Tuesday, December 13, 2011

When Moms Attack II: The Horror Continues

When last we convened, I shared my thoughts about a couple of moms who I felt had stepped over lines of decorum during recent interactions with me. Since that time, I've been especially worried that the first of those moms, whose gaffe of asking for a play date prematurely was much more understandable and innocent than the Germanic mom's ulcer-inducing suggestions on the potty training front, would stumble upon my post, put two and two together, and decide she had no choice but to pick up and move to Fresno. I guess I left the post as it was in the hope that if she did happen to see it, she'd be able to have a sense of humor about herself. Besides, I figured I'd go on to new topics, and mom craziness would recede into the archives of this blog.

Alas, little did I know I'd have an exchange that would take the whole "When Moms Attack" thing to a new level, especially given that the first two moms didn't exactly attack as much as say the wrong things. This latest mom? Well, she really did attack.

Let me take you to the scene last Thursday morning at the kinder gym again (what is it about that place!?), where I was being my typically spastic, out-of-control self. I should make it clear that when it comes to playing, I'm most definitely not a mom, and I have the penis to prove it. So when I go to the kinder gym (this session is NOT called "baby gym" for a reason, as it's supposed to be for 2- to 4-year-olds), I go to play. Not watch the kids play, but actually play. This has resulted in my forming pretty close (and sometimes physical) relationships with several of the regulars. And when I say regulars, I'm talking about the kids, not the moms. (Ba dum, bum.)

The way this behavior manifests itself is as follows: Two kids in particular, both at the older end of the 2-to-4 spectrum, like to assume superhero personas. One actually shows up in a Batman shirt and cape, while the second simply has the woman who staffs the session write "Spiderman" on his name tag. Naturally, this role-playing has resulted in my referring to them, unexpected as it may seem, as Batman and Spiderman. Naturally, I feel obligated to assume the role of the Joker or Green Goblin or whatever fictional villain I want to be, and I chase the boys around, gently tackling them, softly throwing large, padded nylon blocks at them, and generally causing chaos. (Max typically hangs at the periphery of the insanity, avoiding the real rough housing and instead diving in when things are a bit more mellow. He clearly gets a bit jealous of Daddy playing with other kids--it's kind of adorable.)

Sarah witnessed this scene a couple of months ago, and has since warned me that she thought I'd end up making some of the moms uneasy. No one who knows me well will be surprised that this input only emboldened me, as I think the one thing some moms need more than anything is to be made uneasy. So I'm an instigator--sue me.

Back to last Thursday. It was a particularly energetic day because my recent visits have been hampered by a series of ailments--gout (don't ask), strep throat, and a bout of the flu--that rendered me too listless to exert myself. (Mind you, before someone points it out, I didn't actually go to the kinder gym while contagious with strep or actually suffering the flu--I was there during the recovery periods.) In other words, the fact I was healthy and energetic was a cause for serious celebration (and extra exuberant play) among the boys. We were running all over the room, and all the kids who weren't playing with us were taking great interest. Some of them probably even tried their luck at throwing those cushiony blocks.

This is when the mom in question walks up to me and, gesturing me to the side of the room, says, "Can we talk for a minute?"


A bit of background about this woman might help: she is apparently a long time sporadic attendee of these sessions, but I had seen her for the first time just a month or two earlier. I remember it because this mom, who is youngish, and reasonably attractive (but presents herself as a very uptight, librarianesque figure) showed up that day in a sun dress that brought a lot of attention to her admittedly spectacular breasts. And those breasts were a constant that day, not just because I'm a man and thus biologically predisposed to gawking at spectacular breasts, but because her cleavage was so apparent and pronounced that a few of the other moms rolled their eyes with what can only be described as a combination of disgust and envy.

This mom was also memorable because she brought both of her kids--one who's nearly 4, and a second that's about 9 months--to the kinder gym. Totally understandable, but also an action that should be accompanied by a certain awareness that you're plopping your 9-month-old down in a room filled with crazed toddlers, introducing all sorts of potential risk.

So when this mom pulled me aside, I was braced for a scolding, but I expected it to be civil, along the lines of "I know you're a dad and so you like to play a little rough, and I think that's great, and it's obvious the kids love it, but I'd sure appreciate it if you could pull back just a bit because I'm concerned your exuberance might lead to someone's child getting hurt." And that would have been a completely reasonable request.

Instead, however, this is what she said: "Y'know, we're trying to raise our sons more like daughters now and teaching them to be more sensitive and respectful, and when you teach them to throw and hit, they're just gonna grow up to be dickheads. So do you think you could dial it down a bit?"

Being the people pleaser I am, I responded with a humble "Okay, I understand," and that was that. Except that I felt parentally castrated. It was as if I'd been given a timeout for excessive playing, and I spent the rest of the session sitting on my hands and telling all the kids--who came up constantly asking me to play--that I had to take a break because one of the mommies felt I was playing too rough.

I did have one key (albeit silent) supporter, though: Batman's mom. She always sits on the side, laughing heartily at my "abuse" of her kid and always putting me at ease when I think I may be going overboard. You gotta respect a mom who embraces rough male play. She thought the other mom was out line, and said she's always been kind of uptight about things that make her uncomfortable at the kinder gym.

What I wish I'd said to the big-breasted mom when she confronted me was this: "So if I understand correctly, you're concerned that by pretending to be the villain to their superheros and running around playing with little boys exactly as they love to be played with, and admittedly risking collisions with other little ones who no doubt would recover as all toddlers do, I'm somehow increasing the likelihood that these kids will end up beating their wives and kids? Because if that's what you're suggesting, I gotta say you're fucking nuts."

By the way, not only does this woman need to think twice about bringing her 9-month-old to a toddler play session if she's all worried about incidents, but she also needs to acknowledge that her older kid--who has repeatedly (and innocently) thrown hard objects at me when all the other kids seem to understand that they need to limit their throwing to those soft cushiony blocks--already has a throwing problem and is thus well on his way to becoming a dickhead with or without my influence.

I guess the moral of the story is this: If you want someone to train your son to be a dickhead, I'm your man.

Or maybe it's this: Moms with spectacular cleavage who bring their babies to toddler play sessions and have toddlers who throw to injure should probably look inward before holding innocent dads responsible for the worst instincts in men. On second thought, that's kinda wordy. Lets stick with the first moral.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

When Moms Attack

I've had a couple of Max-related interactions in the past week that have left me contemplating what constitutes stepping over a line when talking with the parent of a little one. Mind you, for a change, I wasn't the one stepping over the line. Rather it was two moms who flummoxed me with their comments. (Moms? Comments that flummox? Nooo!)

The first of these interactions may sound harmless enough. I was at the neighborhood playground, enjoying the last minutes of light while Max pushed trucks around in the sand, when a mom who's new to the neighborhood arrived with her four-year-old son. This was my second time bumping in to her, the first having also been at dusk at the same playground. She seemed, in both conversations, to be a nice, reasonable mom I'd be happy to get to know.

That was when the "P" word was uttered--as in "playdate"--and everything changed. Because while playdate may seem like an innocent, and maybe even cloyingly annoying--modern parenting term--it is accompanied by all sorts of rules of engagement. And this woman was trampling all over those.

Let's start with the fact that we had met spontaneously twice, for a few minutes each time, at a neutral location, in dim lighting. For those inexperienced in the ways of edgy parenting, asking for a playdate at this stage is like going to a bar, spotting a woman you've seen there once before, and casually asking her if she'd like to come by one afternoon for some nookie.

I'm sure there are others out there who will disagree with my assessment, but I was bristled by what I felt was a presumptive request at this stage in our "relationship." And it further annoyed me that because she'd invited us to a birthday party the previous week for her son, and because Sarah had RSVP'd via email (we couldn't make it), she had Sarah's email address, which she made clear she'd use to start discussing a date and time. I couldn't help but think of how Jerry Seinfeld (the TV character version) got himself in hot water by calling a woman whose number he got off an AIDS walkathon list. Let's be clear: we weren't RSVP'ing so they could immediately plug us into their "database of future playdate suckers."

Of course, this could all come down to us having different definitions of the word "playdate." In my mind, a "playdate" is when one parent/child visits the home of the other parent/child. In other words, it implies being isolated with the other parent, and committing your child to an unknown period of time in the presence of another child with whom he may or may not want to play. The other mom, however, may have had different expectations of a "first playdate," which in her eyes might only entail a harmless rendez-vous at a public (i.e. easy to escape) location. But if her definition differs that much from society's at large, then she should have made that clear, n'est-ce pas?

When I got home and told Sarah about this perceived breach in parenting decorum, she seemed to think it was no big deal. Undeterred by her complacence, I made it clear to Sarah that if she got an email about this, I was strongly urging her to suggest a time to meet at the playground. I pleaded with her not to invite the woman over to our house. Not only did I not want to find myself having to be the host should Sarah get called away, I simply was not ready to give this person access to our inner sanctum.

But there was another element of confusion surrounding the situation, that being the age difference between the boys. I mean, who the hell suggests a playdate for her 4-year-old son with a 2-year-old! Duh, isn't that age inappropriate? And who wants to subject their 2-year-old to a 4-year-old he barely knows? It's preposterous!

The second interaction, which occurred the following morning, was even more disturbing. It occurred at the local YMCA, where we take Max once or twice a week to enjoy the so-called "Kindergym," which is exactly what it sounds like--a small gym filled with a bunch of plastic toys and padded shapes and mats in which toddlers can safely run around for a bit, hopefully without seriously injuring themselves or anyone else. So there I am, minding my own business as I follow Max around the room, when I think I get a whiff of something, so I pick up Max and sniff his diaper quickly. (Thankfully, no need for the HAZMAT team). A woman I've never seen before--a tall, big-boned, Germanic looking woman--sees me and asks if I'm working on potty training.

Now here's where I need to inject some advice. First, to anyone who might find themselves in my position: If someone asks you anything about the topic of potty training, do anything you can to avoid or otherwise get out of the conversation that would follow. Act like your phone is vibrating and you need to take this call. Pretend you hear your mom calling you. Scream "fire!" Anything. Because nothing good can come of discussing potty training with anyone other than your co-parent. There are few things in life of which I'm more certain.

Now, to those who think they might, in some fit of insanity, make a similar inquiry: There are very few questions you can pose that will generate a more instantaneous sense of disgust of, or a stronger instinct to flee from, you. Let's make this very clear: Potty training is a--how shall I put this?--less-than-appetizing topic best limited to the confines of your own home because, when you get right down to it, it's none of anyone's damned business.

That said, the wave of irritation, panic and desperation that certainly was evident on my face was clearly not enough to stop this woman, who apparently was dead set on making sure I'd never invite her to one of our legendary Fall Fiestas. Or even something mind-numbing like a Bar Mitzvah, although I've been to Bar Mitzvahs that would have been a perfect punishment for the crime. But I digress.

This woman proceeds to ask me how old Max is.

"Almost two," I answer.

"Oh, no, I mean exactly. In months," she says. My concern for where this exchange is headed deepens.

"23 months," I answer meekly. The woman gasps.

"You're past the window," she says in a tone that suggests I've failed my child on some deep, inexcusable level. "They're at the easiest to work with between 19 and 22 months. But I can teach you a sure fire way to potty train him in 3 days."

What I want to say at this point is, "Shut the hell up before I punch you in the mouth, bitch!" But what comes out is, "really?" Uh-oh.

She proceeds to tell me all about how if you put your life aside for 3 days and take off your child's diaper, and (this is important!) don't put it back on, by day 3, the child will be using the potty flawlessly. My creative version of her description of events:

Day 1: Child poops and pees all over himself and your house. Some items are salvageable, and vegetation should be able to grow again in 75 years. Psychotherapy during the evening suggested.

Day 2: Child starts to get annoyed with the constant presence of pee and poop on his butt, legs, feet, toys, and anything else unfortunate enough to exist within a 3-foot radius of his privates. Amid the resulting fits of frustration, toys are thrown, food is flung, and most breakable kitchen items meet their demise. First voluntary flirtations with the potty provide glimpses of hope. Presence of an anger management counselor strongly recommended, as is consumption of at least one strong alcoholic beverage once child is in bed.

Day 3: Tired of living in a constant flow of his own waste, the child makes regular runs to the potty, where he steadily adjusts to a new paradigm. Sure, lots of pee and poop misses the target during the trial-and-error portion of the proceedings, but hey, at least you're not changing diapers! By the end of the day, the child not only has mastered the potty, he's also cleaning his own room, washing and folding his own laundry, and even volunteering for some light vacuuming duty. The son shines through the roof, creating an other-worldly glow throughout the house, mom dances around the living room in a free-flowing nightgown, showering the room with handfuls of flower petals, and a leprechaun arrives with a pot of gold.

Of course, at this point in the "conversation," I'm no longer registering anything the woman is describing, mostly because what little piece of me isn't trying to gracefully monitor Max while at least looking like I'm vaguely interested is busy visualizing shooting her with an elephant dart.

I guess the moral of the story is, have a child at your own risk, because there's a whole world of parents out there who will be drawn to you like moths to a flame, but sadly, unlike the flame, you can't cause them to spontaneously burn alive.

Thankfully, I returned home, happily changed Max's diaper, and promised myself that he will never, ever play with another child in our home because that would mean I have to interact with a mom, and clearly I can't have any of that.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Fighting For Our Children's Future

Time to take a break in the mostly lighthearted nature of this blog to provide some insight on the Occupy Oakland protests that have captured the world's attention. I finally made it down to the site Monday night, Nov. 1. It was relatively quiet--several hundred people milling about--organizers holding a low-key meeting, intellectuals debating the issues at hand, and lots of homeless guys asking for handouts. I was glad I went at that time--it was an easy way to get a sense of the effort without the chaos. I got to peruse the Occupy Oakland library collection, talk to a few people, check out the tent city, and listen to some of the meeting.

But the following day, Nov. 2, was a whole different ballgame. This was the day of the general strike, a day filled with one rally after another as the crowd swelled throughout the day, climaxing with a march to the Oakland Port that lasted into the wee hours. The atmosphere was very positive and energetic at the noon rally I attended. The speakers were animated, the signs expressive and colorful, and the crowd filled with every kind of person you can imagine. It was clear something special is going on--we may not know exactly what it is yet, but anything is better than all of us sitting on our couches griping about things.

I was very bummed not to be able to attend the evening march, but was very proud to have several friends and neighbors who hung out throughout the night, and who had the presence of mind to engage in an exhaustive series of texts that told much of the story. Rather than try to relay their story myself, I'll let them tell it in the form of highlights from the text string. It all started when I texted my Albany neighbor and friend, Ulan, who has been visible at Occupy Oakland for many days despite hobbling around in a cast due to surgery for a torn Achilles. It was 4:18 pm Wednesday when I asked him where he was, and whether he'd joined the 4 pm march (there was a second group leaving at 5 pm). Here are the highlights of the ensuing string, which had six or seven people on it:

Text from Ulan, 4:44 pm: "On the bridge. Bikes are at the port. U gotta be here. It is awesome!!! Must be 20,000 people. 500+ bikes."

Response from me, 4:45 pm: "I'll have to settle for living vicariously through you. Couldn't pull it off--just the wrong night."

Next text from Ulan, 5:21 pm: "30 min later and they are still streaming over the bridge. And there is another group that left at 5."

5:22 pm, from Ulan: "Someone was talking to his friend at 14th and Broadway and said there is a continuous march of people...2 miles!"

5:23 pm, from Ulan: "It is warm. A perfect day to change the world. ;-)"

5:32 pm, text from another neighbor, David Skinner, who's been even more visible at the protests than Ulan: "Kristin [his wife] is sick (food). I am evacing (sic) her out from the port. Headed to the hood. Then back. Need something from the hood? Let me know."

5:40 pm, from Ulan: "A whole other group has come. Wow. The bridge is flooded with oldies again."

5:41 pm, from David: "KFA!" (For those who don't know, this stands for kick f*cking ass!)

During this time, Ulan sends a series of photos and videos via text, all documenting the events at the port--people gathering, climbing on top of trucks and roofs, and general revelry over the show of solidarity.

One of these photos, sent at 5:50 pm, is accompanied by this message: "The bridge is 1/4 mile back. I am at the gates of the port. Half the people are further in. It just doesn't stop."

5:52 pm, from David: "Saw 30 cyclists with banners coming up San Pablo as a supervehicle 20 min ago."

5:55 pm, from Ulan: "The bridge is still packed." The implication being that protesters are still flowing into the port. Text is followed by a video snippet of an even more crowded port packed with protesters, all of whom seem very well behaved, and who have blanketed the roof of every truck and container in view.

6:09 pm, from Ulan: "Bridge is still packed. Going on 1.5 hours of people walking (across it)."

6:46 pm, from another Albany neighbor, Laurie Wong-Roberts, who is not at the protest but is monitoring the text string: "WOW! LOVE IT!!!! Thanks, all, for occupying!"

7:06 pm, from David: "Report from OGP [Oscar Grant Plaza, the Occupy Oakland renaming of Frank Ogawa Plaza]. Chill. Down to regular non-sardine levels. No OPD on site. Alameda fire fighter union is grilling gratis making many friends. 14th and Bway still occupied. Drums and dance." The message includes a photo of the firefighters serving up grub.

7:26 pm, from Ulan: "Shift change at 8. Staying put for a while. :) Expect to see my photo in the Tribune tomorrow." (Alas, no photo of Ulan in this morning's paper.)

7:42 pm, from David: "Too many have left the plaza. 14th and Broadway is starting to see traffic. I hope the thousands of port marchers return soon. With the intersection gone police will follow." (This analysis proves eerily true as later texts show.)

7:44 pm, from yet another Albany neighbor, Sheri Spellwoman, mother of two young girls, who had come home during the afternoon but managed to make it back for the port protest: "They are asking for more bodies here until the shift change at 8."

7:48 pm, from David: "I had to leave 14th. Cars coming through and I am concerned someone is going to mistake the ped/protest areas for the thoroughfares and hit someone." (Another eerie prediction from David--not much later, a couple of people are struck by cars in that spot.)

7:48 pm, from David: "Enough people at the port?"

7:50 pm, from Ulan: "Plenty of people are here. No worries. The port is shut and will stay so!!!"

7:53 pm, from Ulan: "Folks leaving. Woot!! Nice and loud. :)"

8:03 pm, from David: "Got an orange vest. Am now the traffic cop of 14th and Bway."

8:11 pm, from Ulan: "Music semi just rolled up the bridge filled with a couple of dozen hangers on. OPD moved so they could pass. The port is NOT going to open. Nope. Nadda."

8:27 pm, from Ulan: "How's the plaza?"

8:35 pm, from David: "We're holding. With effort."

8:36 pm, from Sheri: "People are talking about blocking the port until 3 am. Isn't this strike over at midnite?!?!?"

8:39 pm, from David: "It's all about shifts. Hold steady if you need where you are and we'll hold here. Talked to some bicyclists back from the port. Bway is holding."

There is then a break in the messages. I assume there is little activity during this time, or perhaps everyone is too engaged to text.

10:22 pm, from Ulan: "More people."

10:50 pm, from David: "Big block."

Then another hour of quiet before the, uh, poo hits the fan.

11:53 pm, from Ulan: "Riot is about to start. Fuck."

11:57 pm, from David: "Police are starting shit."

Midnight, from Sheri: "Fuck!"

12:02 am, from David: "Police riot starting." This text is followed by a photo from David showing police in riot gear on Broadway and a huge bonfire in the background.

12:04 am, from Ulan, in response to David's photo: "Yes they are. We are on the other side...the one with all the fires."

12:08 am, from Kristin, David's wife who has long been home after getting sick: "Stay safe!! OO [Occupy Oakland] tweeted rubber bullets and tear gas being fired at 17th and Bdwy."

12:09 am, from David: "Not yet. One flash bang. It embarrassed them."

12:09 am, from Sheri: "I ran right into it!"

12:10 am, from David: "Moving in now."

12:10 am, from Sheri: "Lots of shots being fired."

12:22 am, from David: "No shots now. Police are securing a building that was occupied and supporting fire control against the fires on Telegraph. Mood is lightening. Fire is out."

12:43 am, from Ulan: "Home safe. So is Sheri. David seems to be ok. Checked in with him."

12:46 am, from Ulan: "That Black Block is weak. They want to incite but they don't really want to fight. Fools."

12:47 am, from David: "Peace has returned." Text is followed by photo of much calmer scene on Broadway.

12:59 am, from me: "What insanity! Thanks for keeping us updated, guys...I feel like I was almost there with you...glad you all stayed out of harm's way!"

1:01 am, from Ulan: "It's those Black Block kids. We have to find a way to fix this. It's a good process to go through. And we will find a way through."

As you can see, this string provided compelling theater for someone who couldn't be there. And on some small level, it justified Sarah's fears about my taking Max down to the port march. Granted, there wasn't any violence until nearly midnight, but still--she was right to be fearful of what might happen.

Let's hope Albany's little band of activists continue to play a role in the uprising, wherever it leads us...regardless of that path, as I hinted at in the headline for this post, the primary concern should be to create a vision of this country's future that will help to ensure that our children have the best possible chance at happiness. Without that, we'll have accomplished little, if anything.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Toddler-speak: A Language All Its Own

If you've ever been in the presence of a toddler delivering one of those ridiculously cute monologues in which only the toddler in question seems to have a clear idea of what s/he is saying, you've literally been watching language take root in a forming mind. Over time, though, toddlers quickly start to pick up real words and turn their unintelligible gibberish into somewhat-intelligible gibberish. In fact, the pace at which toddlers begin to pick up words is downright dizzying. Imagine learning, speaking and comprehending dozens of new words each day without even making a concerted effort--it's enough to give even the brightest mind a headache. To the contrary, we're probably forgetting as many words every day as they're learning. Well, some of us, anyway.

Max is in that stage now, and every day he supplies us with head-turning moments, like today when he and I returned to the Oakland Zoo's parking lot (don't worry--no Occupy protesters are camping out there) and as we approached my car, he said to me, clear as day, "daddy's car." I almost spit soda all over his face.

That said, toddlers don't typically get words right the first time--it's more of an evolutionary process in which a sound becomes a couple of rough syllables which then become a toddler-ized version of the word. Case in point, Max's pronunciation of the word "clock." He learned this word probably two months ago, and yet he still is completely unable to incorporate the "l", leading to many hilariously embarrassing scenes--such as walking through Costco and listening as Max, believing the round thermometer in every fridge to be a time-keeping device, blurts out "COCK!" at the top of his lungs over and over again.

It's pretty clear toddlers get a free pass for this sort of thing, as Max gets nothing but smiles from even the most stone-faced old women. I think you can picture what what happen if I blurted the word cock out loud repeatedly in a store. Suffice it to say, handcuffs would probably be involved.

Another example is "bodadda", which as any person with half a brain can surely figure out is toddler for "motorcycle." It's amazing how quickly the adult brain adapts to hearing "bodadda," calmly handing the child his prized motorcycle with each utterance of bodadda, as if it's the most natural pronunciation imaginable.

One of my favorites is "Eddie," which happens to be the name of Max's grandpa, my dad. Surely by now you've deduced that this actually means "airplane"--what else? But given that my dad is known to be a bit, uh, spacey, watching Max look to the sky and excitedly chant "Eddie!" is an endless source of amusement for me. He has no idea how apropos this particular toddlerization is.

What really gets me, though, is that even as Sarah and I are constantly entertained by the various Maxisms we're treated to each day, it's the words he says correctly that end up wearing out their welcome. In a recent post, I regaled you about Max's use of the word "apple." Sadly, that hasn't stopped--it remains a stand-in for expressing general hunger, or identifying foods he doesn't know the names of. But at least his universe of food words is constantly expanding--the list now includes cheese ("tees"), animal cookies ("ammo COO-kie", with the "COO" being emphasized with a big rise in his voice), avocado ("a-doh-a-doh", or the like) and orange ("oh-gee").

Getting back to his worn-out words, I could do without ever hearing the word "car" again. He says it with such relentless regularity that I try to ignore it--naturally, with little success. Toddlers do not take ignoring well. In any case, we must have about 93 toy cars of varying types around the house, and every time he picks one up--no, make that every time he sees one--no, make that every time he THINKS about one--he says "car" repeatedly until Sarah or I give him proper recognition. There's a demon-father inside of me who'd love to pull a Sid (from Toy Story) and blow up one toy car every time Max says the word. But that would be cruel. At least, that's what people tell me.

So for the time being, I'll have to resign myself to attempting (again, unsuccessfully) to block out these toddler mantras, and focus on those golden moments when, for the first time, he attempts to say a word--or manages to say it perfectly. But you'll have to excuse me now--the cock is telling me it's time for some apple.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

How to Avoid Really Screwing Up Your Child

Anyone considering becoming a parent for the first time should be clear about the one absolute truth of parenting (and, for that matter, life in general): No one escapes unscathed.

Having a child means having your emotions rubbed raw like never before. You'll feel love and hate, joy and sadness, affection and suffocation, pleasure and pain, all to degrees that will shock you. You'll have your heart lifted one moment, and stomped upon the next. Your good intentions will frequently be received with all the love and acceptance one could hope for; other times those same intentions will be thrown back in your face with an added dose of vitriol. You'll be alternately depended upon and disdained.

In other words, get ready for one wild ride.

This (re-)occurred to me as I've been digesting the wedding I attended this past weekend. The betrothed--Sarah's niece and her high-school sweetheart--are a very nice couple. They both are launching careers in fields that are always in demand: She's a registered nurse, he's an electrician. The thing is this: She's 21, and he's just a year or two older. And no matter how much they love each other, how strong their relationship is now, I'm painfully aware of the odds being stacked against them. They barely know themselves--who does at 21?--and are certain to evolve in significant ways over the coming years. Some parts of that evolution will make them stronger, some will push them part. And as we all know, young married couples have a habit of making babies, and as we all also know, babies change EVERYthing. (I won't even get into the lunacy of having a baby in the hopes it will smooth over problems in a marriage.)

Most couples in their 20s--especially those in their early 20s--are simply not equipped to deal with the range and depth of emotions having a child triggers. They've never imagined the intensity of love and devotion and responsibility and exhaustion and stress that parenthood delivers to one's doorstep. I know this from experience--when I was 27, my then-future stepdaughter (who was in her teens) came to me with news that she was pregnant. I won't bore you with the details, other than to say I was sadly unprepared for this situation and handled it brutally, nearly destroying my relationship with my wife-to-be in the process. (In retrospect, that might have been a good thing, but that's beside the point.)

Granted, I'm not advocating people do what Sarah and I have done--have a child at the dawn of our middle-aged years. It's the opposite of having a child in your early 20s--instead of being emotionally challenged, you're physically challenged. I'm not sure which is worse sometimes, for the parent, that is. For the child, there's no question in my mind--what you can do for them emotionally is far more important.

I guess what I'm saying is--and perhaps the newlyweds will end up reading this, in which case they can take it as advice--the most important thing you can do for your future offspring is make sure you're both as prepared for the emotional roller-coaster as possible. That means giving your marriage time to ensure it's solid enough to survive the gauntlet that is parenthood. Your children will thank you when they become well-adjusted people with parents who understand themselves and each other.

Case in point: The day after the wedding, as we were preparing to return home, my mother-in-law started working on Sarah, trying to convince her to leave Max with grandma for a few days, after which we'd return to pick him up. (We live less than 100 miles apart.) As Sarah resisted, MIL turned up the guilt-infused pressure, and eventually wore mom down. So we drove off without Max, and the transition into our few days of toddler-less life was not easy for Sarah. She was jittery and nervous, and seemed poised to return the following day. But as time went by, she settled into her brief respite, and we've had a wonderful few days without Max. I believe that if we'd been much younger, Sarah would have had a much harder time letting go, even temporarily, and providing her with the right emotional support would have been a challenge for me.

The payoff will be this: Mom and Dad will have had a much needed break, as well as a chance to spend quiet, quality time together; the mother-child bond will have grown even stronger (that whole absence makes the heart grow fonder thing); and Max will have started developing his sense of independence at an early age. Win-win-win.

Contrast this with what likely would have happened if were were 15-20 years younger: Sarah would never have relaxed, and I'd have said all the wrong things, resulting in a healthy dose of marital conflict being piled on top of mom's mounting panic and guilt. Then she'd probably have returned to get Max after a day, angering her mom and robbing Max of that all-important independence development.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

A Simple Answer Never Sounded So Good

Yesterday evening sure seemed pretty typical on the surface. I was preparing dinner (white bass sauteed in a Japanese soy-mirin-ginger marinade over quinoa), while Max was playing in the next room, Sarah was at a Pilates session, and Jackson was out skateboarding. At some point, I realized I hadn't heard anything from Max in a few minutes, so I called out to him, asking what he was doing. Until very recently, those calls were totally futile, with him lost in his own little world, and my voice flying over his head unnoticed. In recent days, he'd at least had the good sense to make some kind of sound, letting me know he was alive and well.

But at this particular moment last night, the quantum leap many parents dream about finally occurred, totally unexpectedly. (Let's face it--no matter how many kids you have, all the big advances remain fresh, earth-changing moments.) As I waited for a response that would prevent me from having to march into the living room to verify Max's whereabouts, the answer came back at me, loud and clear: "Bookie!" This is, of course, his toddler version of "book," and I had to make sure what had happened was as meaningful as it seemed. I shuttled out of the kitchen, peered around the corner, and saw him sitting in our leather chair, book in his lap, just as peaceful as could be. Upon sensing my presence, he looked up at me, book held in both hands, and flashed an expression that seemed to say, "yes, Father? Is there something else you need? I'm a bit busy right now."

And with that, the barriers to communication began their precarious fall. To be fair, Max has been answering questions for a couple of weeks now, offering up simple responses such as shaking or nodding his head, or saying something like "apple"--which, per my previous post, remains his code word doubling for both "food" and "hungry." But this--answering a question decisively from the next room--was a major step toward the day when we'll have real, substantive conversation.

Of course, first we'll have to get him to stop throwing himself on the floor in a pool of distraught protest every time something doesn't go his way, but hey, no one said it was gonna be easy. So, first we put a stop to the toddler tantrums, and then we can move on to debating the finer points of existentialism. No need to be impatient.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Did Someone Say Apple?

Ever have one of those days when some cheesy '70s tune, or worse yet, the Elmo's World theme song, just will not leave your head? Y'know, you find yourself singing, humming or even whistling the insidious melody subconsciously, in your car, while on hold, as you cook dinner, during lovemaking…okay, so maybe I get this worse than the rest of you, but I'm sure you get my point.

Well, as I've learned of late, it's possible to have a similar experience with a word. Employing meticulous methods of scientific research (i.e., me, sitting in our leather chair and fiddling with my laptop while Max tears the living room apart), I have discovered that if one hears the word "apple" more than 900 times in a day, a state of temporary insanity is induced. This happened to me the other day, while Sarah was at work. (Not sure I've mentioned this before, but she's an O.R. nurse at a major Bay Area hospital.) I'm not sure when it happened exactly, but at some point, I found myself dreaming up some pretty sadistic uses for a Granny Smith.

It's really quite amazing how quickly a word can evolve from adorable new novelty act to exasperatingly mind-numbing torture device. A week ago, if Max said "apple," I ran for my camera. At some point today, he said "apple" and I kicked the dog. To be fair, it should be noted that Max isn't meaning to be repetitious—he apparently has "apple" confused with "food," or perhaps "eat", because he said it about every single item at the expansive produce store in our neighborhood. The faster I moved in an effort to distract him, the faster he let the "apples" rip.

In keeping with my recently adopted "burning at both ends" theme, it's occurred to me that Max saying "apple" 78 times in 30 seconds isn't unlike Jackson asking me for money dozens of time during a single summer morning. Actually, at least the toddler has the advantage of cuteness. Jackson is certainly more fragrant, but that hardly works in his favor, as anyone who lives with a 14-year-old boy would surely attest.

Yep, that's right, I said 14. Because, as it just so happens, today is Jackson's birthday. Not that the number 14 sets off some kind of longevity alarm, but each passing year of his life seems to be a more powerful reminder than my own birthdays are that I'm getting older. Somethings happens to us when we have that first child; it's a dividing line separating two completely divergent lives—the parent, and whatever it was that came before. I can barely remember that Tony now. I think he went through a lot of jobs and was completely flummoxed by women. But he had a lot of fun, too.

Some days, when my skull is ringing from the repetitive stresses of having kids, I wonder what the hell I was thinking all those years ago. But then I see Jackson's face light up when he's happy or Max being the goofy, hilarious, uninhibited toddler most of us wish we could still be, and it's all worth it. Well, all of it except that damned Elmo's World theme. Holy crap, I hate that freakin' tune.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Telling Teens and Toddlers Apart: A Primer

Quiz time: If a teen whines and a toddler screams in the forest, do the trees start making themselves martinis? Answer: If the trees know what's good for them.

I make this point--that martinis and parenting are among the most logical bedfellows this life offers--as a way of introducing a new direction for this blog. It occurred to me recently that after 18 months of sporadically documenting my adventures parenting a baby for the second time, I've under-emphasized perhaps my greatest source of material, namely my first baby, Jackson, age 13 years, 10 months, 19 days.

(I wanted to give this reborn blog a new name: Burning at Both Ends. Alas, that name was taken by another blogspotter, and since I have no interest in moving my personal blogging to another platform, I await the next title to wash over me. Suggestions are enthusiastically welcome.)

More than anything, it has become impossible to ignore the numerous similarities between teens and toddlers. To wit:

-Both are in a state of testing limits almost constantly--one might not check in for seven or eight hours despite clear direction not to let that happen, the other will stand on a rickety chair amid a shower of "No!"s.

-Both are experiencing intense frustration over what they're not permitted to do, or what someone won't do for them, and are willing to throw serious tantrums to express their displeasure.

-Both accumulate an amazing assortment of bumps, bruises, cuts and abrasions pretty much every day--one while endlessly practicing increasingly insane skateboard tricks, and the other by walking into, falling off of or tripping over pretty much everything in his way.

-Both can be impossible at the dinner table, with one turning down foods based on pre-judgments and exhibiting the manners of the Tazmanian Devil, and the other flinging plates, cups, silverware, condiments, lazy Susans--whatever he can grab--onto the floor.

-Perhaps most importantly, both present constant foes to my every need, whether it be by asking for rides or waking up from naps at the most inopportune moments, or ripping through a moment of peace by peppering me with a sudden barrage of rapid-fire questions or throwing a Tonka Toy over the back of the couch onto my face.

I could go on, but the point is that this laundry list of converging realities must be mined for maximum insight and entertainment. That is what I plan to make my mission from this point forward. But right now there's a rare moment of quiet in the house. It will end, abruptly, at any moment. I must use it to recharge my batteries for the next round of battle.

(UPDATE 10 min later)
Random unrelated thought: Doesn't my 13-year-old realize the irony of using Axe's "Dark Temptation" soap once every 3-4 days? Trust me, by day 3, the audience of those "tempted" consists of a stray dog, a family of racoons, and 73 cockroaches.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Time to Pay the Piper

As we are now in Max's 18th month, certain behaviors are starting to crop up, making the parenting job a wee more challenging, and reminding me why I've been so panic-stricken about the prospect of having another. (A prospect, for the record, that appears to have evaporated as Sarah has finally had her come-to-Jesus realizations about how draining parenting is.)

Mind you, these behaviors are completely normal, and quite often side-splittingly hilarious. But they are also the reason that parents with toddlers have little choice but to live like participants in a witness protection program, holed up inside, afraid to go out into the world lest they become the helpless victims of a public catastrophe.

Consider the traditional battleground of restaurants. It should be noted here that Sarah and I like to eat out. A lot. We live in an area that affords so much choice, we can revel in exposing Max (and to a lesser degree, Jackson) in a procession of international foods: Mexican (traditional or taqueria style), Thai, Indo-Nepalese, northern Chinese, Italian, Ethiopian, Middle Eastern, Japanese, Vietnamese--you name it, it's probably within 5 minutes of us. And I didn't even mention burgers, which are a to-go staple for just about any house with a 13-year-old boy in it.

So the other night, Sarah makes it clear she doesn't want to-go, she wants to venture out into the world and be waited on, so we head to Barney's, a nearby gourmet burger place. Prior to this meal, Max had become a bit louder in restaurants, but nothing unmanageable. He'd also been developing a habit of flirting with pretty much any woman he sees. On this night, it all kicked into overdrive. We were confronted with 45 minutes of him bending and contorting to see women all over the restaurant. To get their attention, he screams joyously, or grunts loudly, looking at us every so often for our reaction. Which I'm sure is a cross between amusement, horror, frustration and resignation. 'Cause those are pretty much the stages you go through. First, you find it funny as he flirts, lets out chirp-like screams and bats his little eyes. But soon the screams are louder and longer and coming more frequently, and no matter what you do or say, the child doesn't stop. Then the horror sets in as you realize that any hope you had of a civilized meal was clearly a delusion. The frustration arrives as you helplessly try to allay the situation, quickly discovering that if there's one thing you can't do with toddlers, it's allay them. At last, you settle back into your meal, oddly content to eat with one hand while using the other to fight off what seems like a demon with 43 arms sitting in the high chair next to you. Dishes fly, crayons get thrown, food gets spread all over the table, other diners look on in shock, and all the while you're stuffing fries and bites of burger into your mouth, hoping to polish off your plate before the demon decides to begin the real meltdown.

Naturally, that meltdown came at Barney's as we were waiting for the check. This is relatively good news, because with us both having moved on to the indigestion portion of our meal experience, Sarah is now free to take Max's path of destruction onto the street. Meanwhile, I deal with the bill and provide the appropriately apologetic body language when staff arrive at our table to discover the devastation they'll have to clean up.

Things are no less insane on the home front now, where the once smooth napping schedule has been thrown into disarray and no one is safe from the barrage of objects and little hands that come flying at us throughout the day. Yesterday, Max packed this all into a watershed afternoon marked by two failed nap attempts and, ultimately, a reluctant nap that came only after after Sarah went out to run a couple of errands and I left him in his crib babbling and yelping for well over an hour. (A guy's gotta get some things done!)

Sometime after we'd lost the second battle to get him to nap, he achieved a new record--seven consecutive timeouts for hitting Mommy, after each of which he'd run straight back to Sarah, who was lying on the couch, to whack her boobs with the full force of both of his little palms. Needless to say, we had a very hard time keeping straight faces by the time we got to the fourth or fifth timeout. But we did our best to keep a united, stone-faced front, hoping (dreaming?) that our program would eventually spur behavior change.

The little twist in all of this is that Max definitely saves his worst, most defiant behavior for when Sarah's home. When she goes to work, as she did today, he's a little angel for me. He went to bed for a nap an hour ago, very easily, and I haven't heard a peep from him. He'll probably sleep 2-3 hours, and wake up with a big smile. I'm sure this quirk has everything to do with the intense mother-child connection. While I'm often envious of that connection, it's times like these when I'm grateful not to have it.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Short-Attention-Span Parenting

I've always been a big fan of the three-dot column, and it has occurred to me that I might be able to ride that approach to more frequent posts here...so here goes...

Max woke up at 5:30 this morning, screaming his lungs out, which is highly unusual (the 5:30 part, not the screaming). After 5-10 minutes with no end in sight, Sarah brought him to bed with us, which calmed him down, but he proceeded to lay there, wide awake, grabbing at my beard, cooing, and generally showing no signs of sleepiness. Unfortunately for him, we do NOT wake up that early, and we were not about to start today, so I decided to put him back in his crib, which was not a popular decision with him at all. I told Sarah to be strong, which she was, and after another 5-10 minutes of screaming, blissful silence arrived. The payoff? He slept until after 9...when he's not sleeping, he's engaging in his new favorite routine, which is to find something in the house he's not supposed to have, grab it, and run away from us, and then, when we finally corral him and take it away, drop to the floor and bang his head once in protest. It's absolutely hilarious...also hilarious is his new penchant for walking around the house with his hands linked behind his back. When he's wearing his little cap and jacket, he looks like a tiny old man waiting to head to Denny's for the early-bird dinner special...

Yesterday, while Sarah and Max were visiting the Little Farm in Berkeley's Tilden Park, a bigger toddler put his hand on Max, extended his arm, and instructed, "Move!" To which Max apparently responded in a state of semi-shock, mouth agape. Get ready for more of this, buddy--toddlers are a brutal bunch, and I'm sure you'll do your share of unintended bullying before all's said and done...for now, however, he's content to bully us. Every day brings timeouts for smacking Daddy in the face or pulling Mommy's hair. What a little meanie!...To the rest of the world, he's still an angel, though. Everywhere we go, people comment on his beauty, fueling my joking insistence that we have a DNA test to prove he's mine...then he goes and bangs his head against something, and I feel a lot better.

One of my favorite little behaviors he's taken on is each night, when Sarah or I tell him it's time for his milk, he eagerly runs into his room and attempts to lay down in his milk-drinking position on his boppy (a horseshoe-shaped nursing pillow, for the uninitiated)...this is contrasted by the hitting and hair-pulling. Or the growing tendency to dribble whatever liquid is in his sippy cup all over the house. Or his fascination with banging hard toys against our carefully painted doors. Or his seemingly unstoppable habit of throwing whatever food he either is done with or doesn't like onto the floor...of course, a few minutes later, he's stealing all of our hearts again by bouncing from Sarah to me to Jackson, lips puckered, collecting as many kisses as he can, and making the "mmmmmmwah!" sound every time...in case it's not obvious, toddlers are a schizophrenic experience...no wonder our martini hours seem to have progressed from a couple of nights a week to a nightly ritual...in fact, how many hours til the next one?

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Screw Disneyland: I'm Taking My Toddler to Ikea!

The management would like to apologize for the unnecessarily maudlin nature of the previous post. Those responsible have been sacked. We now return you to your regularly scheduled slice-of-life programming...

Lately, I've been taking Max to the nearby YMCA for a morning "baby gym" session. For the uninitiated, the Y's baby gym essentially consists of a basketball gym lined with padded floor covers and filled with all sorts of baby-friendly objects--padded things to climb on, small musical instruments to shake, and more plastic vehicles and rockers than I've seen in one place, Toys R Us included.

This week things changed, though. Max, who started taking his first tentative steps about a month ago, is now close to full-time walking, and that gave this week's baby gym visit a whole new air of discovery, as Max walked quickly from one thing or person to another, pointing at each and exclaiming, "Gah!" He also got into several tiny conflicts over toys, although by conflict I merely mean that he and another kid both had their hands on something for a brief moment before the stronger (or more determined?) of the two ripped it away. It seems there's a direct relationship between the ability to walk and the propensity to get into conflicts over possessions. Who knew?

Toward the end of the class, I overheard another dad telling his son, who was about 18 months old, that they had to pick up a friend and head to the nearby Lawrence Berkeley Hall of Science. Being the sheepish, demure soul that I am, I immediately blurted out, "Hey, dude, is that a good place to take kids this age?" as I pointed at Max, hopeful that I had an exciting rainy day option. The other dad gave me one of those uncertain "eh" expressions, and said it was borderline. But then, as if he were reading my mind, he offered up a thoroughly unexpected suggestion. "If you really want him to have fun on rainy days, take him to Ikea."

Normally, I'd grab a nearby sock filled with horse manure and smack the guy in the head with it. Take my son to one of modern society's great symbols of cost-conscious materialism? But with the relentlessly persistent rain we've had the last few weeks, coupled with the fact that we are the walking definition of house rich and cash poor these days, I was pretty receptive to new ideas.

The next day, I awoke to--surprise!--more rain, and declared that I would take Max to Ikea and test that dad's advice. Sarah would be working a 12-hour shift, and sitting around the house throughout a bleak day sounded like a recipe for a daddy vs. toddler war. Rather than peel food off the kitchen wall, try to stop Max from bashing his toys against doors and windows, and rescue numerous objects from almost certain breakage, I'd unleash my little terrorist on the unsuspecting displays of the Emeryville Ikea.

Well, I'm here to report, that dad's suggestion was a smash hit. It started when we arrived and went directly to the Ikea cafe. (And let's face it, the only reason men eagerly agree to go to Ikea with their wives is the knowledge that there's a delicious plate of Swedish meatballs and mashed potatoes in the offing.) I ordered myself the aforementioned meatball plate, and got Max a kids' mac-n-cheese plate, which comes with steamed veggies. I also got myself a green salad, a soda, and a large dark chocolate bar, and the total cost was just over $9. But I digress.

I balanced my tray on the sun cover of the stroller, pushed Max to a window-facing table, and settled in for our meal. Not only did Max devour every last morsel on his plate, there was a major bonus: The cafe at the Ikea in Emeryville overlooks the MacArthur Maze, one of the country's biggest freeway intersections, which rests at the eastern end of the Bay Bridge. Max was mesmerized as he ate, and watched countless trucks go roaring by and under and over the various freeway ramps. When he wasn't watching trucks, he was gawking at our fellow diners (yelling "gah!" throughout), and marveling at the exposed ceiling rafters and other architectural design elements. In case it's not clear, I have a very observant little monster on my hands.

After lunch, we moseyed through the store, lingering longer in the children's section, of course. All the while, Max was beyond entertained. He was visibly ecstatic to put his new powers of exploration--i.e. walking--to use, Frankensteining his way from one bin to another, stopping to point and declare "gah!" at every new product we came across. Naturally, I couldn't resist buying him an adorable stuffed hippo that was priced at a ridiculously low $15 considering how well it's made.

During our adventure, we came across numerous toddlers with their moms in tow (no dads, though). And if there was any doubt we were all there for the same reason, it was erased by one of the moms I walked by as we exchanged knowing glances at each other: "Best rainy day park ever," she said.

I certainly can't argue with that. And the meatballs don't hurt either.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

This is One Parent Who's Not Feeling Funny

I like to try to be at least somewhat funny in my posts here, but these days, I just don't feel funny. It's hard to look around at the world today and maintain one's sense of humor. The headlines read more and more like end-of-the-world stuff--wars breaking out all over the Middle East, crazy natural disasters occurring with increased frequency, a state of persistent financial crises, the very public meltdown of Charlie Sheen--okay, so there are still some things to laugh about.

But my point is, here I am, watching this little toddler turning into a person, and I can't help but wonder what we've brought him into. It's hard to imagine what the world will be like when Max is my age. It's even harder to imagine things will turn out well. This was the theme of an ongoing discussion I had with a buddy during a two-day ski trip earlier this week. After listening to my gloomy predictions, he declared me the most pessimistic person he knows, but I beg to disagree. I'm not pessimistic, I'm realistic. I have plenty of reasons not to have faith that humankind can dig out from under the mess we've created.

While driving home from our trip, my friend said he believes that by the time Max is an old man, we'll have inhabited other solar systems. Naturally, I told him he was nuts, that we'll never come up with the money, and that it was more likely that some feudal, post-apocalyptic society awaits us. Then again, maybe I've just seen too many doomsday-themed movies.

But the real question is, does any of this even matter? Should I fret about what the world will be like in 80 years, or just accept the relentless march toward whatever awaits us, and hope that I can help Jackson and Max to be decent people who do what they can to help our species continue to evolve?

In our day-to-day lives, I try to keep myself focused on the immediate tasks before me--meeting deadlines to make ends meet, enjoying and investing in my relationship with Sarah, trying my best to love Jackson and Max as much as possible, enjoying the time I get to spend with family and close friends. I try not to dwell on the fact that I may one day be deemed professionally obsolete; that Sarah and I inevitably will have to say goodbye to each other; that huge parts of Jackson's and Max's lives will unfold after I'm gone; or that, if I'm lucky, I will one day watch helplessly as family members and friends meet their makers.

Likewise, in my role as a parent, I realize that I have no choice but to block out all of the menacing developments rising around us, and to focus on getting Jackson and Max through each day relatively unscathed. I have to accept that I have no control over whether one of the many enemies of the United States might blow up an airport or a bridge or a sports stadium. I can't prevent the huge earthquake that will inevitably rock the Bay Area and may or may not leave our neighborhood intact. And I certainly can't do anything to redistribute the disgusting amounts of wealth that our richest corporations are sitting on.

All I can control is my little family, and even on that small scale, my hold is tenuous. But I'm going to keep holding on for dear life, because nothing else is more important. I'm not about to let a little global chaos derail my efforts at successfully launching these two boys into adulthood--not to mention keeping Sarah, my partner in life, feeling safe and loved along the way. Here's hoping I get to finish the job.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Anxiety-Free Parenting? Not Possible

First things first: I was horrified to realize just now that my last post came just a few days after Max's first birthday, yet I didn't mark the occasion. That's dads for ya--birthdays are forgotten quickly. Conversely, Mom is probably already planning for next year. Of course, having a birthday on December 22 is a tricky affair, and we celebrated with a very small party a few weeks before Max turned 1, and then watched as relatives showered him with more gifts over the holidays to create what I just might get Max to call "SuperChristmas."

But I digress. The point of my post today is anxiety--mine. For the first time in years, it's reaching a crescendo, and in their own ways, my two offspring have a lot to do with it. Not that it's their fault, but they're fueling it in different ways.

Let's start with Jackson. To put it bluntly, he's breaking my heart, perhaps unwittingly. It's hard to know if a 13-year-old is saying and doing things to hurt their parent(s), or if they simply don't know any better. Yesterday, Jackson returned home after being gone 30-plus hours hanging and having a sleepover with with his skate-punk crew, and naturally, I was forced to do some nagging when he got here. There were chores to do, responsibilities to tackle, things that needed to be discussed--you know, a teen's favorite assortment of topics.

Needless to say, the evening didn't go well. It started with Jackson demonstrating his typically picky and frustrating eating habits, declining to indulge in leftovers, declaring that he wasn't that hungry, and instead focusing on downing half of a batch of Pillsbury crescent rolls--not exactly the path to health and mindfulness. Later, just before his bedtime, he announced that NOW he was hungry, to which we said, okay, eat something of nutritional value. In other words, not the chips he was pestering me to let him eat.

After eating a pile of salami and an apple, which he declared "not filling at all", he started asking for chips again. I said no, and now I was pot committed. There was no way he was getting chips, even if he was buying in at a table in Vegas. I suggested a number of other, healthier choices he could have, none of which met his needs at the moment. After much drama from him about developing a headache and feeling nauseous, I stood my ground, and tried to give him a hug good night, which was greeted by zombie arms. He absolutely refused to hug me back, and while this has happened before, this time it was different. This time, it was clear we'd gotten to the point where he really can't stand me. And as much as I know you're not supposed to be your teen's friend, it's still a very hard adjustment trying to accept that your teen really doesn't like you, and probably won't for several years. Oh, goody. There goes the rest of my 40s.

Now, that brings us to Max. Wonderful, joyous, amazing little Max. (Before you say anything, I used to describe Jackson in such glowing terms--the hedonistic little suckers, as the author of a parenting book I've been reading likes to call them, really wear you down over the years.) Max's role in my anxiety is much more indirect. When I see Max, I can't help but see years of servitude. I think of our gigantic mortgage, and whether we can afford it in the long term. I think of a second child who has to be clothed and fed and taken on vacations, who will one day become a disaffected teen himself and probably need braces and, hopefully, go to college. I think of the fact that one year in, we have yet to save a dime for him. And I think of Sarah's burning desire to have one more--a playmate for Max, and (perhaps, if we're very lucky) the girl we both would love to raise.

Draped across these overarching parenting concerns are a litany of related personal anxieties--worries about having enough business to continue paying the mortgage, and about whether I even want to stay on my current career path. Worries about Sarah's desire to go back to school to get a master's degree so she can be a nurse practitioner and get out of the operating room, a path made more likely given some nagging minor back issues that are lingering in the wake of a minor car accident last year.

Ah, Sarah. She's not off the hook, either, but rather is a source of unintended anxiety beyond her career conundrum. Every day I'm reminded that I made the decision to again hitch my trailer to another person--albeit a MUCH easier person to co-exist with--and that this means a lot of compromise about everything. Compromise about how money gets used, how we spend our days, what color a room will be, what's for dinner--the usual. It's stuff any sane person should expect to be part of a long-term relationship, and make no mistake, we compromise very well. But it's still stuff that can cause anxiety at times, and let's not forget she and I are only three years into this crazy journey.

And then there are the anxieties that have only to do with myself--the overwhelming sense of failure to make the kind of artistic impact (either through music or writing) I always envisioned. The projects I've conceived but never actually worked on. The saxophone gathering dust in my basement. The glorious travels I always desired but have never been able to make happen on the scale I pictured.

In time, these anxieties will wash away--this knowledge is what separates me from people who lose themselves in their anxieties. I know that all of my worries are temporary. Either the situations will solve themselves, or I'll grow more comfortable with them, or I'll simply learn, again, how to contend with them.

Of course, I have to get from here to there, and therein lies the rub. In the meantime, I think I'll go join Max in playing with his toys. There's no anxiety in that.