Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Calling for Patience in Reacting to Newtown





It’s impossible to be a parent and not have a strong, emotional reaction to what happened last week in Newtown, Conn. The idea that a 20-year-old man—regardless of how sick he was—could walk into an elementary school and use assault weapons to execute 20 six- and seven-year-olds is a beast to get one’s mind around.

The really scary thing is this: kids getting shot is nothing new. Ask anyone who lives in the rough parts of Oakland, where a cadre of young children were innocent victims of drive-by shootings on the streets in late 2011—a six-year-old out for a shopping stroll with his family; a five-year-old whose only mistake was joining his father for a quick stop at the family’s taqueria when a hail of gunfire claimed him; and an 11-month-old (!), who was in his father’s arms at a rap video shoot in a liquor store parking lot when a bullet passed through his neck.

Or the families of the 180 American children 11-year-old or under that the Centers for Disease Control reported killed by gunshot during 2010. Or the 85 American preschoolers—85!—who died by gunshot during 2007, according to the Children’s Defense Fund. (To put that in perspective, during the same year only 57 law enforcement officers were killed in the line of duty.)

In fact, David Hemenway, a Harvard professor of health policy and director of the Harvard Injury Control Research Center, told The New York Times earlier this year, "Children ages 5 to 14 in the United States are 13 times as likely to be killed with guns as children in other industrialized countries.”

Yikes.

No wonder my brother, Greg, posted this search for sanity on Facebook over he weekend: “...I have spent the entire day on the edge of constant tears. And I want to do something about it, but I just don't know what. The only thing I can do right now is to urge every one I know to think about what they can do. Let's start a conversation. This is the place to start. All I know is that something needs to be done. Does anyone have any suggestions? I know that I can write my congressman about my outrage, but will that be enough? I'm just at a loss right now and I need all of your help.”

I haven’t commented on the post because it’s such a personal topic that generates such emotional responses, and I know my posts can sometimes come off as the proverbial sharp stick poking the angry animal. And as much as I understand Greg’s reaction—and EVERYONE’s reactions—to the unspeakable evil that erupted at Sandy Hook Elementary School, my reaction has been quite different. Because I don’t think there’s a damned thing we can do. Who are we supposed to feel outrage at? Do we really expect a privileged club of (mostly) pontificating old men in suits to protect our children from random maniacs? Fat chance.

While that may sound cynical, my feelings are more reflective of what I believe is a need to accept the risks of living in this crazy free-for-all of a society that we’ve chosen to create. You cannot give millions upon millions of people the right to defend themselves and then think you can stop the one-in-a-million sicko from carrying out a fiendish plot. And if it wasn’t guns, it would have been a crossbow, or explosives, or a chemical weapon.

(I have to disclose here that this fatalistic response contrasts with the devastation I felt after hearing of the Aurora, Colo., movie theater massacre. Perhaps the newness of a movie theater getting shot up shocked me in a whole new way, whereas I’m apparently braced for school shootings, which have become sickeningly commonplace.)

What’s more, if there’s one way to make what transpired in Newtown even more repulsive, it’s to take advantage of this emotionally moment for the country for political gains, like we should just start flailing, pointlessly, at an enemy—psychosis—we can’t understand or control, and that will pop up violently at random, infrequent intervals for as long as our species survives.

I was pretty disgusted Sunday night when, after a much needed two-day national discussion, about 20 people gathered at a neighbors home to have a potluck and watch the Patriots-49ers game and try to have some frivolity, and a few minutes into the game, the evening was interrupted by a live broadcast of President Obama’s speech from the vigil at Newtown High School. And I felt even more disgusted that I was disgusted. It was a horrible event that justified the gravity, no doubt. And it was clear the President was really hurting. But somehow it felt political to have the whole thing forced down our throats as millions of us gathered in front of televisions to escape, not be reminded.

I couldn’t help but think it was a thinly veiled attempt to nudge our sympathies in order to gain support for an eventual agenda. And even if it’s a noble agenda, the timing of it is wrong-headed. Next thing you know, we’ll have locked-down schools, kids being frisked every morning, armed guards being placed at school entrances—oh, wait, we already have that at many schools. Sigh.

Don’t get me wrong. There will be a time to act. But now is not that time, because action will require politics, and now is definitely not the time to be politicizing what is clearly a hot-button issue. Now is the time to mourn and process and reflect. Anyone of sound mind will tell you that when you’re mourning the loss of a close loved one, the last thing you should be doing is making any big decisions. The emotions that accompany grief just aren’t conducive to effective decision-making. Knee-jerk over-reactions occur. I know. I’m the reigning King of Knee-Jerk Over-Reactions. Knee-jerk reacting is exactly what we did in the wake of 9/11, when we let our emotions get the best of us and our leadership foisted upon us dangerous legislation that ate away at fundamental rights we’re still trying hard to regain.

I know it’s easy to intellectualize the events of last Friday in this fashion when I’m not one of the parents in Newtown who are enduring a hell no one should experience. I’m sure if I was one of them, or someone who knew one of them, I would be calling for blood. And yes, re-instituting the ban on assault weapons would seem to be a start. But perhaps more than that is needed, and by quickly passing that through, we might, at the least, make it less likely agreement will be reached on additional action. At worst, we could begin a path that leads to another attack on personal liberties for the sake of security.

Instead, let’s all just pause, think about the victims, maybe try to get to know a little about who they were, and pay tribute to them in our own little ways. Then, in time, we should engage in meaningful discussion about mental illness and the need to reach out more effectively to those who have it. And we should have healthy debates about our gun laws so that we can all further develop our thinking about them and how they should be altered. Then, when everyone’s calmed down a bit, we can start making some decisions. Good, sound decisions. The foundation of effective parenting, and, presumably, of effective governing.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

So THIS is What Parenting a Baby is Really Like

I tried so hard to hold my ground last year as Sarah and her mom worked me relentlessly on the topic of Sarah and me having a second child together. I kept saying I was due for a difficult baby (both Jackson and Max were incredibly easy babies and awesome sleepers), and that having two little ones would be exponentially more difficult. They told me I was worrying for nothing, that another child would probably be just as cooperative as Max, that it was critical we give him a playmate--preferably a girl.

Guess who turned out to be right? 

I realize it's early, and once things settle down I can draw new conclusions…but so far, the verdict is in, and William is definitely a "fussy" baby. Six weeks in, and he has yet to sleep more than 3 hours in a row, and even that's quite rare.  It's too early to declare him colicky--we're both holding out hope that his fussiness will subside over the next week or two. As it stands now, Sarah spends most nights up and down, up and down, generously allowing me to sleep because when morning comes, Max will be my responsibility. Then, most days, William fusses throughout the day, falling asleep for brief moments in our arms and then awakening again as soon as we try to put him down.

For 15 years, I've wondered what other parents were doing wrong that was preventing their children--and them--from sleeping consistently.  For 15 years, I've been thankful that I wasn't being subjected to the kind of exhaustion so many parents lament. For 15 years, I've lived in la-la land. Welcome to reality, Tony. Sleepus interruptus has officially arrived in the form of William Oliver, and it's as hard as I'd feared and imagined. Harder, even.

Having a fussy baby and a pre-schooler at the same time has now moved high on my list of things I wouldn't wish on my worst enemies. In fact, I think our approach to jurisprudence needs to be rethought. Never mind prison--I say that when people are convicted of horrible crimes, they should be punished by having to raise a fussy baby and a rebellious pre-schooler for as long as a judge decrees. Believe me, anyone forced to do such penance will be transformed. I know I am.

There is nothing quite so frustrating as spending hours of your life desperately trying to get a baby to sleep--walking, singing, coddling, swaddling, feeding, burning, bouncing, patting--and then, when it seems the little one is down for the count, you try to put him down, oh so gently, so as not to disturb him, only to watch in horror as within seconds he's squirming and whining, and that fantasy of a few quiet moments to lie down in peace goes up in flames.

Yes, these are the times that try men's souls. I'd say they're the times that try women's souls, too, but let's face it--moms are better equipped to deal with fussy babies. The physical and emotional ties that bind baby and mother together enable mom to deal with sleep deprivation and round-the-clock fussiness with more patience and understanding that I could ever muster. Me, I find myself going all Samuel L. Jackson on the little sucker, letting loose with regular choruses of "Please go the fuck to sleep!"

So there you have it--one 46-year-old dad's struggle to cope with a house where sleep is elusive, a pre-schooler demands round-the-clock entertainment and attention, and an exhausted wife walks the house like a zombie wondering what hit her.

I know it all sounds so good that you wish you could change places with me. Sorry, you'll just have to be satisfied being stuck in your peaceful, sleep-filled, movie-going, restaurant-eating existences. Suckers!

UPDATE (Added after realizing that I posted this in a hurry initially and probably should have saved to finish later):

All kidding aside, the past six weeks have given me some great gifts:

1) I've learned just how much inner strength Sarah has--and it's substantial. The woman is endlessly patient as she spends hour after hour nurturing William no matter how tired she is, or how exhausted her arms are, or how helpless she is to make him feel better.

2) I've also learned how many gassy vegetables there are, as Sarah has become disturbingly dependent on zucchini.

3) I've developed an even greater level of appreciation for the first months I spent with my other, non-gassy, non-fussy children.

4) I've gained new insight into my relationship with my brother by watching the impact William's arrival has had on Max, and the degree to which he's had to give up the spotlight. Greg--it was all a setup! (Not that my brother ever takes the time to actually read my blog.)

5) I've gotten yet another lesson in the power of parental love, as no matter how much William has kept me--and to a much greater extent, Sarah--from getting solid sleep, our hearts melt every time the little bugger manages to work up a smile for either of us.

6) Perhaps most important, William's arrival has injected me with a needed dose of self-reflection, and it may be just the jolt I've needed to put my life in the proper perspective. I believe he's helping me learn to accept the things I haven't been able to do that maybe I wanted to do by now, while appreciating the things that I (we) so often take for granted.

Seriously, though, buddy--that's enough with the gifts. This fussy baby stuff is hard work for an old guy. Let's get to the fun part, hopefully sooner rather than later.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Severing the Kontzer Bloodline--and My Youth

During a recent social gathering, a few of my guy friends were sitting in a circle comparing vasectomy tales when the one woman listening in, weary from all the talk of scrotums and masterbating into cups, chimed in: "All of my girlfriends in their 30s have no idea what they're in for."

Sister, you said a mouthful. Oh, yuck. Probably could have worded THAT better.

In any case, I tell you this story because, having successfully brought a third son into the world, I, too, subjected myself to the snipping of my vas deferens. It's a fatherhood rite of passage that's strikes me as being not unlike the proverbial succession of lemmings leaping off a cliff to their deaths. And it speaks volumes about what parenting brings into men's lives that after knocking up their wives a couple of times, they willingly run to their doctors' offices to get injections in their nut sacks and allow a relative stranger to sever a part of their reproductive system.

Me, I'd actually never really considered whether I'd ever get fixed until a few months ago, when Sarah broached the topic. And although I'm pretty confident there's not a man in the known universe who can even mention the word vasectomy without cringing slightly in his mid-section from phantom sympathy pains, I had to admit that the arguments for it made perfect sense. I mean, Sarah had just endured two grueling pregnancies in less than 4 years, so asking her to voluntarily subject herself to the much-more-invasive tube-tying procedure wasn't really an option. Spending the remaining pre- and peri-menopausal years of Sarah's life dealing with, arguing about, and cursing birth control devices and methods sounded like a pain in the ass, and would quite likely result in another baby anyway. And the reward for agreeing to get snipped -- a lifetime of carefree, unprotected sex -- was well worth the sacrifice. Of course, that's easy to say in retrospect.

As of my writing this, it's been 13 days since the procedure, and I'm almost completely healed. And while the procedure itself was a relative breeze, the first week of recovery surprised me in its consistent level of discomfort. Imagine, if you will, feeling like an especially sensitive part of your skin was being pinched constantly by a pliers, and you start to get the feeling. Add the particular location, and you have a recipe for a very awkward week.

It's also way too early to make a final determination of the procedure's efficacy. In fact, it'll be four months--four months!--before a semen analysis can confirm that I am, in fact, sperm-free. Good thing that as a new father, those four months don't figure to be the busiest of my life on that front.

Anyway, I digress...back to that discussion a few months ago with Sarah. I don't remember precisely where/when it happened or exactly what was said (Sarah probably does--how do they DO that!?), but I remember that she made a compelling case, and I agreed it sounded like a good idea. Although somehow it took me weeks to make an appointment with my primary to get a referral, and then weeks more to make the fateful consultation appointment.

In the last 24 hours before the procedure, I started to really get nervous. The mental image of that injection was almost too much to bare, and I was haunted by all the pained looks I got from men when I informed them of my plans. Then again, these were men who had not, in fact, had vasectomies yet. You can tell the ones who roll their eyes at all the panic wasted in anticipation of what is really a pretty humdrum affair.

Well, I should correct myself--the actual procedure is humdrum. But much of what happens around it is not. Like sitting, sans pants, on the procedure table while two young nurses bustle around the room in preparation, getting instruments displayed on a tray, placing surgical towels around my privates until only the scrotum is visible. And then they place the light in position, and voila, showtime at the Ball Sack Theater! Seriously, I was literally lying there, with my nuts on a brightly lit stage, as these two women made small talk with each other and me. Awkward! And then the lead nurse's departing words? "Hang tight." Very funny, lady.

So there I hung, tightly, for at least 10 very humbling minutes. For some reason, I found myself wondering what the hell I'd do if there were suddenly a huge earthquake. Apparently, having one's balls on display makes one feel vulnerable. Almost immediately upon his entrance, the doctor was giving me the much feared injection, which, to be honest, was almost undetectable. I've had pees that burned far worse than anything I felt then, or, for that matter, throughout the rest of the procedure. As he proceeded to make two small incisions, and then snipped, cauterized and clamped my vas deferens, the doctor talked non-stop politics with me, finding lots of effective distraction in the topic of the first Obama-Romney debate, which occurred just a couple of days earlier. (The thought of Romney running things was far more painful than anything the doctor was doing to me.)

When he'd finished, the doctor slipped on his gloves, and walked out of the room with the nurses close behind, instructing me to put my clothes on--slowly--and then wait for him to come back with some post-surgery instructions, which centered around icing, meds, tight underwear, and a complete lack of physical activity.

Suffice it to say, I've never felt more focused on my nether-region than I did for the days that followed, and that even includes when I was 19 and hadn't gotten laid in more than a year. But I'm happy to report that after a week, the surgical wound started feeling a lot better, and the benefits of the surgery started to appear on my mental horizon. It'll only be a matter of time before Sarah wonders what she's gotten herself into.

Speaking of women not knowing what they're getting themselves into, that brings us back to the social gathering the other night--notable because I was actually one of the guys sharing my vasectomy story. And when our female friend pointed out the age-specific nature of our topic, it hit me--forget turning 40, NOW I'd officially arrived in middle age. And that, more than anything, may be the most important legacy of the vasectomy. It is the official declaration that your youth is over. That your usefulness to the continuation of the species has expired. That your days as the generation in charge are numbered.

Amazing how symbolic a little snip can be.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Dinner and a Baby

Quite the date Sarah and I had tonight--dinner from the hot counter at Whole Foods, followed by a trip to the labor and delivery unit of our local hospital to begin the act of inducing labor. I'm thinking of trademarking this experience as a "birthing date." More on that later.

Of more relevance at this moment is, of course, the pending birth of my next (and last) son, William Oliver. It's been quite the waiting game this week. Sarah had suffered so much through the final weeks of this pregnancy--and really, through ALL the weeks of this pregnancy--that she was already resigned to the idea of inducing at first opportunity rather than endure the hell of waiting nearly two weeks beyond her due date, as she had with Max. In particular, nerve pain (peripheral neuropathy) and back pain had taken their toll, often driving Sarah to tears.

Then, she actually started showing signs of labor this week…on Tuesday, her cervix had dilated to 1 cm (yawn!), and then the contractions started Thursday, spurring us to head on a fun-filled run to the hospital, excited that maybe this baby would come of his own volition…but soon after being admitted into L&D triage, and despite the fact that contractions were coming consistently four minutes apart, we were told that things weren't all that active, and that we were looking at an early labor. They had me walk Sarah around the hospital for an hour (and what a thrill THAT walk was!), after which they monitored her again for another hour before confirming that things were still quiet on the Western front and sending us home.

Much disappointment ensued. Sarah felt let down and impatient. Her mother, in town to stay with us and help with Max, could barely stand to watch her daughter's suffering. And I had to accept that I wasn't done sleeping in the basement. Then the waiting began in earnest. We hoped her labor would kick in the next day, and when it didn't, Sarah called to find out about getting in Friday night to begin an induction. Alas, the unit was too busy to take us, so they told Sarah to call first thing the following day, Saturday. She called at 5:30, was told to call back at 9, and then again at 5, and then was told that several emergent labors had come in, and she was out of luck. They put her on the list for Sunday evening, and lo and behold, nothing prevented that plan from playing out, and so here we sit at 11:20 on Sunday night, Cervidil inserted and morphine injected (the latter so she can sleep pain-free), and now we wait for her cervix to cooperate.

The modern birth room, for those who haven't experienced it, is a long way from the no-frills delivery rooms of bygone eras. It's bigger than many hotel rooms, has a huge bathroom with a jacuzzi tub (mom is VERY stoked about this--there were no rooms with tubs available for her previous delivery), a utilitarian couch for dad, a flat-screen TV, and an assortment of instrumentation that looks like it could perform a vehicle smog check. In short, it's a peachy setting to have a baby, regardless of what the anti-hospital-birth sect might lead you to believe.

Which brings me back to that idea of the "birthing date." Based on the experiences I've had with Sarah, I see no reason that larger numbers of women--especially those having difficult, trying pregnancies--shouldn't embrace the idea of the planned, scheduled birth. Being able to calmly stop for dinner with your wife, and then head to the hospital for your induction appointment almost transforms the act of childbirth into a night on the town--with a huge payoff at the end.

No, guys, it's not quite the same as getting that first kiss, or being invited in for a nightcap, but when it comes to excitement and joy, it's sure to deliver an even bigger bang for the buck.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

The Love That Almost Withered Away

WRITER'S NOTE: Last night, I tried to compose a post capturing the wide swath of parenting experiences I've been having as we bear down on the due date for our impending arrival, but my brain just wasn't cooperating. The post meandered through a bunch of entertaining details, but didn't tie them together well. It was frustrating given how long it's been since my last post, but I resolved to get the post right before publishing it.

Then, today I came across this journal-style essay I wrote nearly four years ago, at a moment of uncertainty in my relationship with Sarah. Today was the first time I'd read this since, and I was powerfully transported to a moment that I remember as being quite scary. But as I read, I was also reminded of the amazing woman I have often taken for granted as we've barreled head-long into the wild parenting journey together.

I thought you'd all find it pretty riveting stuff--no one more so than Sarah. It's for you, Baby, that I post this now. I know this pregnancy has been tough on you, and that these last weeks in particular are turning out to be pure torture. I know there are days when you're not sure how much longer you can make it. But remember that no matter how grim things seem, no matter how scared you might get, there's a light at the end of the tunnel, and you've got a hopelessly devoted man who's there to help you every step of the way. Read on...


Sunday, August 31, 2008

Ah, Sarah…just thinking about her brings a peace over me…yet I write this as she sleeps in my bed blissfully, having just given me the latest of life's shots to my solar plexus…

The fact that I haven't pointedly written about her, other than in emails (to her and others), speaks more to my laser-like focus on her over the past 8 months than it does to any possible lack of inspiration—conversely, she inspires me far more than any other woman I've been with. And oddly enough, what has inspired me to write now, at 5 am on a Sunday morning, is the nightmarish conversation that broke out as we were in bed, getting ready for what I sincerely thought was going to be our first lovemaking in nearly a week.

Instead, my reward for my patience was a sudden declaration that she was feeling unsexual and was having some second thoughts about whether our relationship is right for her. And by "our", she meant not just her and me, but also Jackson. Apparently, a string of interactions between Jackson and me that fueled a restaurant scene at dinner tonight has her considering whether she's biting off more than she can chew.

Of course, this is something I can understand with profound intensity. I faced this same quandary at the far more na├»ve age of 28, when, after a one-year break-up, I foolishly returned to Rox, who would become my first wife, believing that she was the one for me. What resulted was 11 more years of mostly frustration, resentment and loneliness that culminated with our split and, not long after that, her suicide. I remember often feeling that I wasn't sure my life with Rox was right for me, but I didn't want to let anyone down—not Rox, not Alex or Owen (my stepchildren), and down the road, not our little baby Jackson.

In the meantime, I let myself down by doing what I'd always sworn I wouldn't do—namely, marching unconsciously into a life I didn't really want. Don't get me wrong, I loved bringing Jackson into the world, and he's really the only reason any of it makes sense today. But if I had it to do all over again, I'd never allow myself to commit to the life I did. I'd have the ability to see how wrong Rox—and her situation—was for me.

I don't want Sarah to feel like she'd be making that same mistake. I know the love I share with Sarah runs very deep. I've never felt about anyone the way I do about her, and she says she feels the same. She's just seeing a future—or at least a near-ish future—filled with conflict and stress and public scenes as Jackson heads full-bore into puberty. And quite honestly, if I was in her shoes, I very well might make a beeline for the hills.

Then again, there's that love thing, and it's intense. What we have isn't something you walk away from before it runs its course. What we have isn't something you cut off before you've seen what it can grow into. What we have is strong enough to buoy us, lifting us over any challenge in our way. What we have is special, very special.

The last thing Sarah said to me before we started to doze off was not to get carried away and think she's breaking up with me. It may just be one of the occasional freakouts she was prone to in the first months of our relationship, she said. It may be the current onset of PMS talking, she said. But I know better. I know a person in serious doubt when I hear one. I hope I’m wrong, and that her concerns at the moment represent a temporary set of feelings. And yet, something tells me this is the beginning of the end.

To know how this would devastate me, one would have to understand the amazing connection we've discovered in each other. One would have to have watched the seamless way we feed off each other, communicate with each other, and make love to each other. This is not your garden-variety romance. This is the kind of romance books are borne from. It's the kind of romance that all future romances are compared against. It's a stroke of luck the likes of which doesn't come around very often in a lifetime.

Which is to say, I don't want to lose her. I mean, I really, really don't want to lose her. And yet I feel helpless to do anything to stop her growing away from me. I'm starting to see her fickle nature, and am increasingly worried that the mask that love has placed over her eyes is starting to come loose, and that she's seeing the situation with clearer vision now. And I can't help but think this isn't a good thing.

Maybe it's inevitable that I lose her. Maybe it's been foolish of me to think that a woman possessing the combination of sexiness, peace with herself, and ease of personality that Sarah brings to a relationship can possibly stay satisfied with a frenzied, widowed single dad who has an emotionally charged 11-year-old boy hanging off of him. Maybe it's too much to ask to keep it alive.

But I'm not about to let a little reality cloud my love for Sarah. I want nothing more than to spend the rest of my life with her. Whether that means marriage or a child isn't important. What matters is that I get to be with her. And yes, Jackson is a bit of an obstruction, as any child would be. But this is a relationship, and a future, worth fighting for. That said, I'm not sure there's anything for me to fight—the ball's really in her court, and my sense is that with Sarah, my best strategy is to leave her to her thoughts and let her figure it out without my interference. Easier said than done.

What I really want to do is go slide into bed, arouse her, and make passionate love to her. That won't leave any doubts in her head. But now I find myself, for the first time in months, wondering if I've made love to her for the last time.

If that's the case, I know I'll take away a number of things from our time together. For instance, I'll understand better than ever the danger of taking such wonderful connections for granted.

Sarah, if you're listening from your blissful slumber, don't let this die. Don't walk away from what we have. Give this a chance to blossom into the depths of love that both of us had grown to think was impossible to find. We found it—that's half the struggle. Making it work, that's the hard part. Here's hoping we get the chance.

WRITER'S EPILOGUE: Baby, thanks for giving us the chance--we certainly haven't wasted any time making the most of it. Now it's all about holding it together!

Monday, June 11, 2012

Even Parents Need to Get Their Freak On

So when last we met, I promised to post about the "goth moms" I met at a nearby park. Of course, that was over a month ago, and the memories have faded--my latest lesson about the importance of striking when the iron's hot, which is something that's been missing from my blogging efforts in general.

In any case, a promise is a promise, and I do remember what struck me about the goth moms that day. I was monitoring Max at the time as he worked in rapid fire fashion through the various elements of the playground--climbing, digging, running, yelling...the usual. At some point, my ears started picking up some of the goth mom conversation, and I was enlightened by the utterances of one mom in particular, who had clearly been putting plenty of thought into how a goth mom comes off to other non-goth moms.

In particular, this mom was talking about her concerted efforts to tone down her gothness in and around schools. I'm not sure if this was a current issue for her, or if she was planning for one day down the line. But as she articulated her realization that her appearance could be off-putting to other moms, I couldn't help but appreciate her self-awareness. And that appreciation quickly morphed into my own increased awareness of the kinds of issues alternative moms (and dads!) must contend with, especially the societal judgments that come in the form of disapproving looks, unwelcome comments, and a widespread assumption that parents are supposed to trade in their youthful philosophies and become--gasp!--adults once they have children.

Let's face it--goth types face much of this stuff even without kids, much the way hippies, punks, glam-rockers and hip-hopsters did in their heydays. But when one adds parenting to their list of duties, they find themselves forced into intimate settings with people they'd otherwise stay far away from--whether that's interacting with other parents during drop-off and pick-up from school, participating in early childhood classes, organizing play dates...you name it. Even someone like me, who's a pretty "normal" guy, often finds himself sitting beside, talking to, or even exchanging phone numbers with people I couldn't stomach in another setting, all because I happen to have sired offspring. And you know what? My life is much richer for having not only welcomed and embraced those interactions, but even formed some highly unexpected friendships.

Something tells me the goth moms that day will one day feel the same--if they don't already, and clearly the mom I overheard is well on her way. Hopefully, she and her friends will continue to remain true to who they are, raise their children in an alternative way, and proudly fly their freak flags for all to see. But the truth is, it's hard to maintain one's "freak" status for long after having children. And it's not just that the world around you wants you to conform--it's that there's no time. Raising children is such a round-the-clock proposition that once you factor it in along with running a household and making a living, it's nearly impossible to remain the person you've always been. Instead, you evolve into the parenting version of you--you know, the one that looks and sounds a lot more like your own parents than you'd have ever imagined possible.

Who's got time to spend hours in a salon getting that latest tat when there are diapers to be changed and laundry to be washed? How does one get their multi-colored mohawk just right when there are parks to visit and dinner to get on the table? And once the kids are in bed, all those dreams of leaving them with a sitter while you go out and relive your youthful nights at the clubs quickly dissolve amid the fog of exhaustion. Just ask me about my 50-dollars-a-night jazz career, which I really had little choice but to tank once I became a dad.

This is what's so awesome about my neighborhood, which is filled with parents who are partiers at their core. Our solution? Bring the party to us, with an almost endless stream of fire pits and similar get-togethers that allow us all to fly our admittedly mellowed freak flags in small doses, all without venturing more than a few feet from our homes. Sometimes, these events are kid-friendly, sometimes not. 

It's not exactly what Barry Commoner had in mind during his futile 1984 presidential bid, but it's certainly similar in spirit. If that goth mom happens to read this, she's welcome to bring her bad ol' goth self to any of our gatherings. And she won't have to tone down her look one bit.

By the way, if you're interested in getting to know this goth mom better, head over to the blog she writes for, Offbeat Mama. Her handle is Hunny Du. (And the blog in general is fabulous anyway.)

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Please Let It Be a Girl, Please Let It Be a Girl, Please...Oh, Damn, There's a Penis!

With apologies to my small, devoted readership for being absent so long, the past two days have brought me irresistible material. I'll start today with the more personal story: Sarah and I found out that the child we're expecting in September will be, gulp, a boy.

This, of course, brings all sorts of items to the table for discussion, such as how a guy with a blog entitled "A Dad Again" could delay this long in writing about being A Dad Again...Again. Or what sins I must have committed during my previous lives to deserve this special form of punishment. Or what the point was of spending nearly $50 on a home gender test from Wallgreens if all we were gonna do was pretend it never happened and hope against hope for a girl anyway.

Then there's the little matter of my projected age of 65 when this unborn child graduates high school. It's pretty sobering. I'll be 52 when we walk this kid to his first day of kindergarten. I'll be nearly 70 when/if he graduates college. And it's definitely uncertain whether I'll live long enough to meet any grandchildren that result. Which, of course, could be a seriously lucky break for those potential future Kontzers.

On a more serious note, there's the impact this is having--and will have--on Sarah. She was in tears upon finding out the news today, her visions of dressing up a little girl in cute summer dresses, of taking her shopping for school clothes, of counseling her through her first boyfriend, of picking out a wedding gown together, of having a new best girl friend, all dashed. Once the emotions have settled, she can begin looking forward to a testosterone-filled life filled with sports, B.O., meat products and lots of broken stuff. Followed by a life of constant frustration over how infrequently her boys call her.

But enough about mom--this blog isn't about her. Besides, trying to get to the bottom of what a woman is feeling about the child she's carrying is a task I--or any man, for that matter--am just not up to. What I am up to is offering up a simple, straightforward list of the good and bad I expect from having yet another son. Let's start with the bad:

-My car insurance rates just went up 600 percent in reaction to the news.

-I'm a big brother. I know what big brothers do to little brothers. I also know what Max is capable of. Yikes.

-Q, our family dog, who's been constantly poked and prodded by Max and hated every minute of it (another post that has gone unwritten!), is going to have an absolute nervous breakdown.

-All those hours spent debating girl's names? Total waste!

-Worse, we have to spend those hours once again, this time debating boys' names.

-I'm going to be stepping on a lot more small, plastic, painful toys soon.

-I'm also going to be breaking up a lot of fights over those small, plastic, painful toys.

-Getting out the door with a toddler and in infant while Sarah's at work? Sounds like fun! (This admittedly has nothing to do with the pending arrival being a boy--so what, I make the rules around here.)

-Oh, goodie, we get to be urinated on during diaper changes again!

 Now, on to the good:

-Throwing Max and the new arrival in the same bedroom just got a LOT less complicated.

-Barring unforeseen circumstances, I should never have to pay for any weddings.

-Our future budget for toys just got a lot smaller.

-There'll be another face besides mine for Max to claw and grab. Oh, wait, maybe that shouldn't be on the "good" list.

-I never have to worry about being ganged up on by the women in my house.

-The Kontzer Men's Club membership will reach 6, triggering our "free bowl of matzo ball soup" promotion.

-Once Sarah hits menopause (and sorry, Babe, but the clock's tickin'), the menstrual cycle will be a thing of the past! -I won't ever be accused of ogling my daughter's hot teenage friends.

-I won't ever be accused of beating my daughter's teenage boyfriends.

With that, I'll return you to your regularly scheduled programming. Stay tuned for my next post, which will center on a group of "goth" moms I overheard, and then met, at a nearby park yesterday. Have to say, I never thought of putting "goth" and "moms" in the same thought before.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

When Moms Attack III: Make Her Go Away!

Typically, when one is producing a second sequel to a horror story, the introduction of a new menace is in order. But this is no ordinary sequel. In this third installment of When Moms Attack, our antagonist once again is the infamous "Dickhead" mom from the previous post. Only this time, she's moved on to another totally inappropriate action.

Mind you, this is not so much an attack on my person, or my personal space, or my potty training failures. Rather, this is an attack on my sensibilities. Of which, as many of you know, I have little, so causing them to bristle requires a pretty serious act.

Then again, the woman in question, having caused me to reconsider every warm and fuzzy thought I've ever had about modern day moms during our last interaction, has placed me firmly in a constant state of bristle whenever she's near. Sadly, this extends to her toddler son, whom I can no longer see as anything other than an appendage to the person I so despise. Each time he approaches me, I treat him like a babbling, diaper-clad virus to be avoided at all costs. But as usual, I digress.

So, a couple of weeks ago, I walked into the kinder gym session, and there was Dickhead Mom, her presence immediately putting me on edge. (Thanks to her earlier castigation of my play style, kinder gym now feels like that meeting of the Empire's brass in the first Star Wars movie--you know, when Darth Vader chokes that dude with his thoughts? Guess which role she's playing.) Making a special effort to steer clear of her part of the room (victory, Dickhead Mom!), I managed to avoid any potential incidents.

That's when she plopped herself down, right in the middle of the play area, where everyone's moving around and all the action's happening, unclasped the left side of her nursing bra, and popped her 9-month-old onto her breast--no cover, no discretion, no seeming thought given to how this would affect everyone around her, from the young children terrorizing the room to the less-endowed moms straining to avert their glances. Granted, this had absolutely nothing to do with me, per se, but it struck me: Wasn't this the same woman who had questioned my behavior in playing too roughly with a couple of the boys? What, the comfy pad in the corner isn't good enough for her? She had to turn her nursing session into performance art?

That proved to be just the preface, though, because when I returned last Thursday, there she was again. And once more, I steered clear, this time braced for some public nursing. I was not disappointed. This time, at least, she stayed at the edge of the room--albeit still uncovered--and chatting with a dad holding a newborn. It speaks to my distaste for this woman that I could glare at her out of the corner of my eye and wish unspeakably terrible things upon her even as she breast-feeds her baby.

Then, IT happened. She pulled the baby off of her breast, and sat there, continuing to converse with this new dad for at least 5 seconds--it seemed like 10 minutes--before covering up her totally exposed breast. Okay, I admit it, I looked. But whereas I may have looked with great admiration at her buxom-ness had she not declared herself my mortal enemy, I instead saw her uncovered knocker as a great, nippled monster invading my toddler sanctuary.

Let me make it clear that I do not normally have any problem with public breast feeding. I'm not sure I even have any problem with public breast feeding that ends with an inordinate amount of breast exposure--I am a guy at heart, after all. But this was no simple breast exposure incident. This was no Janet Jackson-style wardrobe malfunction. And it certainly wasn't some kind of free-wheeling public nursing statement a la the bra-less Maggie Gyllenhaal, above. This was an affront to any dad who's ever played a little too rough. This was an attack on what little is left of my self-respect.

Naturally, I didn't do anything. I didn't want to be perceived as some petty amateur who whines at the first sight of his tormentor's tits. I hoped that one of the other parents--moms, where are you!?--would appeal to her sense of decorum and ask that she check her exhibitionism at the kinder gym door. No such luck. I'm not even sure anyone else in the room noticed, which is hard to fathom.

Now, I find myself in the odd position of having nightmarish visions of this demonic boob taunting me from the distance. I may never look upon breasts the same way. Okay, so that's stretching it, but I think you get my point.