PARTY-TIME

 

You are at a work party without the kids, a glass of wine in one hand, peanuts in the other, all the while trying desperately to maintain a conversation with the guy in accounting when it hits you: I don’t know how to talk to adults anymore! I have nothing to say and I don’t even remember the structure of an adult conversation.

 

Sure, you talk to your wife, but those are brief snippets of one cohesive thought. “Today at work I (ten minute break to change a diaper) had a budget meeting (twenty-seven minute interruption to settle an argument, wipe faces, and load the dishwasher) where they reviewed my department (seventeen minute bath time interlude) and realized it wasn’t (bedtime story, prayer, kisses, chat about the existence of dragons, another kiss, more chatting, argument about said dragons, lights out) necessary. They gave me two weeks. How was your day?”

 

KID TALK

 

Fear hits you as you realize to have a meaningful conversation anymore the other participant must be under four feet tall, believe wholeheartedly in the existence of Spider-man and use the word “potty” in their daily vocabulary. Otherwise you have nothing to say to these people.

 

It is a shocking dose of reality as you look around the party and see that no one else seems to be having a problem discussing various adult topics. You spot your wife on the other side of the room happily carrying on a conversation with Dennis in marketing. Dennis! How come they can have a normal conversation? What is normal anyway? I should talk to the boys about normal tomorrow.

 

When you try to interject yourself into a conversation, your contributions appear to fall on deaf ears:

 

  • Movies – “I just saw Benji VI: The Last Canine on Prime. Not much of a plot, but the special effects were impressive.”
  • Politics – “My son is running for Kindergarten Rep. He would have run for Vice President if it wasn’t for that Nicholson kid.”
  • Sports – “We ranked third in the Little League Double A standings and just missed the playoffs because of those darn Riverbats!”

 

PLAY BALL?

 

Coaching my boys Tee-Ball team is one of the best things I have done as a parent to date.  For those of you not up to speed on this sport sweeping the post-toddler set, it is baseball with the ball placed firmly on a stand at the child’s waist level.  The child takes a bat and tries to hit it as far as he can.  Sometimes the tee will make it to the pitcher’s mound!  Other times they will make contact with the ball which is even more exciting since that is the object of the game.  Hank Greenwald, one of my favorite broadcasters, used to say, “You can come out to the ballpark and see something new every day.”  Truer words were never spoken than at the tee-ball level.

 

The time I spent with eleven kids under the age of seven was very satisfying, and remarkably entertaining.  Mind you, I am to coaching what the NHL is to etiquette, but my emphasis was on fun and teamwork which appeared to satisfy all involved.  Except for some of my fellow coaches, that is.

 

IT’S A GAME

 

This is one of the kid’s first exposures to team sports, if not sports in general.  I was pleased if I could get them to find first base, throw the ball forward and put the glove on the correct hand (“Remember, not the hand you throw with”).  Yet, some of the other coaches thought they were teaching them how to focus and win games.  Win games, you don’t even keep score in tee-ball! 

We played against one team who actually had a chant every time one of my players was up to bat.  I looked at the kids on this team and they did not seem to be having much fun.  Maybe I am off base on this (pun intended), but there will be plenty of times in their life for competition and bearing down for an achievable goal, tee-ball is just not one of them.

 

ROGUE BAT!

 

I remember in the second game of the season, I was given a new player who stood just slightly higher than the tee.  He was assigned the coveted fielding position of mid-second-shortstop.  In his first at bat he dribbled the ball up the third baseline.  A little unclear on the concept, he felt it was his obligation to retrieve the ball, all the while clutching the bat in his hand.  It was quite a sight, the bat flailing in his hand, running after the ball, with me in hot pursuit trying to convince him to drop the lumber and run.  No one on the other team interfered with his mission for fear they would get clocked by the bat. 

 

I am confident that the other coach, already holding a low opinion of me, felt I was very ineffectual as an instructor, and you know what, I could care less.  My kids were having fun, I knew that much, and the parents did not have any complaints. 

 

In practice they were learning some rudimentary baseball skills (very basic, such as, “This is the ball, you catch the ball with your glove, it goes on your hand”) and how to play as a team, and respect other players.  To me those were lofty goals for a two-and-a-half-month season.  I made sure that the parents knew where I stood right from the start in my coaching philosophy, and I was pleased to see they all appeared to feel the same way.

 

NO GROIN INJURIES

 

I am sure I encountered a myriad of situations that Bruce Bochy never has, but I also did not have to deal with high priced players and hamstring pulls.   Loose teeth, yes; donuts after the game, certainly; potty breaks, undoubtedly; but kid durham did not involve a single groin injury.

 

If you get this opportunity, I have three words for you, jump at it!  But utilize the opportunity to educate them on teamwork and the fundamentals of the game.  By fundamentals I mean, “This is a bat.  This is a mitt.  Try not to get them confused.”  Take the time to enjoy the kids, their enthusiasm and childishness.  Who better to act like a child than a five-year-old?  Don’t get into the competitive thing with kids at this age.  They will have the rest of their lives to worry about being first.

 

As time goes on, I hope my boys will excel in some sport, if that is their choice.  I feel they all have the skills and the potential to be very athletic.  I plan to encourage this, but not force it upon them, and especially not at the ripe old age of five.

 

Editors note: No groins were injured during the writing of this blog.

…he felt it was his obligation to retrieve the ball, all the while clutching the bat in his hand.  It was quite a sight, the bat flailing in his hand, running after the ball, with me in hot pursuit trying to convince him to drop the lumber and run

 

PARENTAL BLUES

 

Sometimes I am flooded with so many ideas and beliefs about parenting I can hardly wait to put fingertips to keyboard, and other days (like today) I am at a loss for it all.  I don’t feel fit to put another word to Dadlands, and I am pretty confident that I am failing as a parent.  My four-year-old (almost five) does not seem to respect or obey me.

 

I have come to two conclusions:  1) You cannot force someone to respect you.  2)  It is impossible to be a good parent if your children do not respect you.  In short, if not number one you are screwed on number two. That’s a Dadlands Catch 22.

 

It is very frustrating when your children do not comply with your wishes and talk to you as if they were Manny Machado and you’re the umpire.  Reasoning doesn’t work.  Time outs don’t work.  Taking away toys does not work.  There are times when it is just hopeless.

 

DEFIANCE

 

As I reflect on it now that my boys are asleep, and more closely resemble the gifts from God that they are rather than the hellions they personified earlier, I know my boys respect me.  They love me, try to imitate me and vie for my attention.  But there are times the hierarchical system begins to fail, a bolt comes undone or one of the joists becomes loose, and the respect is replaced with a sinister smile and defiant tone.

 

This sends an otherwise compassionate father spiraling towards the ceiling.  Were it not for the roof on the house I would have hitched a ride on a 757 bound for Hawaii.  There are excuses I can come up with; the boys were over-tired (the most frequent of excuses), they did not get enough playtime together, too much TV, they sat in the car too long, Venus is in Jupiter’s fifth moon, SpongeBob was a two-parter, we ran out of their favorite flavor yogurt…

 

But now that they are asleep it was any one of these or perhaps all of them.  When they wake up in the morning, they will be the sweet boys from yesterday not the hobgoblins from tonight.  It was all just an aberration; it was probably the full moon.  Yeah, that’s it the full moon.  I feel better already.  On to another blog.

 

BAGGAGE

 

Well, not every “Guys Day” is one for the memory books and I thought I needed to convey that.  I’m convinced it is not always the fault of the children either.  Every Saturday I bring a lot of baggage to the table: Job-related issues from the previous week, upcoming job-related projects and, most importantly, feedback from my wife during the preceding week.

 

In some ways it is similar to being the fourth grade teacher at the start of the new year pumping the third grade teacher for the stats and box scores on each new student.  (Oh come on we all know they did it.  I’m convinced you establish your reputation in first grade and from then on you are labeled.)  I know going in what to expect from each of my boys so maybe their actions, reactions and attitudes are a self-fulfilling prophecy based on my expectations.

 

But after a day like today, I am disappointed at the way they behaved and under-whelmed at my response.  Every conversation was a confrontation and every action was an altercation.  I did not enjoy the day, I survived it, and just barely at that.  There were no medals given out today unless the purple heart was an option.  We all went from one battle to the next.

 

WHO DOESN’T LIKE THE ZOO? 

 

I had some fun things planned, too.  We headed to the zoo first thing in the morning, it opens early for “members” (Since 1995, it’s like Visa!) because I knew they had not been in a while.

 

“I don’t want to go to the zoo!” was the enthusiastic response I received.  Ahhh, the sweet sense of appreciation. 

 

We arrived, double stroller in tow, to find a beautiful November day, short sleeve weather, only in San Francisco.  The morning goes along relatively well, a cross word here, a time out there, but I promise I’ll be better.  My older son asks for lunch at 10:30am right in front of the polar bears. 

 

The polar bear that is always in a constant state of motion eyes my youngest, thinking he would make a good mid-morning snack, so we head for the more lethargic Kodiak bear.  I break out the graham crackers and water while the Kodiak lounges in his rocky tub.  In a flash my older son is off running on the wet grass heading towards a duck pond.  Five calls to return are averted, so I begin pursuit.  As we get older, one of us is really beginning to pick up speed, unfortunately it is not me.

 

I apprehend the culprit and read him his rights, all the while passersby stare with disapproval. 

 

“Just, obey,” is all I want to say, but that wasn’t good enough for my parents and it won’t do for me.  The lecture concludes with a brief overview of the Fall of Rome, Custer’s Last Stand and the reign of Louis XIV. Then we are on our way.

 

“Daddy, can we have lunch now?”

 

10:39am and all is well.  Sea otters, penguins, more monkeys and then it is off to the petting zoo.  This will be a big hit, I tell myself confidently, it never fails.

 

SHEEP FEAR

 

We arrive and the boys take off in all directions.  If sheep could register an expression of fear this would be the time.  My two-year-old chases sheep like they were going to be his next meal, laughing menacingly all the way. 

 

My four year old’s favorite spot is an old water pump that spills into a trough inside a baby bull’s enclosure.  Unfortunately, today he has pushed aside a little three-year girl, to the astonishment of her mother and some ducks.  I gently inform him that the little girl was not finished and to move away.  Again.  And again.  Finally, “Step away from the trough with your hands in the air,” I remove his hand from the pump and pull him aside.  The little girl looks pleased but then it happens…

 

“I don’t like my daddy!  I don’t like my daddy!”  This is probably the first time in recorded history that a petting zoo was quiet because it was heard by all.  Even two goats and a llama stopped what they were doing to watch.  The most painful part was my son said these hurtful words and then went back about his business splashing with the ducks and petting the mule. 

 

11:55AM AND ALL IS WELL

 

I, on the other hand, was devastated.  I tried to regain my composure and tell myself that he did not really mean it, but the wound was there just the same.  The relationship between words and the pain they can cause are not a reality at the age of four, so any coerced apology would ring hollow.  I gather up my brood and we head for the car.  I am like a beaten man and it is barely noon.

 

The afternoon consists of one confrontation after another.  They want to watch television.  They’re tired.  Their wrestling is too rough.  They take each other’s toys.  The list goes on and on.  My patience is below sea level, so it doesn’t take much to set me off.

 

Finally, my wife gets home from work and we are all relieved to see her.  I try to express to her how bad the day was, but words do not suffice.  Saturdays are my one day to connect with my boys and I have blown it.  The good thing is they will not remember this day tomorrow.  I, on the other hand, live with its memory for quite some time.

 

WHAT DO WE SAY?

 

Nothing warms a parent’s heart more than the lilting refrain, “I want more milk!” or the ever popular “I’m cold!”  It seems to young children (and probably older children) that there is very little difference between the terms slave and parent.  And if you look at the definitions of the words, both involve being captive for a very long time, in one particular place, with very restricted mobility, and the tracking of your every move.

 

One of my major pet peeves though is when the boys begin to treat my wife and I like their handmaids, in a constant state of servitude, at the ready for their every beck-and-call (I’m fine being there for the beck, but it is the call where I draw the line).  When they are babies it is one thing, but as they get older and are capable of doing things for themselves, or at least are old enough to ask politely, I will not tolerate anything less.

 

PLEEEEEEAAAAAZZZZZZZZZZZ!

 

Periodically, my wife and I have to stand before the boys and introduce ourselves, “Boys, this is your mother, not your servant.  I am your father, also not your servant.  In fact, there are none in this house, never have been and never will be. We are all here to take care of each other and help one another.  Do you understand?  Are you listening?  Come back here…”  It doesn’t always work, but at least I try.

 

On more than one occasion my wife and I have refused to perform one of our many duties until a polite request is made, sometimes we even insist on it from the children.  It is not that I mind getting them a spoon…piece of paper…game…pencil…deck of cards…crayon…kleenex…remote…socket wrench, but they are perfectly capable of locating all these items on their own. 

 

 

Something is definitely lost in the translation, though, when you insist on the common courtesy terms.  “Did anyone say please to your Daddy?…Well, why don’t we now…come on…”  By the time they get it out, we have all forgotten what I did that warranted this heavily solicited gesture of respect.

 

REALITY 

 

I’m not sure you’re ready for this yet, but I am going to tell you the hardest thing about being a dad.  It is not waking up at 3am to comfort your child in the middle of the night.  It is not giving your feverish child a tepid bath while he pleads for you to stop, although that is pretty dreadful.  It is not even getting peed on in your new suit as you’re heading out the door for your annual meeting (maybe no one will notice).  It is coming in second in the standings after your wife on the daily popularity poll.  And you know what, it is usually a landslide! 

 

When you think about it rationally (which guys seldom do) that is only fair.  After all, your wife protected them in her womb for nine months, she painfully delivered them into this world, she probably nursed them for the first twelve months of their life while you stood by burping and making goo-goo eyes (next time say excuse me when you burp).  Granted those are both vitally important jobs, but they just do not get the same recognition as childbirth and nursing.

 

MORE BAD NEWS

           

So here’s the bad news.  You can show your children an unbelievable day, we’re talking, truly spectacular.  You can take them to the zoo, the park, the beach, all before breakfast, then to a double header at Camden Yards, off to McDonald’s for lunch, then on to a private tour of Disneyland enjoying all the rides without waiting in line, and back home on the Concorde before dinner.  Well, you get the idea.  You are the king of all you survey, and your sons have not stopped grinning since the moment he got out of bed.

           

Your wife comes home from running errands, and your kids leave you in the dust as they race to give her a hug and tell her how much they missed her.  They barely remember your name once she walks in the door and if you try to pick them up, they scream like you are a an extra from The Walking Dead!

 

THE WALKING DAD

 

Well, that is the bad news.  And there are days it will get to you more than others.  In a certain respect you must admire their taste, I mean, this is the woman you married and if they prefer her, then they just have the same good taste you do.

 

Your wife will try to console you with, “I get the same treatment myself sometimes.”  If you inquire when this happens to her, it always seems to occur when you are at work or in the shower or mowing the lawn (just kidding, I don’t mow the lawn).  Coincidence?  I think not.  This is just a simple ploy on their part to make you feel better.  There is probably an entire chapter devoted to it in one of those pre-baby books for women.

           

“Try on occasion to make your husband feel as if he is the most important person in the child’s life.  This will be of great assistance to you when he begins to become envious of the strong bond you will inevitably build with your child.  It’ll be our little secret.”  Well the gigs up ladies.  We know it is a lie and the kids like you better, so there!  Now, don’t you feel better?

 

WHAT’S IN A NAME?

 

With sincere apologies to Bruce Springsteen, Martin Sheen, Terrence Malick, Sissy Spacek, the residents of South Dakota and Nebraska, I would like to explain this blogs chosen label.  According to Funk & Wagnalls badlands is “a barren area characterized by numerous ridges, peaks, and mesas cut by erosion.”

 

If the esteemed scholars at F&W were to include the noun Dadlands in their reference work, the definition would probably go something like this: “Barren of all privacy and sleep, this lifestyle is characterized by constant emotional swings ranging from joy to sorrow to concern to worry, cut by human beings no taller than three feet.”

 

WHO WANTS TO READ “LIFE WITH HOLDEN”?

 

So why Dadlands? This is the term I have created for the world I live in.  I felt it was necessary to explain my title because I personally hold great value in the written word and the classification given to things.  Think about it, would you have been as inclined to go see “Raiders of the Lost Ark” if it had been called “The Stolen Grail”?  What transcendental quality would there be in “Catcher in the Rye” if it carried the designation “Life With Holden”?

 

I went through a myriad of titles before I settled on Dadlands.  I was actually very fond of “Paternal Instinct” but I thought it sounded like a Michael Douglas-Sharon Stone movie.  “Life in the Stenches of Parenthood” was in the running for a while but it frightened even me.  “Popstots” had a shot but every time I thought about it, it made me hungry.  “A Father’s Home Is Their Castle”, “Moonlighting” “And Baby Makes…Insanity” all had real possibilities, but once I came up with Dadlands, I knew no other title would suffice.

 

To me Dadlands captures the essence of male parenthood.  It sounds fun, maybe a little daring, it probably conjures up an image of a wide expanse.  In my world, if you fill those open spaces with noisy toys, screaming kids, soiled diapers, stacks of laundry, and a sink full of dirty dishes, the Dadlands image is complete.

 

NEW VIEWS

 

 

Certain things never occurred to me until I became a parent, or to put it another way, they never became apparent until I did.  Truisms, rules, things taken for granted all come into question when you have little ones that are dependent on you and expect to learn from you.  Like…

 

  • Why is “W” called Double-U. It would be much easier to teach your child to recognize this letter if it was called Double-V!
  • Related topic: “C” is the only letter that spelled out phonetically does not contain itself, “see”. This makes it very difficult, I propose we rename the letter “C” to “Cey” as in Ron the old baseball great.
  • If you have a boy you soon realize that most public stalls are too high, even the low ones. It should be law that every public restroom should have a least one urinal that goes to the floor.
  • Related topic: When your son flushes said public toilet, tell them to flush and run like hell because at their height the spray that comes off those public urinals will make it look like they did not make it to the bathroom on time.
  • The life of a toy is in direct disproportion to the amount of time it takes you to pick it out. If you research it, agonize over it, have trouble locating it, spend an extra forty bucks because it no longer is in circulation and has become a collector’s item, and think it is the perfect gift because it reminds you of something you always wanted as a child, its appeal will last a little longer than the box it came in.  If you buy it at a garage sale for a quarter, and balk at that because “they’ll never play with it!” it will be the one thing from their childhood they pack and take to their college dorm room.
  • A spider in the house is no longer an annoyance, it is now a threat to your child.
  • Ditto for mosquitoes.
  • Related topic: An ant in the house is no longer an insect, it could be a potential pet and you will be the bad guy for terminating it.
  • Mommy and Daddy’s bed is never off limits.   Never!
  • Related topic: There is no such thing as privacy for a parent.
  • Important related tip: Lock the bathroom door.
  • There’s more sand in your car than the playground.
  • No wall is soundproof.
  • Potty becomes a part of your daily lexicon…an important part.
  • Screaming is never appropriate, although sometimes you just “hafta”.
  • You start seriously pondering the age-old question, “I wonder what my favorite color really is?”
  • You tie someone else’s shoelaces at the gym before a workout.
  • You find a Gummi Bear in your work pants…and it has melted…onto the keys…that start your car…and you’re in a parking lot…where it’s raining…and you’re with a client.
  • There is a Batman figurine in your briefcase, but not the contract for your 2:30 meeting.
  • You know the name of every Pokemon, but you have forgotten some of your coworkers.
  • You start seriously wondering, “Who is my best friend?”
  • Your boss asks you how to spell eBay and you reply “little e, big B, little a…”
  • You end a heated discussion at work with “Because I’m the Daddy, that’s why!”
  • You rarely leave the house without dried spittle somewhere on your clothes.
  • The normal state for your body is exhaustion.
  • The normal state of your check book is red.
  • You find your memory isn’t…where was I?