Thursday, August 15, 2013

Holy Crap, Am I Sick of Poo

If I never see another pile of someone else’s poo—never mind. Not gonna happen.  At least not for a few years. But it can’t get any more poo-themed than recent months have been for me.
Funny, but poo never seemed so prevalent before. Not when Jackson was a baby or toddler, not during Max’s first few years, not even when William first arrived. But poo has completely taken over. Uncle, I say. I don’t want to have to smell it, I don’t want to accidentally touch it, and I definitely don’t want to have to decide what to do with it.
Of course, there’s a good explanations for the notable rise in the flow of feces in my life: With William well into the food-eating stage, I have more loads to clean up than ever before. Three, to be exact, not counting my own. Yeah, one of them’s a dog—what, like that doesn’t count? And piling on to the, uh, pile, Sarah’s dog from her previous marriage (yes, there are such things as dogs from previous marriages) also makes periodic appearances, and brother, can that dog poo.
Oh, and then there are the neighborhood cats, which, since the day we moved in, have treated our yards as their own personal litter boxes. We went so far as to invest about $1,000 turning our weed-and-dirt side yard (cat heaven!) into a Tuscan themed vineyard, with a stepping-stone and pebble hardscape, only to have the cats poo in the pebbles. But I digress.
At the risk of ruining your lunch, I thought I’d provide a primer on crapping categories by recounting a few of the more colorful poo-poo incidents of recent months, most of which center around Max. (Sorry, buddy: When you read this one day, I’ll owe you.) If you’ve got kids, these scenarios probably sound familiar. If you haven’t had kids yet, well, consider yourself duly warned:
The Scream-n-Smear
This one’s a doozy. One afternoon, we were at the playground around the corner from our house, and I’d given Max his two-minute warning. As I put William in the stroller, Max began to freak out behind me. I turned, and he was just standing in the middle of the playground—which is crowded, mind you—screaming bloody murder. Which, as the parents of children in the midst of toilet training may recognize, is often a sign that a kid who’s been holding in No. 2 for days is about to let loose. And let loose, Max did. But pooing in his pants wasn’t embarrassing enough, not for my kid. No siree. Instead, as he starts to soil himself, Max decides to pull his pants and undies down and walk toward me, screaming, as poo dribbles down his legs, all over his pants and socks and anything else unfortunate enough to make contact with him. Needless to say, it was a long walk back home.
The Impromptu Outhouse
This incident was much less dramatic than the Scream-n-Smear but nonetheless far removed from a parent’s dream scenario. Max and I were at the amazing Adventure Playground in Berkeley (Google it—it’s a perfect counter to today’s overly hawkish parenting), and Max was having a grand old time playing in his favorite attraction, an old wooden boat carcass. At some point I realized that he’d been very quiet and I couldn’t see him anywhere. I yelled his name, and the top of his head peeked out from the dark of one of the boat’s windows, but he didn’t move any further. Worried, I asked him what he was doing, and he answered, very matter-of-factly, “I’m pooing.” Less than 15 minutes into our outing, and I have to run him to one of the smelliest restrooms in the Western Hemisphere, perform a poo-in-pants-ectomy, customarily tossing the underwear in the process, and head home to recuperate.
The Checkout Challenge
Every parent has experienced some version of the child pooing in line at the grocery store or Target or Costco or Disneyland or wherever. Our most memorable version, which I was not present for, came during one of Sarah’s visits to her favorite East Bay nursery. As they were standing in line, Max began screaming at the top of his lungs, distracting mommy and the store clerk from their appointed transaction. Sareah immediately ran to the nursery’s port-a-potty, and proceeded to hover Max over the “toilet” as he continued to scream loud enough for all of the other customers to hear. Ah, quality mother-son time.
Mayhem at the Memorial
I realize not every one has had a funereal poo crisis. You'll consider yourselves lucky as I describe the 30 minutes I endured at a recent memorial for the father of one of Sarah’s good friends. As the family began to tell stories about the deceased—always the most interesting part of any memorial, if you ask me—I realized we hadn’t seen Max in a bit. I headed off to look, and found him in a room in the house with several other children. Only he wasn’t playing with them, he was standing alone behind the couch, which can only mean thing. “Oh, no you don’t,” I said to him, determined not to let him stand there stinking up a house that was in mourning. I swooped him up and carried him over my shoulder out to our van, where he stood under a tree to finish relieving himself. Fortunately, being aware that he was overdue, we had him wearing a pull-up in case of such an emergency. But a pull-up can only do so much, and this one succumbed to an epic poo that squeezed out of the diaper and up his back. Sadly, I was unaware of this until I actually went to remove said diaper, at which time I managed to get poo all over the floor mats of the van, not to mention Max’s shirt, and part of one of the seats. It was quite a scene, one that required almost the entire large package of wipes we smartly keep in the car. (Thank goodness Mom thought to bring extra clothes.) Naturally, while I was gone, I missed all the of the immediate family’s tributes. Foiled by poo yet again.
The Squirter
Much less frustrating than Max’s public poo melodramas, but certainly the most eye-popping poo William has taken to date. The poo itself was straight-forward enough: As Sarah started changing a dirty diaper, she was unaware that William wasn’t finished. Suddenly, a squeeze, and a stream of poo a foot long came flying out of his rear end, landing in an extended line across the changing pad, onto the top of the dresser, and—what makes this whole incident noteworthy—stopping literally millimeters short of showering my brand new MacBook Pro. No pun intended, but I’d have shit in my pants had that poo rained down on my keyboard.
The Bedroom Bombing
A classic moment of rebellion. Max, whom I’ve no doubt made clear has been less than happy about William’s arrival and the resulting loss of attention, has seemingly been using his bowels to get back at us. One afternoon, he’d been napping in our room, which is always a risk. But he’d been sound asleep, and I’d been working happily in the next room. When I heard some movement, I walked in to find a shocking scene. First, there was the toilet paper that had been streamed all over the room, which looked like it had been the site of a ticker-tape parade. Then there were the various items from Sarah’s makeup bag strewn about the bed. (Luckily, THIS time he didn’t actually apply said makeup to the sheets. The previous time we weren’t so lucky.) As I was standing there, slack-jawed, and was just beginning to come up with the words to react, Max, who’s standing on the floor, points to a spot on the rug and says, proudly, “Look!” And, you guessed it, a steaming pile of feces was sitting there. A present to Mommy and Daddy. Oh, joy.
The Buzzer Beater
This is the latest entry, having just occurred a week or two ago. And I have to preface this story with a side story about how Max has taken to peeing in the morning in the corner of his room, all over his closet door. The pee collects in a puddle that trickles under the door, soaking anything it touches and, now, forming a stain on the hardwood floor. Grrr. Anyway, he’d done that this morning, resulting in much fireworks, as we’ve gone through this a dozen times now. Fast-forward to early afternoon. I’ve picked him up from pre-school and returned home to eat my lunch, give him a snack (he lunches at school), and put him down for a nap. So I let him know it’s nap time and head up to his room to put on a pull-up and tuck him in. As we get into his room, not more than 30 seconds before the pull-up would have been on him, he stops and announces, “I’m pooing,” and proceeds to unleash his bowel and his bladder in his pants. I tell him to stop and carry him to the bathroom, where he proceeds to continue pooing and peeing, the latter all over the bathroom floor. And yes, another pair of underwear found its way to the trash. (That makes at least 20 pairs over the months.) As if all of that wasn’t enough, later in the afternoon, when we came back from a pre-dinner park run, he went in his room and peed on his closet door again.
Needless to say, we’re open to suggestion.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Seven Years Later, My Boy Stands Strong

Dear Jackson:

Seven years ago tonight, I feared for your future. I didn't know if I was up to raising a child without his mother's help, and I didn't know if you were up to the emotional challenges of growing up without her. It was a really scary moment, knowing that I’d be solely responsible for guiding you from the age of 8 all the way until manhood. It’s a huge job—too much for one person, it seemed to me at the time. Who would be my system of checks-and-balances? Who would rein me in when I was flying off the handle? Who would stop me from spoiling you? Who would make sure you occasionally ate something besides red meat?

And ya know what? In many ways, it was too much. We got too much of each other, and we argued like a husband and wife, often driving everyone around us nuts. Some of your childhood characteristics became like fingernails on a blackboard to me—probably because they reminded me of myself at a similar age. And I know that my tendency for over-reaction pushed you away more often than I’d like to remember. I can’t tell you how many times I sat on the couch feeling like such a jerk, and wanting so badly to take it all back. But just like I couldn’t bring your mom back, I knew I couldn’t undo my reactions. I hope you can forgive me.

Still, despite the MANY mistakes I've made along the way, I must have done something right, because you’ve grown into the vivacious, stubborn, life-embracing soul I'd always hoped you’d be. You've been strong since day one, and now you've gotten through the hardest stretch of your loss. They say life progresses in seven-year increments, so perhaps you can look upon this date as a rite of passage of sorts, a doorway to the land of emotional freedom—the first day of the next stage of your life without Mom. There shouldn’t have even had to be such a stage, but we play with the cards life deals us.

And you, my son, have played your cards pretty well so far. You remained upbeat more often than you had any right to be, and you stayed engaged—with school, friends, activities, family, and anything else that brought you joy. While many other teens—with far less emotional justification—spend their time sulking and staring at computer screens, you spend them skating, producing amazing videos for your own YouTube channel, golfing for your high school team, and (occasionally) playing with your little brothers. (Okay, sometimes you sulk and/or stare at your computer, too—no one’s perfect.)

What’s more, you never stood in the way of my journey. You embraced Taylor when I dated her, and you seemed to be genuinely happy for me when I subsequently met and fell in love with Sarah, despite all the indications that she would frequently take me away from you (probably a good thing!).

And speaking of Sarah, you never once made her feel uncomfortable, no small miracle given that she was following in the footsteps of a ghost. Your willingness to accept her as your stepmother is a big reason why she’s so willing to be tough on you; believe me, Sarah’s toughest when she cares deeply. Try to remember that when she’s riding you to do your chores.

I have no way of knowing what the next seven years will bring (although a college diploma would be nice), but if they bring us as many good things as the last seven have—hello, Sarah and Max and William, and cousins Emma and Lennox and Sage and Riley and Charlotte and Clara, and Albany and Cornell Avenue, and all the good times you've spent with Alex and Owen, and the countless other treasured aspects of our lives!—we will be two of the luckiest people in the universe.

All of this is why, as I sit here tonight, seven years after ushering you through your terrible loss, I have complete confidence that you're going to go out into the world and take care of business, and have a good time doing it. A dad can't ask anything more.

I know that almost nothing I’ve written here is something you haven’t heard before. But I wanted to get it all on “paper”, in one stream of consciousness exercise, so you would always know how I felt about our most tumultuous years.

I love you, Jackson. Your mom would be proud of you. I know I am.

Love, Dad

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

It's Official: I'm Now the Frontrunner for "Dad of the Year"

If I didn’t write about today, I couldn’t call myself a parenting blogger, because it's been a watershed moment in my long, illustrious 20-plus year parenting journey. Today marked the first time I was alone with two small children for an entire day. That's right, after more than nine months of maternity and medical leave, Sarah has returned to work, and it’s been just my boys and me for the last 15 hours. (Ah, there’s the sound of Sarah’s car returning now. At long last, William can nurse.)
Make no mistake—there was a lot of build-up to this day, on many levels. There was my own anticipation (or perhaps I should say terror?) of it, knowing that I’d suddenly be operating without a net (Sarah), and that I’d be at the mercy of two little sets of needs. There was Sarah’s mental and emotional preparation for being separated from her precious little William for the first time. And there was the coaching of Jackson and Max to get them ready for what will be expected of them.
But mostly, there was Sarah’s fear of leaving them alone with me. You see, I have a reputation for being slightly distracted. If you’ve ever gone to get a snack, decided on the way to finally replace the battery in that smoke detector, realized as you were looking for a battery that the drawer handle was loose, and then, while struggling to find a screwdriver in the garage, started reorganizing your tools because the screwdriver was in a stupid place, then you know what I’m talking about.
For some reason, Sarah had developed this crazy notion that I might not be able to focus on both of my little boys at the same time. That I might start playing with Max and forget that William was underneath that pillow. Or that I might get caught up taking pictures of William and forget that Max got out of preschool 45 minutes ago. Or that I might start talking with a neighbor out front and not notice Max pushing the stroller across the street with William in it.
Okay, so maybe she had something to worry about based on my track record. But to be fair, my track record—at least the track record she could refer to—was all established with her at home. In other words, it’s no track record. Because anyone who’s spent any time parenting alone will agree, it’s absolutely nothing like parenting knowing that your partner is in the next room. You can’t take the same liberties. You can’t resort to the old “I thought you were watching him.” And you certainly can’t leave the preschooler and 6-month-old alone in the kitchen and go tend to your weeding.
I tried to explain this to Sarah, telling her that when I know I’m the only show in town, I’ll step up the plate. She would just look at me, with her head cocked and one eyebrow raised, and give me one of those sardonic “uh-huh”s we’ve all heard.
But guess what? I was right! I know it’s only been one day, but I’d have to say, with all objectivity, that today I may have put on the all-time greatest example of stellar parenting. I texted about playdates, drove to and from said playdates, anwered work emails, made bottles, fed the baby, changed diapers, ran errands (including picking up Diaper Genie refills for the parents of Max’s playdate!), made more bottles, fed the baby again, got kids to nap, changed more diapers, answered more work emails, supervised backyard play, made more bottles AND changed more diapers, cooked dinner, bathed the preschooler, made one last bottle, read stories, got two tired boys to sleep, and then collapsed in a heap.
Now I know what you all are thinking now: Where can I get that job!? No, seriously, you’re probably wondering how long I can last before having a nervous breakdown. But just as I would say to Sarah, I’m here to tell you I have no such concerns. Truth be known, I actually had a really good time surviving the gauntlet, and I feel confident that I can usher these kids through literally hundreds of similar days alone over the next few years, with very few hospitalizations, while Sarah works hard to support this family.
Yessirree, I’m one progressive man. Now what the hell did I do with that screwdriver?

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Solving the Nation's Problems, One Dad at a Time

Today I took Max to the “kindergym” at our local YMCA, as I have many times before. Long-timer readers of this blog may recall the Y’s kindergym as the setting for my brief series of “When Moms Attack” posts that chronicled issues I had there with a particularly annoying mother who found my style of play to be overly exuberant. But this is a post of a totally different flavor. (Although, I should share that a friend who happens to know said mother told me that her husband has filed for divorce and says she’s a total loon. Vindication!)

Rather than dwell on that unsavory confrontation, which led to my feeling like a child on timeout on subsequent kindergym visits, this time I’m happy to report on getting perhaps the greatest compliment I’ve ever received. I have to admit, I was on a roll with the boys today. As I played with Max and a particularly favored kindergym cohort of his, Kai, I was making good use of all the equipment and props to keep the boys laughing and running and coming back for more. Their favorite was when I picked up one of those nylon accordion tunnels kids like to crawl through, put it completely over me from head to toe, with the top end hanging in front of me, and walked around like a big tube monster trying to drop that open end over their heads. Much frivolity ensued.

All the while, there was this nicely dressed older woman with an SLR camera snapping shots throughout the room, and she had a special interest in documenting the interactions between me and the kids. (It turned out she was photographing the scene for a marketing push the Y is preparing to make.) I could tell she was enjoying the way I played (as were several of the moms standing by—shocking!), but I could not have been prepared for what she ended up saying to me. Amid a stream of gushing comments about my energy and willingness to invest the time with my kids, this nugget of praise just stopped me in my tracks:

“Oh, the troubles we could solve in this country if we put one of you in every home.”

Now, I surely don’t have to tell you that this is the kind of comment that can make a dad’s day. But it was especially welcome given that Sarah had just made an astute observation about what she perceives to be a hiccup in my parenting armor these days, namely that I seem to her to be emanating the aura of a man who feels “trapped” in the whole married-with-kids paradigm.

She’s right, to a degree. But it’s not as nefarious as she probably sometimes fears. In fact, I don’t know a father of little kids who doesn’t feel trapped on some level. Or a mom, for that matter. It’s the nature of the beast. Maybe Sarah just hasn’t gotten there yet—she’s only 3 years into this after all. I’ve been doing it for more than 20, including the years I spent step-parenting before Jackson was born.

There’s a huge difference between being a first-time parent (or even a second-time parent like Sarah who’s still pretty fresh to the whole parenting thing) and being a 20-year vet who’s been through the teen battles, the infant/toddler/preschool years, more teen battles, more infant-toddler/preschool years, and who STILL faces more toddler/preschool years and even more teen battles, and who will probably be 70 by the time all these kids are off on their own. (Good grief, after writing that sentence, I realize it’s a small miracle I haven’t been institutionalized.)

There’s also a huge difference between a person who remained kid-free and got to sew her wild oats throughout her 20s and most of her 30s, and a guy who wishes he’d been so smart but who stupidly traded in his wild oats in his mid-20s.

But none of this takes away from the love I feel for my boys, or the joy they cause me every single day. (We’ll conveniently leave the pain and suffering out of this conversation.) It is possible for a person to simultaneously live in a world of regret and joyous embracing. Believe me, I try to forget what I unwittingly gave up in exchange for my first marriage—international travels, a budding (but nowhere near lucrative enough) music career, years of slovenly Sunday afternoon football watching, and the women (!)—but it’s a tough load to free myself from.

What I’d love Sarah to understand is what a breath of fresh air she has been to me. No, I never envisioned having a second kid in my 40s—never mind a THIRD—and some days I look around and think to myself, what the hell have I done!? But I also know that my regrets a) have absolutely nothing to do with Sarah, and b) are impossible for her to address.

I think one of Louis C.K.’s routines about being a dad sums it up best, and I’m paraphrasing: “Don’t get me wrong. I love my kids more than I’ve ever loved anyone or anything. They give my life meaning. They make me love myself more, and they make me love other people more. I can’t imagine my life without them, and yet I rue every decision I ever made that led to their existence.”

If that doesn’t sum up parenting, I don’t know what does. And if any parents were to react with horror to that, suggesting that they could never feel that way, I'd be convinced they were either totally full of shit, were placed here by aliens, or were wealthy enough to have someone else do the hard work of raising their kids. And I bet that no one ever suggested that putting them in every home would solve the nation’s woes.

Yep, it’s a good day to be me. Gotta enjoy those when they come.


Note from Dad: This is the 50th A Dad Again post--a milestone that's been a long time in coming. Thanks so much for reading. Please keep coming back, and get your friends and family to check it out, too. Maybe one day this blog will actually have a real audience!