Rock & Roll Parenthood.

I watched my oldest son flick through the pages of the display iPad in the Nature’s Bioluminescence exhibit at the Museum of Natural History (aka the dinosaur bone museum) and watched his eyes twitch from icon to icon and his finger flit over this or that button before pressing it. And in that rare moment of silence, my mind drifted.

He turns four this week and I just cannot get over the fact that this little man is my kid. I could tell you that he is smart as a whip and a handsome devil to boot, but I know that already so I won’t bore you with the details. I just take the greatest pleasure in watching when he is interacting with something or someone and see those little pieces of me (and my wife, of course) that are reflected in those big brown eyes. You have to understand that I am slowly getting the hang of this parenting thing or rather I am OK with the fact that it is beyond my control and yet I have to put all my brawn, brains and heart into it in an attempt to budge it this way or that in a direction that is hopefully the better path for my kids. It usually, though, feels like Sisyphus and I actually have decided to adopt him as my parenthood mascot – my patron saint of Parenthood.

With my oldest son almost four and my youngest almost 9 months, I still have an eternity to go before earning my veteran parent benefits. There is still plenty of watching that boulder roll back down the hill and trudging back down the hill to push it right back up. And it’s draining.

Two things comfort me and transform the trudge into a little more of a skip in my step. The first is that I see plenty of other kids throwing tantrums at the supermarket and schadenfreude is the best therapy for parents – bar none. The second is the deception created by those moments – often just a split second – where your kids do something so normal and yet so superlative that you turn into silly putty and slide right back down that hill. A smile, a song where all the words are wrong, an unexpected hug, a sincere I’m sorry, replicating something taught without prompting, a delighted laugh, you know what I’m talking about. It gets you every time and is worth all the schlepping that is parenthood. Call me a sucker for punishment, but it’s every bit worth it pushing that rock day in and day out with a skip in my step.

Very, very better latte. Per favore!

For the past 100 years in a land not so far away (it’s actually a bedroom), a little boy (I know… you’re wondering how he stays so young!) shows up at the foot of his parent’s bed (they look every bit a hundred years old) and at the top of his lungs says:”I want very very better latte, per favore!” The latte he is referring to is not the Starbucks kind, but simply “milk” in Italian. Every day for the past century his parent’s have slept with one eye and ear open dreading the moment. They’ve tried everything to break the spell. Pleaded, threatened, ignored, hidden, cried even – to no avail. Every morning at around 5am, rain or shine, much like a Swiss cuckoo clock, the boy comes and makes his proclamation. It is repeated several times and more. Even the neighbors must hear and fear it since no village posse bearing pitchforks and torches has ever descended upon the household seeking to purge this scourge. I know this tale seems fictitious, but I assure you it is something that neither Tolkien nor Lewis nor Jordan nor Goodkind nor Eddings or any of the other master bards could conjure from the deepest recesses of their brilliant imagination. Such is the fantastical reality known to some of us as Parenthood.

Enjoy the silence…

I know. Depeche Mode wrote that about teen angst relationship stuff, but here I am past midnight enjoying it – immensely. I have not been able to sit down for two seconds to write anything down in the past few months – not even by locking myself in the bathroom (that actually makes it worse because the banging is even more nerve racking). Sure, I was warned, but this is something else. I don’t mind the having to change diapers again for the little one or the loads of laundry due to the tail end of potting training for the older one. I can handle the “stop touching your brother” and “don’t give that to him he will choke… and stop laughing it’s not funny!” or “how many times do I have to tell you not to (fill in the blank with pretty much anything a toddler could do)!” and my favorite from the adults “do you know what YOUR son did?!” I can take all of that because somehow I expected it from hearing other parents and from watching lots and lots of Bill Cosby. What I cannot take is the incessant cacophony of screaming and crying and yelling and singing (although closer to screaming) and the “daaaaaady can you (fill in the blank with anything)?!”

I used to hear myself think. Even after my first son was born. There were moments in which I could contemplate and knit my brow while reading, surfing the net or just thinking. I miss it terribly. I crave it. I dare say I need it!

I’ve been reduced to a bumbling fool by a 6 month old and a 3.5 year old.

I envy Homer Simpson.

OK. Back to enjoying the silence.

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.

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’”.

WTF are you looking at?!

So my son is having a full-blown tantrum, what exactly is your problem? I am talking to you old lady. The one shaking her head with that “Oh dear!” look on her face. This is what kids do. Do you think I am enjoying myself? Picking up boxes of cereal off the supermarket floor, or worse splattered produce, is not something I asked for when I walked in with my kid. Listen Blondie. Just wait until you get knocked up and you find burp stains all over that pretty blouse. Think about that while you roll your eyes at me from behind those oversized sunglasses. Am I happy that he keeps pulling up and down the tray table a thousand times before take-off? Of course not, but I am not sure that stuffing him in the overhead bin would stop him from screaming. And yes, I do realize that this business trip you are on, Sir, is considered a vacation from your family, but such is life with a kid (you of all people should know!). Whatever you are thinking in your head is the solution (spanking, reasoning, punishing, pleading…) keep it to yourself because you obviously don’t get it. It’s just not that simple. That’s parenthood and sometimes it just plain sucks. Like right now when my son is spread eagle in the middle of the street kicking and screaming. I deal with it and frankly so should you.

Dude. Really?! The lifeguard?!

Why does my kid listen to the old lady in the elevator and completely ignores me? That’s more of a rhetorical question in parenthood, but one that I am currently asking often – too often in fact. It’s not so much the ignoring me part because I have learned very quickly that it comes with the territory. It’s the same behavior that the grandparents all react to with the same disdain as they shake their heads and pedantically (petulantly?) state their favorite phrase, “When you were kids you never acted this way…” (yeah right!). Usually this is said over your shoulder as you try to control your kid and his latest rebellious act. It reminds me of my fraternity days when my spite for all that I had to go through when pledging was reversed back onto the new pledges with cutting sarcasm and a heavy dose of jeering at their helplessness and ineptitude – very constructive. Much like kicking someone when they are down except that this is your own flesh and blood doing it to you. But I digress.

Last summer we struggled to get my son to wear his armbands. We tried everything, force, coaxing, bribery, comparison to the older kids, deceit, reverse psychology, you name it we tried it. Then along comes the pimple faced dorky lifeguard and he looks down at our son and says, “Hey buddy! You better put those bad boys on so you can go for a swim.” And yes our son giggling with delight put them on.

What possesses my son to follow the instructions of a perfect stranger? I understand that his early onset rebelliousness is no different than the next three year olds’, but aren’t they supposed to learn “stranger danger” and seek out a parent?!

I have never had to use this much of my brain to outwit, outflank, outrun, out-everything anyone since I was cramming for my SATs and that was multiple-choice.

We have, though, found a quasi-solution. We basically kid swap with friends when we are out at the park or at the museum and find that the ruse works perfectly. If my friend asks my son to take his hand, he will. If he asks him to sit in the stroller, he will. If he asks him if he wants to drink some water, he will. And vice versa their kid will do pretty much anything we ask him or her to do. It’s not perfect, but it’s a Darwinian world out there and parents need to find a way to scramble to the top of the pyramid before their kids do or we’re toast. Wait, what’s that smell?

 

If I was your kid’s parent…

Why does everybody know how to be a better parent? I’m not saying I am an expert by any stretch of the imagination nor am I Father Of The Year or Super Dad (not even to my kid these days since he is in TT3 mode – aka the Truly Terrible Threes). Grandparents aside (they always think they did a better job with you than you are doing with your kids – it’s in the job description under “How to be a royal pain in the butt!”), everybody else, especially the childless and old ladies with dogs, have all the secrets to child rearing.

How many times does your single friend after asking if you wanted to grab a drink during Happy Hour and “hang out” (and you politely decline) grumble how they will never allow kids to ruin their lives (my twenty something sister-in-law actually told my wife and I without hesitation that she will never lead the “sad” life that we lead – uhm, gee thanks). First of all, parenting has its moments so why do you assume my life is ruined? Second of all, I have to wonder if by “never” you mean you will never have kids and as a consequence not have your life ruined?

A friend recently told my wife and I about a colleague who asked her if she wanted to do a girl’s night out. Our friend declined saying that she was tired and had to get home to her toddler son. The friend suggested that she could go home to tuck in her kid, take a quick nap and then a shower to freshen up and then meet later on. I laughed so hard that it sounded like an elephant snorting (I imagined her waving a magic wand and her child falling instantly into a deep slumber). No words were exchanged, but we all understood each other (if I go home and take a “quick nap” after work there is no way I am getting up again until morning!). The best part about the story is that the son was not even part of the nap, shower and night out equation (sure, no problem, the kid is the easy part).
I sometimes sigh and think back at those care free days and I will admit that I too did not fully comprehend why life should be any different with kids – I just hope I wasn’t that foolish and naïve. And to my sister-in-law I say this: ”We’ll talk again when you have kids!”