PARENTAL CHALLENGES

 

Parenting is hard! Let’s get that out of the way right up front. When they are young it is physically exhausting, and when they are older it is a mental quagmire challenging enough to confound even Solomon the Wise. So, you would think that manufacturers of children’s products would try to make a parent’s life easier, rather than more difficult. Wrong!

 

Children’s clothing and accoutrements are made to aggravate rather than accessorize. They create unnecessary parental challenges. Just try to fold a baby bath towel and get all four corners to match evenly. The achievement of folding a baby towel is even more challenging than completing a Rubik’s Cube.

 

IT’S A SNAP

 

Or take the baby undershirts, the ones with the snaps. A structural engineer could not figure them out. Many is the time I have wanted to use duct tape just to get the undershirt to stay on properly. And what is so bad about an undershirt that goes over the head anyway?

 

Lest we forget the baby’s pajamas! There are eighteen snaps on each pair but only seventeen fasteners. 2:00 AM is no time to be snapping and unsnapping a pair of night clothes trying to come up with the optimal sequence.

 

And what is with the clothes sizes? Toddler sizes, 24 months, 2T, 4T…why isn’t there a 3T? It gets so complicated trying to decipher it all. I think the manufacturers of children’s clothing are sadistic and cruel and should be tried for parental abuse!

 

THE ULTIMATE ACCESSORY

 

Then there’s the hipster/baby carrier/boba wrap/embrace cozy! There’s even an option for a dad that looks like a parachute, The Ergonomic Baby Mission Critical. Who designed these contraptions of parental torture, NASA? They have more straps and clips than Beyoncé’s backup dancers. Attempting to put one of those on, in the parking lot of a mall, while the other kids are waiting to get out of their car seat, is the closest I’ve come to a nervous breakdown as a parent. And that’s saying something!

 

It is not as if all your faculties are in their optimal working order after a new baby arrives. With all the stress and anxiety that comes with 7 pounds, 14 ounces, being challenged by your child’s gear is the last thing you need.

JEOPARDY

 

Name two things that Dads are good for?

 

There was a time when a Dad was the shining light in their son’s eyes. He was someone to emulate, learn from, imitate, and admire. He was their source of knowledge, comfort, and entertainment. As the first and foremost male role model in their lives, a Dad held a special place in their son’s life.

 

At least that is what other fathers have told me! If you were to ask my four sons what my primary role was in their life, you would probably get a diverse set of responses; someone to play catch with, early wrestling partner, tickle-machine and family clown.

 

Those aren’t horrible labels, lord knows I’ve heard worse, but they don’t fall into the pantheon of hallowed parental roles. And I can live with that. It is the transitional role of the father, as our kids move from childhood to adolescence, that I have always struggled with.

 

KEYS AND A WALLET

 

Dads basically become two things when the boys hit mid-teens – a set of car keys and a wallet. Mom’s are still there to bring comfort, joy, compassion and love. Dad’s, wheels and meals! Even conversations are reduced to, well, hand gestures.

 

The outstretched hand is a symbol for “Car keys now!” Then there is the outstretched hand with the forlorn look which signifies “Money for food!” While the outstretched hand in conjunction with the hound dog expression is for the infamous “Car keys and money” combo.

 

Gone are the shared passions of watching another Giants comeback fall short in the ninth inning or a familiar Arrested Development episode that still brings a laugh or two. Left behind is the Sunday morning breakfast tradition of pancakes and foamy orange juice.

 

I’LL BE RIGHT HERE IF YOU NEED ME

 

But in the end, it’s good to keep it all in perspective. I should be grateful I’m still the one holding the keys and the wallet. It won’t be long before they won’t have a need to come to meet at all. Unless, that is, they are looking for someone to play catch with or a tickle-machine!

  1. What’s the appropriate duration of a timeout?
  2. Does six hours sound excessive?
  3. Why are they fussing? They have no job, bills, mortgage, laundry, projects, weeding, cleaning, defrosting, refinancing, painting, mending, refinishing, planning, polishing, emptying, loading, folding, fixing, buying, selling, trading, deciding, shining, formulating, planting, plumbing, hanging, or rearranging to do. Right now, their biggest decision is what game to play and what snack will satisfy them. With the possible exception of the Royal Family (and they must deal with that unpleasant ear problem and the miniseries fallout) no one has it better than they do.
  4. Why is there no NWL (National Wiffleball League)?
  5. Why isn’t kindergarten spelled like garden?
  6. How many woodchucks would a woodchuck chuck?
  7. Why did Richard Scarry decide to write children’s books?
  8. I was so tired this morning I popped a prenatal vitamin. Do my breasts look bigger to you?
  9. Why is the dog the only one who understands me?
  10. How come we spend most of babydom trying to get them to burp and the rest of their lives trying to get them to stop.
  11. How do you get to Sesame Street?
  12. Why isn’t Barney extinct?
  13. Am I the only one who is scared of Teletubbies?
  14. Are you sure there are only 150 Pokemon?
  15. Why does Spider-man always forge right ahead when his spider senses are tingling?
  16. What is the Boy Wonder wondering about?
  17. How come I’m the only one who gets sleepy when reading bedtime stories?
  18. What is the maximum length of a minute, as in, “I’ll be there in a minute”?
  19. If there is three of them (kids) and two of you, (parents) do they win?
  20. If there is two of them and two of you, do they win?
  21. If there is one of them…oh never mind.

 

Let Me Be There In Your Morning…

 

In 1973, I was twelve years-old and had a huge crush on Olivia Newton-John. She had just released a new album, Let Me Be There, and I asked my Mom if we could get it. I basically wanted it for the cover! So off we went to the record store at Geary and Masonic in San Francisco. We marched into the record section of the department store and my Mom located the salesclerk and asked, “Do you have that album by the trio Olivia, Newt and John?”

 

This is why I have always believed it is a parent’s sworn duty to embarrass their children. Nothing major, mind you, no naked shopping at the minimart or singing a cappella at a school function, but the little things that they will remember fifty years on. I am sure my four sons can attest to the fact that I have done more than my share of embarrassing things. They could probably come up with their own list, but here are a few of mine.

 

A Parent’s Sworn Duty

 

For years I coached the boys T-Ball and Double-A teams, never taking the competition as seriously as my fellow coaches. Every year I taught the kids a team cheer. My personal favorite was from Remember the Titans. You know the one, “Everywhere we go, people want to know… We are the Titans, the mighty mighty Titans…” We simply inserted the name of the Little League team in place of Titans. Besides the song, my season-opening talk always included this little pearl of wisdom, “This is your mitt, this is your bat, don’t get them confused.” The mortification this induced in my sons was colossal!

 

Embarrassment was not only relegated to the playing field though. Quite often a well-placed t-shirt or distinctive baseball cap could do the trick. I worked in local television at the time so there was no shortage of attire featuring the names and faces of shows that could instantly cause prepubescent humiliation. “Dude, what’s your Dad wearing?” “Whatever you do, don’t ask him!”

 

Pass the Syrup

 

Then of course there were the meals that included their friends. This was open season for a passing nickname “Pumpkin seed, can you pass the syrup?” or humorous reflection, “Remember the time (insert son’s name) was skating on the hardwood floor and crashed into the refrigerator?”

 

You may well assert that this is retribution for the wrongs of my youth, but I firmly believe it is a parent’s sworn duty to carry on family traditions. After all, Dads are only good for a few things; opening jars, killing bugs and embarrassing their children. Take away the third item and our tenure is very precarious!

AFLAC!

 

As the parent of little kids, patience is probably the most important and inaccessible of traits. I know my own father had a lot of patients. He was a doctor. But when you are in the heat of the moment with your own children, and all is collapsing around you, patience is about as unattainable as humility is for Ben Affleck. Affleck!

 

Quite often it is to your detriment because the outcome might be different, if you only had the patience to let the situation unfold. I am reminded of one particularly taxing day where I finally got our two little guys settled in for story time. The dinner and bath routines were especially chaotic, and I knew the cleanup that awaited me would probably take a few hours.

 

PATIENCE, PLEASE!

 

With both tucked in their beds, I sat down on the floor to read them a story and they bolted out of the room as if the ice cream truck was playing its tune. I wanted to scream to high heaven, “If you don’t get back in here right now, no food for a week!” but something made me hold my tongue. I think it was my wife.

 

A few seconds later they came back into the bedroom, each holding a pillow that they lovingly placed between me and the wall I was leaning against. I was touched beyond words that they would both realize my back had been bothering me and thought of a way to alleviate my discomfort. They climbed back into bed as if this were a normal course of events and waited for the story to begin. It took a few minutes for me to find my voice and begin reading “10 Minutes Till Bedtime”.

 

That simple expression of love has stayed with me for more than twenty years. More than the act itself, the thought that I could have missed it if I had not exerted some small modicum of patience, never escapes me. It makes me wonder what other acts of kindness or generosity I was deprived of because of my lack of patience. Hopefully with the grandkids I will be more patient!

CHRISTMASTIME

 

The pre-Christmas frenzy with children must be what it feels like to Steph Curry when he steps onto the court: so many points to score so little time. The kids would circle virtually everything in the holiday catalog to add to their Christmas list, “Uh, kids, do you really want this solid oak humidifier and four horsepower mower-weed whacker combo from Sears?”

 

In our house the hysteria started right after Halloween and lasted until December 26. Somehow Election Day, Veteran’s Day and Thanksgiving did not garner the same respect. In a very real sense, it was a wondrous time. The anticipation, the suspense, the questions, the lists of sizes, styles and colors; they always managed to bring a smile and trigger musings about my own childhood.

 

SANTA’S SOLUTION

 

One of my favorite parts was the forethought and complexity that demystified the Santa Claus mystique. “Daddy, you know how Sana Claws comes in ‘cause we don’t have any fireplace he lands the reindeer and stuff on the roof and Rudolph comes down and opens up the big window in the living room then Sana grabs the resents jumps on a rope and flys into the house. That’s how Daddy.” His younger brothers looked on with fascination wondering how long it would take before they could solve these perplexing riddles.

 

My wife, God bless her soul, tried to teach the boys about the true meaning of Christmas, the birth of Jesus, how he came to save us, the shepherds in the fields, the wise men…

First child: “Mommy, didn’t the wiser guys bring presents? I’ll bet they brought Jesus Monopoly Junior.”

Second child: “Yeah, or maybe a castle and some castle guys…”

First child: “Let’s look through the catalog again?”

Second child: “Yeah, thanks Mom.”

 

It was a valiant effort just the same, but spiritual enlightenment was a little out of the reach of a three and four-year-old.

 

REDWOOD

 

Everything was unveiled at this age, as if for the very first time. And I suppose they did not remember too many things from their previous Christmas celebrations, so it was all new to them.

 

  • Picking out the tree: You would think this should be an incredibly happy, handholding, Walton’s Mountain kind of event. Yet in my family it could turn into an ordeal. “That is just not right,” my wife states inspecting tree #248, located in the third Christmas tree farm we have visited that morning. By this point the boys would begin to gnaw on the tree bark they were so hungry and then my wife found it. It was always an impressive Spruce, very full without a bare spot in any direction. Then I would pull out my trusty saw, and discover why no one had touched it. The circumference of the trunk looks like a redwood. “We can’t cut this one down,” I inform my wife, “I am sure it is a national landmark; it has got to be 200 years old.” I would saw for the next forty-eight minutes. It took a forklift and the entire tree farm staff to hoist it on our van. Sweaty and numb, I would drive home.
  • Tree in stand: The act of transporting the tree into the home is not fit for family fare. Some of the expletives the tree and I shared should be kept between man and nature. It would not have been so bad if the boys hadn’t been trying to swing on the branches while I was securing it in the stand.
  • Decorating said tree: The actual decorating goes much more smoothly. There was some concern about which child hung more ornaments than the other, but upon further review, if you took the seven broken ones into account, it was about even. It is always a trip down memory lane to pull out the old ornaments and decorations. Although with the children it usually was condensed to a run down memory alley. They don’t have time for the stories. They want to get back to the hanging part and see how far up the ladder they can get before we notice.
  • Outside decorations: Once again my wife is the superior parent when it comes to involving the boys and giving them tasks they could accomplish. In my defense, though, I was on the roof hanging lights while she was putting garland around our front yard. So, while they were inside drinking cocoa and speculating about Sana, I was trying to reach the corner of the house without moving the laddahhhhhhhhhhhhh. “I’m all right!”
  • Presents: The first rule is you can’t touch the presents under the tree. Let me say first off, if that rule had been enforced there would have been an empty tree come Christmas Day. Picking up, shaking, standing on, tugging, tossing was all part of the pre-Christmas process. Sometimes they even did that to their own presents.
  • Gifts from them: This was the best! “Dad can I have tape.” Off they went to wrap their crayon in about three feet of Christmas wrap utilizing one and a half rolls of tape and enough ribbon to wrap a two door Mercedes. There it sat under the tree for three weeks, the biggest present of the bunch and best of all, it was for Daddy.
  • Christmas (early) morning: It happened as early as 5:02am and as late as 5:17am. Of course, this made it very easy to attend the early services. They came barreling into the bedroom, blanket in one hand, Pooh Bear under the other. They dragged you out to the tree to see that yes, Santa had eaten their cookie and taken the carrot to Rudolph. The frenzy began as they dove into the presents like rugby players jumping into a scrum. They stopped only long enough to ask if there were anymore. The day was pretty much nonstop with brief interludes for worship and eating. At the end of the day, they would lay in their bed exhausted, sleeping with their favorite new board game under the pillow, and ask that simple question, “How long ’til next Christmas?”

 

OUR HOUSE

 

Raising four sons and reflecting on my youth, offers a stark contrast between our shared experiences. In some ways it is remarkably similar; two parent home, go to school, dinners as a family, juggling the demands of a multi-person household.

 

GENERATIONAL DIVIDES

 

In other ways the generational divide is a chasm greater than Prince Harry’s with the Royal Family. After much contemplation (and iced tea) what follows are my top ten generational divides.

 

  1. When we had friends over, we would put a favorite album on the turntable and then everyone vied for who could pick the next vinyl. Today, they put on an episode of The Office or Arrested Development and laugh like they’ve never seen it before.
  2. In grammar school we learned how to write cursive, compose formal letters, and address an envelope. Today, these well-honed skills are going the way of the VCR, wine coolers, and public tolerance.
  3. If a movie were airing on TV, we knew it would probably be another two to three years before we would have the opportunity to watch it again. Today, well, virtually everything is available for viewing at any time of the day or night. Even stuff you don’t want to see, like Adam Sandler films!
  4. Typing was a class we took in high school. Granted, it was taught by the JV football coach who utilized the two-finger-hunt-and-peck method himself, but it was a required class. Today a three-year-old is master of the TV remote and tablet before they are even potty-trained.
  5. Our superheroes flew off the comic book page or were relegated to Saturday morning cartoons. Today, thanks to special effects wizardry, their prodigious skills are illuminated on the big screen with remarkable frequency.
  6. Quisp, Quake, Apple Jacks, Fruity Pebbles, Boo-Berry, Crunchy Nuggets, Corn Snaps, Honey Snaps, Kaboom… this was breakfast! Today, your ten-year-old wants to become a vegan after viewing a documentary about the beef industry in school.
  7. Dinners were overshadowed by Walter Cronkite reporting, with his usual gravitas, the daily count of fallen military in Viet Nam. Today, dinner is just a brief interlude between League of Legends games.
  8. If you were going to be late getting home and there were no payphones close by, there was going to be hell to pay when you walked in the door. Today, they can just ignore your texts and phone calls and allege there was no service in the area. “But you were downtown?”
  9. Commercials were a part of our everyday life. It was the price we paid for music on the radio and our favorite television programs. Today, bootlegging allows you to listen and watch unencumbered by those annoying interruptions.
  10. When we were getting married, our parents encouraged us to select a fine china pattern and silver to go with it. If you bring this up today, they have difficulty even grasping the concept of why you would need such frivolous utensils. “The sporks that come with the takeout work just fine for us.”

WHAT GOES UP…

 

As I sit here today, my head is spinning. Our abode has been a revolving door of sons rotating in and out of the house. I’m tempted to put a Wendy’s sign out front. Except when you go to Wendy’s you typically pay some money!

 

With that in mind, I started ruminating on the meaning of it all. At times joyous, stressful, sorrowful, laughable, and chaotic. Occasionally all at once. I determined the only answer can be, God has a sense of humor. To that end, here is irrefutable evidence God has a sense of humor.

 

  • Kids move out, kids move back in, move out, move back in, out in. When does it end?
  • Dishes are in the sink, on the counter, on the table, in their room, and on top of the six-foot bookcase. What are they doing up there? How did they get up there?
  • There are three drops of milk in the carton in the refrigerator. Three drops! But there is plenty of Oat Milk. Seriously, Oat Milk?
  • For 18 years your life revolves around your children then they head off to college. Now what are you supposed to do?
  • Unrelated: Why would anybody wanna go on up to Greasy Lake?
  • Your kids pick up some of your wife’s good traits and ALL of your bad ones!
  • You are at a restaurant with your disheveled son. His hair hasn’t seen a comb since the Obama administration, he has seven days of beard growth and his t-shirt has more holes than swiss cheese, but you love him and are enjoying the meal. You introduce your son to a friend at an adjoining table and they remark, “He looks just like you!”
  • Our dog barks like there is a home invasion when a four-year-old neighbor rides her tricycle by our house. But when the Amazon delivery guy opens our front gate, drops the package on the porch, and announces “Amazon” she barely stirs.
  • Videogames!
  • I can be carrying in 17 grocery bags from the car and no one pays any attention, but if I casually mention I’m thinking of ordering pizza for dinner, everyone begins to list their favorite toppings.

 

WHAT WAS THAT?

 

And then it happens, I am in the delivery room with a profound feeling of love and admiration for my wife, the likes of which I could never have imagined. I cannot even fathom the pain she has just endured and the magical glow that surrounds her now as she holds our child.

 

Our child! I gaze at this tiny being who shivers under the rough feel of the blankets, crying and scared. This gift from God gives me pause to reflect on the miracle of life. No baby has ever looked so beautiful I surmise, and then it happens, “Sir, would you like to cut the umbilical cord?”

 

I am not out for long, only a few minutes. Luckily, since we are in a hospital, they had smelling salts handy.

 

THE X-FILES

 

“What was that hiding under the blankets?” I exclaim. “Shouldn’t we get a team of doctors in here to look at it? Do Mulder and Scully know about this?”

 

One of the nurses takes me aside and explains the purpose of the umbilical cord and the cutting process after birth. Between that and the placenta I have learned enough medical jargon to last a good three years. Someone else does the Umbilical Honors and I go back to marveling at this incredible creation.

 

The first night is a bit of a blur. They wheel in our son in a glass bassinet while my wife and I try to get settled. I turnout the lights and our newborn son instantly starts wailing. Lights on, silence. Lights off, screaming intended to wake the entire floor.

 

We sleep with the lights on, setting a bad precedent, but the hospital administration insisted. I try to find a comfortable sleep-position on the foldout chair only to realize it was used in WWII to help break POWs. I have a fitful night of sleep realizing this is the first day of the rest of my life as a Dad.

 

THE SON ALSO RISES

 

The next morning, they take our son back to the maternity ward. After an hour or so, I leave my wife in the hospital room to go peek at our newborn. As I approach the nursery fear grips me when I see a team of doctors surrounding my son’s bassinet.

 

Expecting the worst (I’m Italian-Irish-Catholic in case you haven’t figured it out yet) I rush into the nursery only to hear the doctor say, “So as you can see students, this is the perfect specimen of a newborn baby…ah, nurse, more smelling salts please.”

LONG DAYS JOURNEY

 

“You’re still here?” your coworkers chide as you arrive at work yet one more day after you said the baby would be born. You realize seven months too late; I should have added two weeks onto the due date when I told them we were expecting.

 

The phone rings and you grab it while putting on your jacket; you run to get some water and leave your coworker three pages of instructions on how to handle the call if it is your wife; you see you have a new voicemail from your wife and you drive home before even listening to it!

 

You race to get home sure she is waiting in the car for you to drive her to the hospital only to walk in the house and find her stenciling the baby’s door with some Winnie the Pooh patterns (see The Nesting Season). Turns out the voicemail said pick up more paint on your way home!

 

GET IN THE CAR!

 

When you and your wife are expecting a child, and it is after the due date (which you will learn is an educated guess at best) the days are about thirty-eight hours long, loaded with false alarms. Every time my wife goes to the bathroom for longer than five minutes, I warm up the car.

 

“What are you doing?” she shouts over the roar of the motor.

 

“Get in we’ll take route number four on our options list and with traffic be there in 12.7 minutes.”

 

“I was only blow drying my hair!” your wife shouts.

 

THE WAITING IS THE HARDEST PART

 

As the days drag on everyone becomes more edgy; you, your wife; relatives; grandparents-to-be; coworkers; neighbors; the mailman. It seems like the baby will never be born and then a new fear hits you, what if my wife has just been putting on weight all these months?

 

False alarm, you tell your colleagues, we weren’t pregnant after all, it was just water weight gain!

 

In the end, the baby arrives when they are good and ready. As you will soon learn, babies do everything on their time schedule, not yours!