admit that they let their baby sleep in the car seat.  I’ve only heard of other people doing it.  But eventually the moment comes when the baby needs a crib.  This is necessitated by the propensity of newborns to flail about and even roll over in their sleep.  In early cultures, this also prevented pests like mice and velociraptors from making off with young children.  Now when you attempt to purchase a crib, you will be awestruck by the beautiful assembled floor models, complete with locking wheels, rails that move up and down, and even mobiles suspended from the sides.  However, the crib you purchase will come in a flat box, very much unassembled.  For parents who do not yet know that they will be spending the next 18 years assembling toys, bikes, and tree houses, this can be a harrowing experience.  My first crib assembly job went as well as could be expected.  After combining each of the 1,034 pieces that were in the box, I stood back to admire my work: a replica of Big Ben.  This not being appropriate quarters for a napping infant, I tried again, this time looking at the picture on the box [but still ignoring the directions].  After much head-scratching, I succeeded in creating a sleeping surface enveloped by rails, enough to hold a baby in place should it decide to test its mobility.  So now the baby has a place to sleep.  Never mind that the sides show not the least potential for sliding up and down and that I have 14 screws and 3 bolts remaining.  Maybe I can throw them at attacking velociraptors. 

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Sleeping Like a Baby

Do you remember taking naps in kindergarten?  Yeah, I don’t either; I remember making a paper mache triceratops, but not napping.  However, I’m told that children generally nap during the day in kindergarten because five-year-olds still need rest time. This is, of course, a continuation of the nap time in which infants indulge for a large portion of their days.  (But not their nights)   A new baby, fresh from spending nine months in a dark, cramped womb, enters a world full of sensations, people, and stuffed animals and within hours, responds to this amazing change of environment by falling asleep.  This pattern continues for a long time.  A baby wakes up in the morning, then after a few grueling hours of eating, staring at air molecules, and filling its diaper, falls asleep for upwards of an hour.  The process repeats itself throughout the day, thereby allowing the baby enough energy reserves to make it through the entire night without sleeping.  A person who has never had a child would be tempted to assume that the young parents of an infant have a hard time filling the hours.  It is easy to picture a parent putting a baby down for an hour nap and then working on a novel, completing an online degree, or studying the latest child-rearing techniques.  But many parents, eschewing the opportunity for career or personal advancement, spend a baby’s nap time on a far more important endeavor:  napping themselves.  Fortunately for new parents, as well as all of society, children tend to continue napping at least a few hours a day well into their fifth year of existence, until they suddenly realize they could be coloring on the walls instead.  In fact, if one were to compare a group of kindergarten students to a group of new parents, the napping ratio might be higher in the latter population.  Babies need naps so they can continue to eat, poop, and follow unseen objects around the room with wide eyes.  Parents need naps because they have to feed, change, and entertain the wide eyed baby every few hours during the time when humans who haven’t recently given birth generally sleep. 

Sunday, June 12, 2011

So Long and Thanks for all the Pasta

It is a widespread, and I believe, generally positive tradition for friends of a newly babied couple to provide meals for the family upon their return from the hospital.  The rationale goes something like this:  The couple is transitioning from the relative bliss of three days in the hospital, where (not including the actual birth) they have lived in peace and harmony, with all meals provided by pastel clad hospital employees, dishes whisked away when the last morsel is consumed, and the next day’s meals conjured up simply by checking boxes on a menu.  (This Eden-like meal plan does not usually include the husband of the new baby.  We are often left to munch on couch cushions, sip water from the sink, and beg our wives for a few bits of steamed vegetables.)  Anyway, all good things must come to an end, and eventually insurance regulations require a couple to reenter society with their newborn child.  This is where friends and family step in.  Instead of forcing a couple to fend for themselves and somehow scrounge the time to prepare meals around caring for an organism that sleeps 18 hours per day and spends the other 6 eating, pooping, and staring at air molecules, a train of hot meals begins to appear at the door.  Friends from work, friends from church, neighbors, and even postal workers begin to deliver dinners, in much the same fashion as the hospital, only without the pastel uniforms.  This is a wonderful arrangement.  The only complaint I’ve ever heard (and this was from another couple and not indicative of any experience my wife and I had) is that pasta is a mainstay in virtually every meal brought to parents of a new baby.  A typical week’s menu might look like this:  Monday- spaghetti; Tuesday- lasagna; Wednesday- macaroni and cheese; Thursday-hamburger helper; Friday- fettuccine.  My only explanation for this phenomenon is that the starch needs of new parents must be extraordinary.  Or possible pasta is really easy to cook and really difficult to mess up.  So maybe next time someone says, “Hey, you wanna bring a meal over to the couple with the new baby,” sign up to bring steak.  It will be a welcome change from rigatoni and couch cushions. 

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Parting the Red Sea

Cutting in line is wrong.  This is one of few absolute truths that the whole of humanity can agree on.  Cultures may differ on whether society should rehabilitate its criminals or chop their hands off.  They may disagree on whether rain is caused by a confluence of atmospheric conditions or a carefully sequenced dance ritual.  But nowhere in the world is cutting in line okay.  Unless you have small children.  Yes, the rules and norms of society vary widely for those of us wielding a baby.  This should not come as a surprise though.  Normal, healthy, well-adjusted adults do not pretend spoons are airplanes; they do not talk incessantly about the color of bowel movements; and they do not babble incoherently at an unresponsive and immobile victim in hopes of conjuring a smile.  Parents of infants do all these things.  Regularly.  So it should not come as a surprise that this same crowd considers cutting in line not so much a deadly sin, but a perfectible art form.  The first time it happened to me it caught me by surprise.  I was minding my own business, waiting in line at my favorite tool store with some hacksaw blades in one hand and a five-month-old in the other hand.  My son began fussing while we waited, and the person in front of me immediately begged me to cut in line- apparently so I could get my soon-to-be-screaming baby out the door sooner.  In a moment of clarity (rare for those who get so little sleep) I realized that I held in my arms the modern day equivalent of Moses’ staff.  Taking a trip to the store with a baby, once an abhorrent idea, suddenly became welcome.  It was worth struggling with the car seat, finding a cart without pinch points, and cleaning off pacifiers dropped on supermarket floors, all for the chance of being able to move up a few spots in line once I reached the front of the store.  In my opinion, this benefit is worth every bit of the pain and agony associated with childbirth.  I’m beginning to understand why some couples have double digit offspring. 

Monday, May 9, 2011

Be Warned

            Many young families attempt construction projects around the home while the children are still confined to a crib.  This is a prudent idea, as most home improvements and repairs become virtually impossible once mobility strikes.  These projects are usually minor in nature: a coat of paint, a new window, or an upgraded bathroom.  (Some people also consider babyproofing a minor construction project.  I disagree.  Babyproofing generally requires a second mortgage and the assistance of licensed contractors.)  My wife and I are no different.  We planned to upgrade the walls in our son’s room from paneling (the most hideous wall covering ever invented) to sheet rock.  Upon removing the paneling, (with appropriate ceremonies to remove any evil influence remaining in the room from having such a diabolical wall covering present for so many years) we discovered that the walls had no insulation in them.  Imagine our surprise: in their haste to cover the walls with paneling, some previous owners had failed to put a layer of protection between -30° Minnesota winters and massive heating bills.  We quickly corrected this by stuffing our newly opened walls with fiberglass insulation.  As this was a minor project, we left our son’s crib in the room, allowing him to continue sleeping in a familiar spot.  Imagine our surprise one morning to discover that our basically immobile baby had managed to pull a strip of R13 insulation out of the wall cavity and into his crib.  Imagine our greater surprise to discover that he then began eating it.  (Veteran parents would, of course, not be surprised at all by this; the only thing that shocks them is when a child eats the actual meal it has been given.)  After digging a wad of insulation out of our son’s mouth, we rushed for the packaging to determine if this meal would compromise his health.  The writers of the insulation warning label obviously had no children.  The only warnings given were to the adults involved in the installation of the product.  Nothing whatsoever about accidental ingestion.  Come to think of it, very few commonly eaten products, such as pennies, marbles, and pages from library books, have appropriate warning labels.  My cereal box with the picture of flakes flying out of the bowl has a small label warning me that “cereal pieces do not fly without assistance” but fiberglass insulation is completely bereft of nutrition information.  It seems, however, that no harm has come of this.  Both my son’s walls and his digestive system are a little warmer on cold days.    

Sunday, May 1, 2011

On the Move

It is one of the most difficult tasks known to man.  One could study it for years and still be no closer to mastering it.  Molecular physics?  No.  Hieroglyphics?  Not even close.   It’s baby-proofing a house- the singularly most difficult part of raising a child.  Oh sure, there are the obvious problems: the fork lying below a 110 volt electrical outlet, the spring loaded mouse trap in the corner, even that pair of scissors on the rug.  But some critical elements to baby-proofing a house are impossible to foresee.  Who could predict a ten-month-old would pass by a stack of brightly colored educational plastic toys so he could gnaw on a telephone cord?  Who thinks to look under the couch to make sure there are no screwdrivers hiding, just waiting for that project when someone on the floor under a sofa cries out, “Anybody got a Phillips?”  And the coat closet by the door?  Apparently a baby cannot pass up the opportunity to scatter all the gloves, scarves, and hats throughout an unsuspecting living room- thereby guaranteeing that no member of the family will ever find a matching pair of mittens again. 
There are multiple schools of thought on proper baby-proofing.  The oldest is the Natural Selection method- employed by parents from the stone ages until well into the 1950s.  In this method, parents allow children to fend for themselves, in hopes that children learn tough lessons the hard way while building inner fortitude.  Many saber tooth tigers captured easy lunches due to this method.  In modern times, the overwhelming presence of trial lawyers (currently they outnumber non-Vegetarian humans) makes this method more or less unsuitable.  The baby-proofing method developed most recently mixes the modern invention of plastic with the modern invention of hyper-sensitive parents, creating a home environment bereft of danger, as well as furniture, pets, carpet, and other family members. 
Regardless of which methods is chosen, however, babies will find a way to defeat it.  No matter how many books are moved from the bottom shelf to the top, no matter how many fragile decorations are stored away in boxes, there is always some unsuspecting pothole on the road to a perfectly baby-proofed room.  Now…where did all our goldfish go?

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Abandon All Hope...

Before we had our first child, I did what most first time parents do: I completely freaked out.  Once that step was completed, I took an equally common second step: I began reading books about parenting.  The sections on changing diapers always intrigued me.  First, they often described changing a diaper as a “bonding” experience.  I liken this to the way a bullet “bonds” with a deer during hunting season, or the way most Americans “bond” with the Internal Revenue Service every fifteenth of April.  While I don’t want my children to read this someday and think that I did not adore every moment of their childhood, it would be dishonest of me to say that I relish every moment of the typical diaper change.  One of the biggest problems is high velocity poop.  I’m not sure precisely which equation from high school physics covers this phenomenon, but it never ceases to amaze me that a human infant barely one month out of the womb can release poop in such a manner that it escapes the bounds of a “leak-proof” diaper and completely covers the legs and the back of the child in question.  Once the offending diaper has been removed, there is the question of disposal.  There are really two classes of people when it comes to disposing dirty diapers.   (Three if you count those who wash and reuse their child's diapers.  Don’t get me wrong, I admire them greatly, but the store down the street sells clean diapers)   The first group are those who believe in removing the dirty diaper from the premises as quickly as possible.  These individuals will step out the door barefoot in the middle of a snowstorm just to make sure a diaper makes it outside to a trash can.  Pneumonia and Hypothermia are a small price to pay to rid the house of day-old diapers.  The second group are those who store the diapers in the home, usually in one of those magic diaper holders.  These contraptions store several days’ worth of diapers in one compact assault on the sense of smell.   When the lid can no longer be held closed by wedging it in, the bag can be removed in one voluminous diapery mass.   The biggest danger here is having one of the bags break open.  Which is pretty much like saying the biggest danger in being a specialist in bomb disarming is having the bomb go off.  The bonding experience you may have had with your child will be nothing like the bond you will then share with several cans of carpet cleaner and some industrial strength air freshener. 

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

In the Beginning...

I had just finished one of the busiest weeks of my life and needed a break.  My unborn son, however, demonstrating early his propensity for being strong willed, decided I needed some more excitement in my life.   I arrived home from work and opened the door to find my wife waiting inside, presumably to congratulate me on another work week completed.  The first words out of her mouth were possibly the most significant spoken since December 8th 1941.  “Would you like to go meet your son?” she said.  I don’t remember exactly what I said, maybe some variation on, “But that’s impossible, he’s not due for two weeks.”  In any case, we went to the hospital to check in.   Oddly enough, my most vivid memory of the next few hours was the color of the hospital room.  Now, I don’t know what most people expect from a hospital room in terms of color.  I have been in five in my life and they have all been a similar shade of white.   The hospital employees, maybe because of overactive creativity, maybe because of too many episodes of Teletubbies, or maybe just because of a sale at Menards, had decided to paint our room orange.  Certainly I can see their line of thinking…
Hospital Employee 1:  “How can we have our birthing rooms say, ‘Come in and relax and enjoy this peaceful time?’”
Hospital Employee 2:  “Paint them bright orange!”
At any rate, we got our orange room and settled in to have the baby.  Now I know you can’t believe everything you see on TV, but I had certain impressions of the birthing process from the videos that were shown in our birthing class.  Most strong among those impressions was that the birthing process lasted 30 minutes from the time you left your house to the time they held the baby up and yelled, “It’s a (insert gender here).  Apparently they cut a few things out in the making of those videos.   The child who had been so eager to get us into the hospital suddenly decided to slow things down.  Maybe he didn’t like orange.  My wife, meanwhile, had to put up with people coming in and poking and prodding her with all manner of needles and vital sign reading equipment.  I’m pretty sure I would have saved a butter knife from dinner and fought back. 
The long awaited moment came early the next morning.  Very early.  I’ve stayed up late for a lot of things: games of world conquest, famous trilogies, and occasionally even work.  But no land war in Asia can equal the thrill of watching the birth of a child.  My son entered the world at 3:59, crying.  (Definitely not a fan of orange.)  It was the most amazing, exhilarating thing I have seen.  Maybe next time it will be more like the video.