Pinocchio’s Whale and the Hi-Tech Parking Lot

I got back from Rome about a week ago and have been looking through my travel notes (yes, people still do that). Since I decided to enjoy my holidays away from the computer as much as possible I am just getting around to transferring some of these stories from paper to bytes.

The funny thing about Italy and Italians is their obsession with gadgets. Odd certainly for an ancient culture that still holds on passionately to quality of life over relentless innovation. And yet, despite their love affair with the latest hi-tech gadget (especially cell phones), the few times they attempt to implement technology on a larger and more practical scale the following occurs.

Imagine arriving at Rome’s Fiumicino airport after your first two-child (newborn and toddler) flight during which the toddler unexpectedly behaved the entire trip and the newborn discovered he hated flying the first seven hours of the eight hour flight. Mercifully my father-in-law has come to pick you up and things start to look up as he sweeps up the newborn in one arm and toddler in the other while you chug your first proper espresso on Italian soil after an almost 9 month absence. So what if it is drizzling outside? Three adults, two children, stroller and assorted luggage pile into the Nissan Micra (slightly larger than the new FIAT 500), which is the only size car capable of navigating the city center and parking on a dime. And just as we shut the car door the sky opens up and it starts to pour. That was close.

We pull up to the automated parking attendant to leave the lot and my father-in-law quickly sticks the parking receipt in the machine to pay. The machine chirps: “7 Euros please!”. My father-in-law inserts a 10 Euro bill only to hear the chirping voice again say, “No cash at this time. Only credit cards.” Fine. In goes the card. Silence. Again. Silence. Try another card. The first impatient honking is heard from behind. Another card and still silence. The voice suddenly chirps: “Please reinsert receipt!” As my father-in-law extends his arm towards the machine, the receipt, which is similar in flimsiness to the ones they give you in retail stores, is instantly soaked. At this point he pulls back into the lot to let other through. As we pull away we see the other two lanes are backed up with drivers stuck in the front fumbling with receipts and credit cards. Why, you must surely be asking, has my father-in-law put us in this situation instead of just waiting for us at the curb? Well, the airport has decided to eliminate curb side pick up except for taxis for arriving flights so you must park at the pay-to-park lot. Cha-ching!

We look around for a human being and I spot a sign that says (in English): “Cashier”. Good a human being. I grab the receipt from the dashboard and dash across the lot towards the sign. Thoroughly soaked I look around and notice two machines identical to the ones at the exit. What the… I walk up to the machine and comically attempt to stick the limp receipt into the slot (talk about feeling emasculated) successfully mushing it to bits and rendering (if possible) even more useless. I notice an intercom button. Nah. There is no way that there is a human being at the other end. This is Italy. Land of the beautiful, yet seldom-functioning, objects.

“Yes?” crackles a voice on the intercom.

“Agh!” I let out a small yelp of surprise. Someone is at the other end and answered immediately. I look around like in a spy movie and then slowly approach the intercom.

“Uhm… the machine at the exit is not, uhm, reading the, uhm, receipt because the rain soaked it. Uhm, what do I do now?”

“Sir, please try the other machine.”

“But the receipt is…”

“Sir, please try the other machine and if it still does not work call back.”

I actually did. I took the ball of sopping pulp that was the receipt and jammed it as best I could into the other machine. At the same time I pressed the intercom.

“Yes?”

“I just called and…”

“It didn’t work?!” the voice sounded surprised and rather annoyed.

“Uhm, no… not really.”

The voice sighed a very exasperated sigh and continued, “What is you name, Sir?”

I gave him my wife’s last name because if I attempted to tell them my very Anglo-Saxon last name we would have been there a while.

“Sir, go back to your car. Get in. Drive back to the exit. Get out of the car. Locate the intercom button. Press it. Give your last name. I will let you through.”

I did exactly as I was told for fear that any divergence would set our escape from the parking lot back a few more hours.

I pressed the intercom under the pouring rain and drew in a deep breath.

“Yes?”

“I am here at the exit.”

“Hello? I cannot hear you.”

Gulp.

“I am here at the exit.”

“Oh, it’s you.” The “Sir” had been dropped altogether. “Just a moment.”

A moment passed adding angst to what was now an experience that was lasting longer than our actual flight. Finally, the mechanical arm swung open and just like that the parking lot – like Monstro – spat us out.

Newborn vs. Toddler – A (Very) Short Discourse.

With a newborn bringing my wife and me back to square one, I find myself double taking as my three and a half year old starts coming into his own. I look at our baby boy and then at my eldest and cannot believe that in such a short amount of time he has become a little man. He has thoughts, quirks, opinions (too many, but what else is new), questions, cares, moods and surprises – lots of them. The balancing act of splitting time and attention between my two sons leaves me feeling guilty about missing out on any of either’s “baby steps.” I want the first smiles and babbles of our newborn, but my son using a new word out of thin air or reciting the alphabet by heart is equally endearing. The reality is that I just do not have the time to worry about these things so I take whatever is there and indulge fully in the moment I encounter whether it is with the newborn or the toddler.

Curd, son. Nothing else in the world smells like that.

I love the smell of curd in the morning!

It is something you forget once your child moves on to eating solids. The tangy, slightly pungent smell of regurgitated milk. It is oddly a comforting smell. It is a newborn smell. Certainly better than what happens when you move on to solids and things get toxic.

The smell is also something that parents can relate to as a “been there, done that” badge of honor for having survived in the trenches. This is the reason you don’t sleep, the reason you lose your mind, the reason you forget everything, the reason you cannot get anything done and yet “it smells like victory.”

Despite all the laundry that goes with a newborn it becomes intoxicating to put your newborn on your shoulder and inhale that first whiff of curd. Even after a bath and a change of onesies there is that cheesy baby breath that hits your nostrils every time they sigh or yawn. You can even see those pieces in their mouth left over from their last burp.

Why am I so enthralled by this I really don’t know? Probably the realization that they are newborns today and toddlers tomorrow. I have flashbacks from my older son’s first months, but not the baby smells. Reminds me of the late great Peter Boyle as Frank Barone sniffing his grandkids because the baby smell is a sort of fountain of youth. Maybe I am crazy and find something as gross as spit up romantic? Maybe it is just the sleep deprivation? What is seen by so many as an unpleasant smell to me brings out warmth and coziness. The intimacy of holding part of you close. It is another living being, but it is an extension of your soul and a piece of your heart. All I know is that tomorrow it will be on to stinky diapers and I really don’t want to write about those so I figure I would put down a few words in honor of the classic “eau d’enfant”: curd.

LBK, LAK and reincarnation.

I realized early this morning while watching the minute hand on the kitchen clock sweep towards sixteen with the hour hand seemingly stuck on three that last time around I did not have a blog. Last time around was over three years ago when my first son was born and the only blog experience was a few posts on Blogger about my beloved fountain pens in 2007 when I was living my other life – LBK (aka life before kids). Then I was reincarnated as a bumbling idiot who didn’t know what the heck to do with the tiny wriggling body that they plopped in my hands as they pushed me out of the hospital.

Many of my esteemed colleagues and fellow writers have spent copious keyboard strokes on LBK and LAK (aka life after kids). In my case the year my oldest was born was 2008 LBK (if you were looking at a marble façade in ancient Rome it would read MMVIII) and instead today would be 3 LAK (or for the pagan Romans MMXI). Most of us will agree that although LBK was pretty great and lots of fun, LAK is certainly much more fulfilling albeit stressful. But back to me alone in the dark watching the seconds tick ever so slowly away with my newborn son sleeping in my arms. I am actually happy that I get a chance to write about him from the start and it will make up for the fact that I kept a physical journal about our first pregnancy and newborn experience and instead have been (predictably) a lazy bastard about our youngest boy. The sensations have been similar, but with the experience of our first it gives you a whole new perspective. The confidence is certainly there, but in so many cases the experience with our first is not the same with our second: sleeping, feeding, burping, pooping, crankiness and so on are quite different. The expressions, though, are oddly the same: pensive, angry, hungry, uncomfortable and so on. I cannot wait to see how he develops and how his personality takes over. Although, I must say he seems to have a lot to say already – more than his big brother did – so it’s going to be interesting!

I would compare the second time around to “déjà vu”, you feel you’ve seen it all before, but you just can’t say so for sure.

 

Fool me once shame on you. Fool me twice…

I am a new dad – again. I get to deal with breastfeeding, poop, burps, spit up and less no sleep. The second time around, though, I realize that the first time was not so bad after all. Newborns really do just eat, poop and sleep. It’s the whining and now jealous older toddler that kills you. I was warned and I read dissertations about it, but as when you become a parent the first time you don’t really get it until you live it. I must premise all of this by saying that I am a lucky man. I have two beautiful and healthy boys and a lovely and loving wife. I had my kids at a time in my life when I was in a good place and was ready (although who am I kidding, you are never really ready for parenthood) to start a family. So for all these reasons I am a happy camper.

Reality is, though, that now it’s just one-on-one. There is no double-teaming my son anymore. He’s got help and no matter how reluctant he may be to have that baby brother around to take away a piece of his pie, he sure loves the added distraction to mom and dad’s vigilance.

It all started a few weeks ago (although my three year old new something was up months ago) when roughly twenty-four hours before we were scheduled to go in for an induction my second son decided he was going to one up his big brother (who was induced) and come out of his own volition.

After a false start we were back in the hospital after only a few hours and chance would have it in the same exact delivery room as my first son. My son also happened to get whisked away to the NICU with me in tow since they were worried he had inhaled some fluid, but it was a false alarm. Sure enough my second son decided that he too must visit the NICU, but this time he wanted yet again to crawl out from under his older sibling’s shadow and stayed there a full week since he actually did inhale fluid.

An earthquake and a hurricane later, we were finally allowed to bring him home and made sure to bring his big brother to the hospital to see him being brought out by myself and the nurse. We wanted him to understand that we hadn’t just bought a baby at the local pharmacy since mom had already come home without a belly or the much talked about baby brother. We even did the whole baby brother gift tactic to smooth things over.

So far I will say there has been no overt Cain and Able moments, but whatever tenderness big brother has shown to baby brother (we caught him reading to baby brother the other day of his own accord) his alter-ego, Big Bad Brother, has stricken down upon us with great vengeance and furious anger. But that my friends is whole other post altogether.

The Parenthood Hymn

There was a game we used to play

We would hit the town on Friday night

And stay in bed until Sunday

We used to be so free

We were living for the love we had and

Living not for reality

 

It was just my imagination

 

(Just My Imagination, Bury The Hatchet – 1999)

 

I find it amazing how the meaning of lyrics to a song that I have listened to for years can change so drastically. Until recently it was another sappy song about love and heartbreak. Now it has become my parenthood hymn and as another great band sings “time keeps on slippin’, slippin’, slippin’”.

Clichés and growth spurts.

As clichéd as this may sound, it is really astounding how fast kids grow up. Not height wise, mind you, although that is just as incredible, but how Mini Me they become. They pick up on different tones of voice, they can ask for things, they ask about things, they give you attitude, they give you affection, they give you heartburn, they are fiercely independent and stubborn to boot. I am as proud of my son as I am ready to plunk him on the top of his head. He surprises us with words, thoughts and deeds and then a second later drives us nuts with an act of utter stupidity like only a toddler can manage. The need to stay a step ahead is always thwarted by his improvisation and diversion from what is otherwise his self-imposed routine of eating, blankie, playground, snack time, song time etc. As exhausting as it is for parents, I also feel it keeps the mind sharp much like playing Bridge or Chess does.

I do miss the days of eating, pooping and sleeping, but as you watch him mold into his own shape and form his own, albeit often exasperating, thoughts and desires you feel a parent’s pride that despite all the doubts and fears of failing as a parent, you are doing something right (or so I like to tell myself whenever my son is throwing a tantrum at my feet).