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.