Wednesday, March 26, 2014

I Learned It From Watching You! ... WHOOSH

If I needed a reminder that my kids are always watching, always learning – and conversely that us parents are always teaching – I got it the other day. And it happened in the strangest of places: the men’s room at our local, neighborhood Marshalls.
It was a Saturday. And unlike most Saturdays, we had nothing planned. No kid parties to attend, no practices to schedule around, nothing. Since it was too cold to do anything outside, we took the family shopping. Not the buying-stuff kind of shopping, but the browsing kind. The kind that finds you at a place like Marshalls with all your kids. Hey, it was something to do.
This story is already too long.
Anyway, we were in the Marshalls home goods section, searching for that perfect replacement spatula or those elusive mid-sized ramekins, when the boy, age 3.5, said he had to go to the bathroom – again. We’d already gone once, back when we were in the shoe department. And we’re not talking about just tinkle. I began to worry that maybe that stomach bug was back, and we’d need to leave the store altogether.
Still, I know better than to tempt fate with a child who claims he needs to use the potty. So I immediately took him to the latrine.
Like most people who are moderately clean and of good taste, I don’t like public bathrooms. I use them just fine, and I've been in sketchy bathrooms across the globe – and at gas stations in rural Pennsylvania – that would make even the sturdiest person gag and run. By comparison, the Marshall bathroom by our house is like the Taj Mahal. Only by comparison, though. It’s still a public bathroom, and in the words of my son, “It smells like sneakers.”
Old sneakers, to be precise.
We went through our bathroom routine, him doing his business and me reminding him not to touch anything. When finished, he pulled his pants up and asked if he could flush the toilet. At home, we always make the kids do the flushing, as part of their responsibility.  But when in a public restrooms with a kid, I usually handle the flush duties. Just one less way for them to get germs.
In fact, when we’d gone to the same bathroom a few minutes before, I’d flushed. Now, of course, he really wanted to do it.
What’s the harm, right? It was a relatively clean bathroom. So I said yes.
He was excited, and he got into position. But rather than reach with his hand for the chrome lever, as I expected, he steadied himself, grabbed the handicapped bar, leaned back, and, balancing on one foot, lifted his other foot up to the lever. This thing must have been shoulder high, and I swore he was going to topple over. But he managed to get his foot up there, and “WHOOSH!”

A reenactment of the scene just minutes later,
when he had to go to the bathroom ... again.
For the record, I never taught him to flush with his foot. But as I watched him do it, I realized that I almost always flush with my foot in public restrooms. As that famous quote from a commercial we all remember from the 80s, he learned it from watching me.
A strange place for a life lesson on parenting, but it stuck me like a poke in the eye. They are always watching, always learning – and we are always teaching.

And, in that moment, in a bathroom at the local, neighborhood Marshalls, I began to worry: What else is he picking up from just watching?

All my bad, little habits began running through my mind. Spitting, snot rockets, eye-rolls, staring at my phone too much, picking toenails, the list goes on -- just ask my wife. And that's just the small stuff. 

If he picked up flushing with my foot, was he going to pick up on everything?    
Man. God help us all.

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Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Vegas, Baby!

The neon lights were fading into the background as I stumbled bleary-eyed down a poorly-lit sidewalk littered with pamphlets. “Hot Babes, Direct to Your Room,” they read, among other more suggestive titles. No thanks, I thought to myself. Oh, the irony.

The August sun had set many, many hours before, but the heat still emanated from the concrete like weeds from fertile ground, slowing my progress as I struggled along the north end of the strip, ambling slowly into the sketchier part of the city. My despair grew as I realize I might never find what I needed. It was something you’d think would be easy to find in the city of sin at 3 a.m. armed with a bit of cash and credit cards that still had room to spare, despite that ill-fated trip to the casino earlier in the day -- for I needed drugs.  

Most drugs, I imagine, could have been found within yards of where I walked, if I knew who to ask. All except the one I needed: Children's Tylenol.

Oh, and I also needed some baby formula.
"My wife is heading to Vegas for a conference,
so I said, that sounds like a great place to take
the kids" ... Bad Idea Jeans.
A few minutes before, I’d left my guest room at the Treasure Island Hotel and Casino to begin this hapless and hopeless search. Behind, in the room, were not one but two screaming children – a five-month old and a 3-and-a-half year old – both with fully-developed fevers. Clearly, I had too many hot babes already. My wife was also in the room, growing more worried, frustrated, and miserable by the minute.

Right now, you’re likely thinking, “Why the hell would you bring two kids under 4 years old to Vegas?” When you thought I was just searching the streets for drugs, that was okay. But kids in Vegas? Guffaw!

As I searched in vain, I too realized – if it hadn’t dawned on me several times before – that taking our kids along on our one trip to Las Vegas was likely the worst idea we’d ever had.

My wife and I went on this four day mini-vacation because she needed to be there for a two-day work conference. It was the summer of 2006, back when we only had two kids and I worked in politics. When we heard she had to go, I wanted to go too. After all, Vegas is known the world over for awesome restaurants, unbelievable shows and entertainment, and an incredible nightlife. Why wouldn’t I want to go? We could make a long weekend of it, and just pay for my flight and one of the nights at the hotel.

Of course, we also knew my wife had to bring our new baby girl, as she was still being nursed. (She was a hungry baby, so we were also supplementing at bedtime and as necessary – hence the need to find formula that fateful night). The only real debate was what to do with our then 3-and-a-half-year old. We could have left her with grandparents for the trip. But we asked ourselves, what’s the difference between having one kid and two?

As it turned out, a heck of lot.

The 3-year-old showed the first signs she was getting sick on the plane ride there, screaming and crying a good part of the 4-hour flight, something she’d never done on the few plane trips we’d taken before. Any person who's been on a plane with a screaming child knows the agony. Any parent who's done so, knows the agony and the humiliation.
Within 24 hours of landing, both kids were running temperatures, and we were all miserable. We depleted the emergency Children's Tylenol we’d brought, and the baby consumed all the extra formula cans, as we tanked her up whenever we couldn't stop her from  crying.

By the second night there, we found ourselves in our own vacation version of hell. And that’s when my latenight trek for baby-quieting supplies occurred. It would have been easier to find a harem of escorts and some heroine than cherry-flavored Tylenol. I must've walked over a mile to find a drug store that was open.

And despite the reputation Vegas has as an entertainment Mecca, during our brief time there we didn’t have one decent meal out; we didn’t see a single show – except the free one in front of the Treasure Island hotel, where scantily-clad pirates of both genders dive off a fake boat into a murky pool – and the only raucous nightlife involved our hotel room's four walls and two screaming kids. It was also too hot that week to go to the pool. My wife didn't even get the chance to lose any money at the casinos. For my part, I spent about 20 minutes on a casino floor, losing 40 bucks and then retreating back to our room. To top it off, I spent the last two days of the trip trapped in that same room, alone with our sick children, as my wife attended her conference.

The only moderately fun thing we did as a family was go to the indoor amusement park at Circus-Circus, which is kind of like a county fair under a dome. Fun is a relative term in this usage.

The whole trip was, easily, our worst vacation ever.

I was reminded of this vacation story recently when I read a blog about a couple who’d taken their baby to a hotel near a ski resort in Colorado, traveling as a family while the husband attended a conference – kind of like us. The baby got a little sick and cried during the night, uncharacteristic for this child. Before they checked out two days later, a perturbed and disturbed neighbor decided to slip a mean note under their door, saying a ski hotel was no place for a baby. The couple was mortified.

You likely read about this story, as it went viral last week. And reactions were pretty split between those who thought the letter writer was obnoxious and those who thought the parents of the baby were insane. (I’m not linking to the story because I’ve heard the writer would rather the attention ebbed).

Reading this story, I was most struck by the sheer number of people foaming at the mouth to criticize the parents for taking a baby to a place like a ski resort. There are arguments to both sides of the debate. But as someone who has a decade of parenting under his belt, and occasionally lacks sound judgment, I’ve been in that hot seat more than once.

Other than Vegas, there was the time I took my wife out to her first Mothers’ Day dinner to this fancy Italian place, with our three-month-old baby tagging old along in her car seat; a cute idea, but a bad one. There was the time more recently when we took the two older girls to a Broadway play; the younger one cried through a few scenes after intermission because we refused to get her a $10 pack of Junior Mints. And then there was that time at church. Strike that. There was every time at church. I pretty much have to forcibly remove one of our loud children from church every time we attend as a family.

Whenever I hear one of these kids-ruining-an-adult’s-good-time type stories, it’s not rage I feel, or even just empathy. Rather, I am overcome by feelings of nostalgia.

And, usually, it takes me right back to Vegas.

As I said, going to Vegas with the kids may have been the worst decision we’ve made. But if they hadn’t gotten sick, it probably would have been just fine.

Of course, then I wouldn’t be able to say that one night I walked the streets of Sin City looking for drugs.
If you have any similar stories, I’d love to hear about it.  Just comment below.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

I Think, Maybe, I Just Got Profiled ... As a Dad?

At first, I laughed, because that’s what I usually do when I don’t hear something a stranger says to me. Then it dawned on me what she said, and I didn’t know whether I should be offended instead.
“That’s so you don’t have to do the dishes, ” she quipped matter-of-factly, with a smirk.
I was in Target, getting some random supplies for the homestead: Razors for me, pull-ups for the boy, cat food for … well, that’s obvious. And it just so happened that we were out of paper plates. So I got those also, in two sizes – dinner and desert. 
While I was loading the two stacks of paper plates into the cart, the older woman passing by looked at me and said it, with a smirk.
That’s so you don’t have to do the dishes.
Not making light of Dad repression.
I just really love Monty Python.
For the record, we don’t use paper plates a lot around our house. We like to have them on hand in case we have company with other kids, or we have a birthday cake to dispense, or we’re just feeling tired and want to avoid doing the dishes before bedtime. It’s a common feeling when you have kids.
Also for the record, I do a lot of the cooking and shopping in our house. We are a thoroughly modern family in that way. I also do the dishes a portion of the time. Of course, my wife would tell you that, when I am the one who does the dishes, I never dry them and just leave the last ones cleaned and stacked on the counter. I often get in trouble for not drying and putting them away when it’s my turn to do the dishes. Ironically, I also get in trouble for not drying and putting them away when it’s her turn to do the dishes. But that’s another blog altogether – one I’ll never write.
When this random woman at Target made her wise crack, I laughed. Maybe she was just joking. It was a perfectly funny thing to say. But maybe she wasn’t. Maybe she was really saying, “Typical man, buying paper plates so he doesn’t have to do the dishes.” And maybe she was thinking, he’s probably single and lives in a cave, or his wife must be out of town.
I know other dads – some I’ve met through dad blogging circles (it’s cooler than it sounds) -- who’d certainly be offended by that comment, especially the single dads or those stay-at-homers who always take lead on household chores like dishes. There are dadvocates out there who would chalk this up as one more example of how the mom-dominated culture is profiling, discriminating, and working to keep good dads down.
And the dadvocates would write about it. I know, because I’ve read the articles about random people who’ve said random things to them in public places that were potentially or ostensibly offensive. Like the dad whose baby had soiled its diaper at a library, and had a mom say to him, as he grabbed a diaper and headed for the bathroom, “Do you want me to handle that?” That well-intended gesture was pretty loaded. (Excuse the pun).

I always wondered why nothing like that ever happened to me.

But was this comment about doing the dishes anything like that?
Just for a second, imagine if the roles were reversed, and I said it to her as she loaded a cart full of paper plates: “That’s so you don’t have to do the dishes.”
Totally different meaning, totally different offense. And, holy crap, is it offensive. Very. Even if I was just joking. They probably would have banned me from Target (if they could catch me).
Still, maybe it was just a harmless joke. Maybe, she would have said the same thing to a mom buying paper plates. Maybe, with her little quip and accompanying smirk, she was letting me into the secret club of shoppers, child-caretakers and just-plain-old parents who all know that some days you just don’t have any energy to do the freaking dishes.
Besides, she was right. That's exactly why I was buying paper plates.
So, at first I laughed. Then I thought I should be offended. 

Yet, for some reason, it made me happy. I’d never been profiled as a dad before – at least not since I was aware such things happened.

Now, I had. I think.

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