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.

Mother’s Day a New York Perspective

(Source: The New Yorker – Cover by: Chris Ware)

Just got this issue in the mail today and I had to smile… great wit. My gift to all of you awesome mom’s out there (albeit this is more akin to ripping out some of the neighbor’s prized roses and pretending I grew them myself…). I know I’m early, but shouldn’t it be a daily recurrence? Happy Mother’s Day!

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.

Just let me lie here for a while…

As Spring continues to stumble out of the blocks, I fell victim to the tail-end of Winter as I got sick like I have rarely been. My son brought home one of the many bugs crawling around daycare any given day and luckily it was on a Friday night that he started sliming over. We did not get much sleep over the weekend, but that beats losing weeknight sleeps for a 9-to-5er like myself. My son is actually rather cuddly and extremely well behaved when he gets the sniffles, albeit a bit whiney. He’ll crawl onto the coach or into the bed next to us clutching his blankie and nestle curl up into a tiny ball with watering eyes and runny nose. Some eucalyptus rub helps get him through the night and lots of orange juice, hot milk and water do the rest. Kids are kids so max 48 hours and he is up and running (although I have video proof of him running wild around the apartment with 103 fever). There is nothing new about a child’s natural resilience.

Us old farts on the other hand have the resilience of dry bark and as I dragged myself to the office that Monday I felt very much again to a log. Or rather that infamous bump on the log. We are used to get a little bit of the sniffles ourselves. Comes with the parenting job description. Nothing you can’t shake of with a little will power and OJ. By Monday evening I was getting the shivers and I felt my eyes watering. I’ll spare you the next four days, but the fever hovered on average around the 103.5 mark. Now in the pre-parenting days I would on the rare occasion I got hit this bad, crawl under a comforter and create a sweat lodge in bed for a day or so. Sleep all day. Soup. Sleep. Moan. Groan. Tylenol. Tissues. Shower. Moan. Sweat. Sleep. And finally I would emerge in tip top shape. Well kids, as we all know, don’t care what you did before them. They live in the now. As in “I want it now!” or “I need it now!” And my son is no exception. As I lay face down in my own snot shivering uncontrollably and trying to picture myself on a tropical island beach bathed in sunlight and a cooled by a gentle sea breeze my son landed on my rib cage with both knees. “Daddy! Daddy! Coooome!” What the…?! “Daaaaaddyyyy!” What! “Daaaaadddyyy! Come walking! Come read Cat Hat!” Honey?! Help?! “Daaaaady!” Can you stop pulling my finger I thing you dislocated it? Where’s your mother?! “Mommy’s in the kitchen. Daaaaady! Come! Come! Daddy! Now!” Please God, I know I don’t come to church often, but I’ll owe you one buddy… “Daaaady! Come waaaaaalking!” The latest tug on my finger is so painfully that I try clumsily to twist away and land on the floor with a sickening thud. Ouch. “Daddy! Get up! Wake up! Mommy daddy needs to wake up!” Where am I and why won’t the voice in my head go away? “Daddy? Boo-boo? Mommy, Daddy boo-boo needs ice!” No little man I’m fine just let me lie down here for a few hours. No don’t put ice on me. Arrrrgh! That was cold. I hear him scurry off. I drift back to sleep on the hardwood floor. In the distance I hear my wife’s voice “What are you doing down there?!” Just inspecting the floor for scratches. “Get back into to bed and stop goofing around with your son. You’re never going to get better if you just lie on the floor!” So I crawl back into bed which, as Bill Cosby famously said, “is where I wanted to be in the first place!”


Pampered Divas and Pro Wrestling

The morning routine has gotten progressively worse at our house in the last few months. I’ll shamefully admit that we have resorted to bribes something that was categorically off-the-table this summer. We had adopted the strictest of policies: “We do not negotiate with terrorists.” Well you try to dress my son and tell me if you wouldn’t whip out a toy or candy after wrestling with him for an hour. Each day there is a particular article of clothing that he refuses to relinquish and another one that after extensive negotiations he refuses to put on. I’m lucky the neighbors cannot see into our apartment. The thought of what pictures might surface on the Internet of adults sprawled on the floor holding onto a child’s leg with both hands and getting dragged across the room would be quite humiliating.

My meager consolation is that it seems that kids tend to do these things except in England where they send them off to boarding school as infants until they are returned to their families on their 18th birthday as perfectly groomed adults. At least that’s what Hollywood tells me and you know that whatever Hollywood puts up on the screen is true, right? So I am asking some friends in London to send me literature. I am also lucky enough to live not too far from West Point. I wonder what their early admission policy is like?

In the meantime, I continue to lay out his entire “wardrobe” like a hysterical stylist each and every morning. My wife and I “ooh” and “ahh” like two idiots at a runway show over a selection of shirts with robots, diggers and dinosaurs. My son acts the part of the pampered diva by hurling our choices, à-la-Naomi Campbell, on the floor with a peremptory “No! No want digger! Another one!” We scurry off like groveling assistants to look for another one until all his shirts are in a heap on the floor.

When all else fails the assistants rebel against the diva and turn into a pro-wrestling tag team. I usually take the legs and my wife works the upper body. Chairs aren’t used, but you get the picture.

This is usually followed by my son happily run down the hallway to press the elevator button as if the past two hours of cage fighting had never happened. My wife and I only wish we had that kind of resilience.

Of course blaming my poor innocent son for all this would be childish of me, but it really is all his fault.

Dads are a different yet equal part of the parenting equation

I am guest posting over at Mom-entum today for Holly Pavlika. Here is an excerpt:

I live in New York. I am the father of a beautiful, charming, witty and sharp two and a half year old boy (I’m not just saying that!), the husband of a beautiful, charming, sometimes nagging (she denies it…), sophisticated Italian wife. I myself am a bit of a mutt – American father and Italian mother. Perfectly bi-lingual and often travelling between my beloved New York and Rome.

I also started a blog about my passion for fountain pens, stationery, wristwatches and many of the finer things in life over at The Dapper Dad. I also contribute to Dad Revolution.

What inspired me to start New York Dad’s Blog?

Actually, my wife… READ MORE

Societal meltdown, food fights and other rants from the edge…

The following excerpt comes from a New York Times article that appeared today:

“The focus group that met here in New Jersey on Monday included a bartender, a lawyer and a school bus driver. The dominant theme of the discussion, in which jobs and taxes came up only in passing, seemed to be the larger breakdown of civil society — the disappearance of common courtesy, the relentless stream of data from digital devices, the proliferation of lawsuits and the insidious influence of media on their children.

One woman described a food fight at the middle school that left a mess school employees were obliged to clean up, presumably because the children couldn’t be subjected to physical labor. A man complained about drivers who had grown increasingly hostile and inconsiderate on the roads…’“

I already touched upon this in an earlier post (I’ve become that grumpy old man…), but I am in complete agreement that we are witnessing (and I am sure our parents and grand parents and great great grand parents did too) a larger breakdown of civil society. As a New Yorker I understand that the hustle and bustle of city life can make you curt and sometimes even rude and snippy, but uncivil is something that I see snowballing out of control even across the river (and not just in New Jersey… I know, I know that was a cheap shot!). I am not excluding myself from this general meltdown in how we behave. I have had my share of inglorious moments (cursing at people who cut me off, blood boiling at incompetence, overreacting at someone bumping into my kid or the stroller etc.), but I believe that I have always been civil. I get up on the bus and train for the elderly or pregnant, I hold doors, I hold elevators, I say “Thank you”, “Excuse me” and “Please”. I carry strollers up stairs for moms. I even on occasion say “I’m sorry”. The most important thing, though, is that I feel guilty if I do not. If I bump into someone on the street and it’s my fault or I drop a wrapper on the floor and don’t stoop to pick it up I actually feel bad. I don’t tear my hair out, but I still have that momentary “That was just wrong!” moment. That does not excuse my incivility, but remorse is a start. You assume some degree of responsibility for your actions. In most cases the twang of guilt will push me to act and correct or in some way redeem my uncivil act.

My examples are just small blips on a much greater map of actions that people choose to ignore, abuse, overlook or intentionally undertake that make our society that much worse (and the digital deluge merits a completely separate post and discussion).

The example that really caught my attention was the woman who says that a food fight at school was cleaned up by staff. I can understand parents do not want corporal punishment used on their kids, but are we really afraid to force kids to face consequences and take on the responsibility of their actions. Maybe I’m just getting old and my son’s incessant use of the word “No” is getting to me, but if parents fail to teach their kids about being civil and schools are too scared of lawyers to do so then I am afraid we will maintain this downward spiral. Then again maybe I’m just overreacting to a few isolated incidents of insolence. Now go write that on a chalkboard 100 times.

I’ve become that grumpy old man…

They bump into you. They yell, scream and sometimes curse just inches from your ear. They push you aside as they chase each other around. They even yank things out of your hand. Never once uttering an “excuse me” or “sorry”. They are just plain rude and obnoxious. These are today’s kids. I call them GEN-LS or Little Snots (to avoid using a harsher term).
Spanking, I am told, is passé, but this generation may change people’s minds. I know, I sound like the grumpy old man that lived next door when “we” were kids and started every sentence with “when I was your age…” and ended à-la-Dangerfield with “… no respect I tell ya!”
It is our fault. It is not the networks, Miss Smith the 1st Grade teacher, global warming, the fact that they are bored (isn’t part of our job description to entertain them?) or any of the other excuses churned out by everyone to pardon the absolute lack of discipline amongst our youth. And the crisis is global or rather as far reaching as the places to which I have traveled. Nor do I exclude the possibility of my own kid becoming a GEN-LSer himself (how objective of me!).
So what are we doing wrong? Do we lack the patience of our parents? Is it the lack of physical discipline? Are we abusing the easy way out (i.e. videos, cookies, gifts etc.)? My folks will get a kick out of reading this. I can just see them nodding their heads and smirking (especially my mother) at this confessional with that annoying air of grandparenting superiority. As Bill Cosby said, “these are not the same people I grew up with… they are old and want to get into heaven now!” They are retired as parents and can just sit back and criticize our every decision and at the same time destroy – in mere seconds – months of painstaking parenting by handing their grandchild whatever they want knowing that they would never have given that very same thing to their own kid (a.k.a. you). They have a way of imparting obvious parenting advice using the prefix “when you were kids, I never…” at the worst possible moment (i.e. in the midst of a full blown tantrums, while trying to change a writhing child’s diaper, while restraining a screaming kid from pulling down all the cereal boxes from the store shelf, while deciding with your wife or partner how best to handle a situation etc.) and looking surprised and somewhat upset when you snap back at them with a curt “not now!” The more I look at kids today, the more I think our parents are right, though. In the end, they did their job as parents (each with varying degrees of success) and guided us through life to get to the point where we too are now supposed to do the same with our kids. And yet I see a collective failure.
I am sure there are plenty of exceptions and you are probably reading this saying “that’s not my kid.” I know, I certainly don’t think it’s mine, but again that is just me being completely not objective. Overall, though, and for many reasons that merit a separate discussion, we are failing our kids in discipline and it may just be that we are too tired or have gotten too lazy and complacent, but it is to their ultimate detriment.
Ironically, this has occurred at a time when more two parent families are benefiting from a far greater active participation by the dads. This should mean that children have two parents from which to take their cues and from which to learn “right from wrong” on a more consistent basis. So are we dads the bad influence? Do we just confuse things for the kid by sending mixed signals? Are we poorly coordinated with our significant other? The answer, as always when this dad is involved, is “I don’t know.” I can just keep putting my best parenting skills out there based on how I grew up and how I became a (fairly) responsible adult. I think I grabbed the right map, but looking around me I worry if I, like many of the other parents around me, should double check to make sure that we are holding it the right side up?

The sound of silence…

There are a few moments in the busy day and life of a parent in which you might find yourself alone. Usually, for me, it is while I am in transit between point A and point B. I may take a side street to avoid the cacophony of the larger and more frequented streets that are everywhere in New York. The hustle and bustle suddenly subsides and I might actually hear a bird chirping and hear the leaves on a tree lined street rustling. No cars are hurtling by and there is no one to bump into as I make my way down the street. If the sun is shining I sometimes stop to enjoy this moment. It is rare, but precious – like anything that is teetering on the edge of extinction. The loneliness of the moment is quite intoxicating. I can hear my thoughts. I can hear my breathing. I can remember what it was like when I was not a father and had time to just do absolutely nothing if I so chose. And then I turn the corner and plunge back into my life – my now. I do miss those moments, but I miss them because I am in a better place right now. I have my own family to go home to with a son who yells “Daddy!” when I open the door and hugs my leg. Just that moment is enough to make me survive the craziness that is being a parent. I can only appreciate the silence now that I can no longer have it on demand, but no longer really need it to function. One of the many contradictions of parenthood that I live without regrets.