Friday, March 25, 2011

Ruminations on Input

Woo, three blog entries in the same month. Haven't done that in awhile. Anyhow.

This blog may be a bit more philosophical and consideratory (it's a word now, sod off) than most. Be ye warned. Oh, second warning on re-reading what I've wrote. There's a very good chance I'll offend or insult most people at some point in here. Yes, that really does mean and include you. Be ye twice warned.

So over Spring Break - which sadly, is past - I had a fairly significant mental difficulty. One thing that you'll find about parenting: you make all kinds of promises on the day the kid's born, and prior to, that you later find yourself grappling with in the cold stark realities of living your own life and guiding an entity with a mind of its own.

One of these for me: television. Now, it's no secret to anyone who has ever heard me rail on that I consider television the new "opiate of the masses." (And dork cred points to anyone who knows what the old "opiate of the masses" is and who said it.) People turn it on, turn off their brain, stare like drooling zombies at whatever is forced down their throats by a scandal-hungry, drama-inducing media, and waste their entire lunch period the following day talking about it. Ye gods save me from becoming one of the gibbering masses of morons. I mean, seriously - you people who "like turning off your brain" every night - what the hell is wrong with you? Does this not tell you something is wrong with your world that you need to change when you don't want to be a part of it? I've never understood any mentality that genuinely seeks to not think or question, but obviously the world's full of them. Poor bastards.

Anyhow. So Lucas, like most kids his age, was introduced to something that stuck and did so in a big way: the movie "Cars." You know the one, Lightning McQueen, Mater-the-Cable-Guy, etc, etc. Fine. And like most toddlers, he likes watching it a lot. He also, like most toddlers, will sit staring, absolutely mesmerized, for a very large portion of the film - coming out only briefly at parts he is less interested in - to disappear again for the rest of the film. This makes for a suddenly tremendously easy-to-control toddler. It also triggers a HUGE, HUUUUGE, possibly HUGEST daddy reflex:

My son will not, repeat not, under any circumstances become a television zombie. He will be better than that. (Elitist? Absolutely. If you're not elitist about your child, you're a fool and aren't fit to raise offspring. Why would you NOT seek to make your child the best person who could ever walk the earth? Your job as a parent is to better the human race and raise the best human being you can. If you don't view your child as, in some fashion, potentially the best human being EVER, go cut off your organs. I'm not kidding. Elitism is nothing to be ashamed of when it drives motivation.)

...but here's Lucas, and he's pretty clearly in zombie mode. You can wave a hand in front of his face. Nada. Hell, half the time he doesn't even follow your fingers or blink. For a kid who spends most of his time watching every detail of the day and bouncing off every wall, it's deeply disturbing to see such a dramatic, radical shift in his behavior. Think about your favorite puppy suddenly stopping everything else it did to stare at a wall for an hour. It's downright creepy. People have no problem with this?

Well. One person whose opinion I respect - Amy - clearly does not have a problem with this; she puts the movie on, after all. It would be easy for me to scowl at her, holler about parental-evasion-of-duty and so on, but rather than immediately climb even higher on my egotistical-better-than-thou pedestal, I decided to give the matter some more serious consideration.

What is it I don't like about television, that drives me so intensely?

1. It causes one to sit, largely inert, for long periods of time, with no interaction with the outside world.
2. The stories passed through the television are, for the most part, utter garbage. Highly predictable laugh-track rubbish that we've all seen in other forms a dozen times before, or, far worse, "realism" television in which largely imbalanced people with bizarre personality quirks are thrown together for a gladiator-spectacle, vicarious-vampiric, visual feast. We either watch stupid, tired story tropes that haven't changed in the last hundred years, or we watch other people's suffering, and take sick joy in the fact that it's not our own, and that we can gossip about their stupidity. Because of course, we're better than that. Once in awhile, for true enjoyment, we watch overpaid, overglorified, over-chemical-ed men hurl around small objects and strut about in the mind-boggling confidence that their skill with this small object makes them a pinnacle of humanity, despite the fact that most can't pay their own bills, take care of their own children, or live a sane, stable, LEGAL life.
3. It takes up significant quantities of time in an uninterruptable fashion - you watch when they want you to watch, so shut up and take your garbage with a smile.

Well, fine, that set of reasons to hate television works great for me. I'm also aware, though, that most of society finds the above set of reasons inapplicable to them (excuse-seeking idiots) or unimportant (priority-blind morons.) So at what point do I balance my own desire to raise Lucas above, with the fact that he will have to interact with the television-drugged masses? Or do I accept that I'm saddling him, before he's made a choice himself, with the advantages and disadvantages and social challenges of my deliberately chosen heavily-anti-television lifestyle? (Before you claim I'm overdramatizing here, consider how many societal inputs come through that thing that affect your daily life - now imagine if you got NONE of them.)

There's also a good chance that any such dramatic cutoff in Lucas's life would bring me into direct conflict with my wife and my child's daycare, both of whom use television both to entertain and to assist in controlling the kiddo. The notion of conflict with my wife always makes me think, in advance, of what would occur (Plan your attack, fellows! Never go in against a woman unprepared, they think quicker on their feet - estrogen does that, I suspect) and so the question legitimately springs forth: What would you rather Lucas do?

And the answer, of course, springs forth from my head: read books! Play games!

Being not a complete fool (in theory), though, I held my own suggestions up to my own critical lens.

"Insert inane rambling about sitting lifeless for periods of time. "
Well, I certainly can't claim that books lack the ability to make one lose touch with the world around you. I had a friend in college who could lose an entire weekend with a good book. I've seen people lose track of hours, and I once stood on my chair in my classroom and waved my arms around while students were reading a good book - and no one noticed. So it would seem that getting "sucked in" can certainly happen in a book.

Video games score a little better here, though. You do have to interact with them, and thus you're still doing more than just staring blankly forward. In fact, video games actually require a pretty intensive amount of brain power most of the time - at least the ones I play. I don't have any great desire to introduce Lucas to mindless shooting games like "Call of Mercenary Duty Medal of Pacific Black Ocean Op XIV...with Halos." Many games these days are played online, and require very large amounts of interaction, cooperation, and teamwork. Heck, online games offer such a variety of weirdo personalities that if you want to be successful, you have to learn diplomacy and how to work with people that really need to be smacked. In television, they just smack each other; points to video games for life skills that matter.

"Insert obnoxious ranting about rubbish stories that are totally predictable."
This, obviously, is where books tend to do a bit better - good ones, anyhow. The variety of tales to be had in between two hard covers can boggle the mind; far more so than television can offer, because books don't require anywhere near as large an audience to be successful. If you don't need to make as many people happy to make a buck, you can write the weird. (A lot of book readers like the weird anyhow.)

Video games tend to fall badly short here, though there's a trend of change in that. In terms of storyline, video games seem to be taking their cue from the television world and even the best story-telling games (Bioware's games being the obvious leader here) still follow predictable tracks.

By the by, anyone who throws out "violence in video games" as an objection to their inclusion with a child's possible input diet needs to take a real good, hard look at what they're watching in the evenings and then shut it. Reality TV may not - generally - have a lot of shootings, but the amount of backstabbing and maneuvering going on there would make any digitized hero blush.

Conclude with arm-waving ragepoast about uninterrupted blocks of time being required.
Books obviously rock out pretty hard here. While we may not wish to put down a book, it's always doable. Video games are a wash; some are pausible, others, particularly those that require interaction with others, frequently are not. It's also worth noting that with the rise of TiVo, Netflix, etc, that television is becoming more pausible as well.

I dunno. My case against television isn't as sound as I would like it to be. All three are equally as addictive. All three have their good points and bad ones. I think the reason that children prefer games over the other two, if I were so bold as to guess (and let's face it, I am), is because of the interactivity. The child gets to control the character on the screen. Television tends to get the next nod because it requires less mental work to get the input you're after, as opposed to a book requiring one's imagination - the most work at all. Thus only children with the best imaginations tend to prefer that medium, since it - for them - requires not so much work. (And that's why some kids who won't read WILL read if it's a certain kind of book - they get to enjoy the "mental picture" without much effort, since it's easier for them to imagine.)

So where does that leave me? I still strongly dislike television - it requires no interaction, no mental work for the imagination, and I still find it deeply creepy to see my normally ultra-active child staring into space for even twenty or thirty minutes at a time. I'm willing to admit, though, that he is - at least for now - too young to really get into books (at least without sitting on a lap and watching the pages), and too young to play most video games that he'd get anything out of.

I guess ultimately, the takeaway is the old parenting advice: know what your child is watching/reading/doing. If what they're watching has a decent message, I guess some TV is okay. If there is a $divinebeing$ (that's quasi-programmer-code for "insert the name of a divine being here" for those who may not know) watching, Lucas will grow over time to recognize that 99% of television is the same tired story being retread with different faces on it and he'll reject it. I'll have to hope that I can offer up things that will be more engaging for him in time; good books, thought-provoking games. And, alas, I guess I'll have to endure hearing Chick Hicks holler "Kuh-chigga, kuh-chigga" a few hundred more times. There are worse movies with worse concluding morals (or is it morales? I can never remember..) than "Sometimes it's better not to win and show respect than win at all costs."

...but you still won't see me putting the movie on when Amy's not home. I'm stubborn, and him watching TV means not playing with me. I'd rather Lucas sit on my knee while I demonstrate the best series of strategies to bring down an orc any day.

MT out.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Of Apples, Trees, and Very Silly Festivals

I've noticed that all parents - myself certainly included - have a habit of trying to discern as much as they can about El Minimunchie as early as they can. "Oh, the child has this tendency, that comes from you, oh, the child has that tendency, that comes from me." Dude's habit of sleeping one foot out from the blanket at night when he was teeny looked very suspiciously like his dad's full-grown habit of same, for example. Whether or not there's any sanity to this practice - particularly when the child is not yet old enough to be mobile - is a question I prefer to avoid.

It's true that as a child ages, though, these comparisons may be a bit more legitimate. I'm no child developmental specialist and I think the whole "Nature vs Nurture" thing is bunk anyhow; kids inherit behaviors to some degree and then learn them by the parents demonstrating them without realizing it just as well. This weekend offered up just such an opportunity for observation and speculation.

Kiddo, wife, and myself went to the "North Texas Irish Festival" this weekend. While to me, this was merely shades of Hell (AKA Fredricksburg, Texas) revisited, Amy was very enthused about going, and Lucas is enthused about anything, so fine, Dad shuts up, works to make the family happy, and off we go. The drive - about an hour in length - was relatively pleasant, Lucas being a good traveler. As one might have expected, the festival was overrun with people. People dressed in green, people dressed in what they think is period clothing, people dressed in far too little clothing, and of course, hundreds of men running around in kilts talking about how "free" they are.

(Sidebar 1: Gentlemen. While I respect your right to wear the apparel that suits you, I have absolutely no need to know if George is swinging freely through the jungle under that kilt, or if you've got him cinched up and snug. Please do not inform me of your "freeness." Thank you.)

(Sidebar 2: Ladies. Please use decent sense and decorum. While a festival is intended to be a time of enjoyment, celebration, and casual, relaxing behavior, please think of the rest of us. If you would not normally show 80% of your flesh - mostly rammed upward through the boning of a corset - please consider the wisdom of doing so now. Further, placing fake tattoos on aforementioned upward-rammed areas to draw attention does not increase your appeal. The extra glances you are getting is merely the same kind of extra glancing one sees when the horrible train wreck we're all gawking at suddenly adds a four car pileup to the mess. You're still making us uncomfortable. You've just upped the ante. Modesty is not required, but bear in mind the age-old adage regardless of your comeliness:

Less is more. They're not talking about the clothing. Usually.

Thank you.)

Strangely - this not being something I'm used to from various fairs in Florida - people were also allowed to bring their dogs to this particular green-laden gathering. Okay, fine, except that my kid in a stroller and your dog are now on the same level. Given the impressive amount of TEETH in your dog's mouth, this does not make me happy. I'm sure your dog is cute and lovable. I also don't know your dog. So unless you would like to hand my son something very fragile and trust me when I tell you he won't drop it, don't expect me to be happy about your dog near my son's face.

Lucas rode arms, shoulders, and necks a lot that day. Unfortunately, he rather likes to walk now, and this caused a bit of consternation for all involved. Lucas has also displayed a trait that, again, seems to be shared by his father: he has a very strong aversion to crowds and loud noise. This may be because he's rarely around them - mommy only occasionally getting that urge and daddy practically never - but for whatever reason, any time we got vaguely close to a concert venue, he would get noticeably more unhappy.

Eh, fine. Dad's not heartbroken, and mom's just there for the Guiness. (I lie. She was there for all of it, but with a rapidly-getting-unamused child, we took the Guiness and ran.)

And it was in fact during the taking of Guiness that a bit of a parental revelation moment happened. Kiddo, wife and husband were generally strolling towards the exit when we came upon an exhibit with a guy showing off various horse skills. (Lucas interjection: What does the horsey say? "Neeeeigh" in a laughing tone.) Lucas takes interest, over we go. As fate would have it, another kiddo is there. Smaller than Lucas, but definitely a bit older. (This is not an unusual combination with our mini-Shrek.) Other Kiddo is on a leash, and also watching the horses with what appears to be Grandpa.

(Sidebar 3: Leashing your kids. Seriously, people? What better way to say "I want my kid to be able to run around, but I don't want to have to pay attention to them, and I'd really rather not have to put up with the bother of teaching my child to return when I call them." Few things say "Responsible parent" quite like having your DOG and your CHILD using the same kind of restraint. Hey, while we're at it, why don't we get child-walkers like the dog-walkers and hey, maybe we could walk them both at once. There's all kinds of potential for hilarity and cross-species peeing incidents there! Your child is not a pet. Do not put a harness on them and treat them like one. End of sidebar.)

So Other Kiddo takes one look at Lucas, runs up and gives him a solid push to the chest. Lucas, for his part, blinked at this episode, and simply walked a few feet away to another part of the corral area. Grandpa - hurray Leash Parent - didn't even notice the incident at all, even though another set of parents were there and commented rather loudly, "That's not nice." Figure Grandpa probably doesn't pay much attention to his dog, either.

Dad returns with a funnel cake, his one guilty pleasure of fairs. Shows funnel cake to Lucas, who needs very little urging to partake of much fried-dough-and-sugar goodness. (That's daddy's boy, heh, heh.) After the two beasts have sated themselves, Lucas strolls the few feet back over to the corral... where, you guessed it, we have Other Kiddo, Lord of the Leash, still standing.

Lucas takes no note of Leashboy. Leashboy, on the other hand, immediately notes and reacts to Lucas's presence - here's shove #2. This one gets Lucas's attention and he's kind of peering at Leashboy. Doesn't get what's going on. Lucas hasn't offended Leashie, hasn't bothered him in any way that he can tell, so what's up Leashie's bung? (I mean, aside from the obvious, "He's wearing the outfit that Grandpa borrowed from ROVER on the way to the FAIR" issue.) Leashboy, not intimidated by a kid who's about 20% larger, lands a third push, and this one actually makes Lucas step back once.

Now Lucas, you see, has some of Dad's facial structure. (Okay, a lot of it.) He, probably as a result of that and seeing me, wears his emotions in a lot of the same ways. He apparently, at least in part, also has his dad's temper - because he expression went from "puzzled" to "non-existent." For those who know me, this is a danger sign. It's when I'm contemplating, or struggling not to, let the old temper have some room to run.

Lucas looked at this kid again, and now his expression has gone blank. Dad is thinking "Oh boy. This isn't good," because Lucas is NOTICEABLY larger, and this kid is standing by the corral in such a way that if Lucas decides to return the favor, Leashboy is going to get plastered to those metal bars in the finest hockey-check tradition, and with about the same end result. Lucas will then look like a bully, and ah, the world will not be fine.

Instead of making Leashboy into Meatboy - as might've been deserved - Lucas stops and looks over at me with this huge sigh, and breaks into pout face/pout mode. Apparently, while Lucas may have a dose of dad's temper, he possesses some degree of self-control. (This is a good thing.) He also knew that clobbering a kid who had it richly coming wasn't okay. While this may or may not be promising for his future in mixed martial arts, this does make for a proud poppa.

I scooped up the dude, and we finished off some extra remnants of funnel cake while mom and dad scowled heavily at Grandpa. (Who, by the by, barely noticed this incident, and didn't comment or react beyond turning, blinking, and then turning back to the horses.)

Amy is now of the opinion that perhaps we should've given Grandpa an earful. Engh. Maybe. What matters to me is that - right now, anyway - Lucas's character is still on the right track: Unless real harm is done, it is inappropriate to beat the heck out of a jerk. And if you're smart enough to make that decision in front of the right other people, you even get a reward.

I'm just glad that Lucas didn't inherit his mother's temper. He'd have been swearing at Leashboy all the way out into the parking lot.

MT out.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

22 Months and Counting

So the wife harangued me into getting this thing going again. Meh. We'll see how it goes. It's true that I should probably be writing for pleasure again more than I have been. This'd be more pleasureful if I actually got commentary that evoked more desire to write, but hey, nothing like internet-exhibitionism, right?

(Just be glad I'm only exposing myself textually, no? Yeesh.)

Lucas, the munchy dood, the terror on two legs, he-who-loads-diapers, Lord of the Crib, Emperor of the High Chair, Wielder-of-Small-Wooden-Objects, Chaser-of-Dogs, Tipper-of-Plates-of-Food, is now approaching his second birthday. He's becoming noticeably more verbose; I've stopped bothering to find out how this compares to the child average, but somewhere between the ages of one and two, children - or at least this child - starts showing steady progress. I think it's that the brain has figured out the extreme complexity that is basic locomotion, and can now apply itself to more complicated issues like speech and understanding the world around him. We're starting to see a LOT more imitation...

(Pssst. Never use the phrase "Nice boobies" in front of a toddler. S'all I'm gonna say, ya dig? K. It's totally funny but man oh man does your wife give you a LOOK.)

...and a lot more of "I do it" and "I got it" behaviors. He's trying to become like his parents (poor sap, such lousy role models he has, at least for his dad) and it's becoming more obvious. He's even starting to adopt some of the facial expressions and remarks - "Aw, man!" - that he sees around him. I'm sure I've said this before somewhere, but there's something deeply humbling about seeing your own behaviors in someone else who's replicating them as faithfully as possible. Makes you look a bit more carefully at what you do.

Lucas is getting to the point now where playing with him, as a dad, is a bit less silly. He'll show up with a book in his hands and start tapping it on my knee and saying "Book!" until I read it to him. Well gee, darn. I'll just have to read to my kid. The difference now is that you no longer feel as though you're reading into a vacuum. He'll repeat words, point at things, identify pictures.

Speaking of repeating things, I've never quite gotten how parents can stand watching the same film a bajillion times - at least until now. I mean, seriously, how do you not rock back and forth, humming and biting your fingernails the 1000th time Barney prances across your screen? I remember reading an article about a guy who beat up someone in a Barney outfit once; I can sympathize. Anyhow, Lucas, you see, has a certain fondness for the movie "Cars" and all things "Cars" related. (The fact that this may or may not have been introduced/encouraged by his mother seems utterly unimportant to him.) So that movie has graced our television screen more times than adult stars have graced Charlie Sheen's house. (Ha! See, I used topical humor there. Be amazed.)

I've started to notice, though, that many times while Cars is on, I don't watch the film - I watch Lucas. His reactions, his responses, the things he repeats and the things he loses interest in. That changes with every watching of the movie. Used to be, in the big car-crashing scene early in the movie, Lucas got very agitated - he didn't like seeing cars smashed - but later on, that didn't bother him. Now, though, seeing Lightning crashing through Radiator Springs agitated the heck out of him. It's interesting to see what fascinates him one day and becomes old hat the next - and vice versa.

Here's the closing thought that I wonder about, though:

When Lucas is watching a TV show with us (or rather, we're watching one while we eat and Lucas is there), most of our shows go into breaks of scene with a dramatic revelation. (You know, the typical cliffhanger at commercial or end-of-episode.) Here's the thing... there's no way Lucas is following the plot. Can't be, yet. All the same, though, whenever there's a big scene break, he stops watching the TV, looks at us, and says,

"Uh oh!"'s he do that?

I know so little about kids.

Monday, June 7, 2010

How To Remove Your Manhood in One Easy Step

So there's a term in the parental world I've managed to avoid encountering until now. It is the antithesis of all that is male, the yin to the yang of testosterone, the black pieces to the white pieces of swagger-and-boast, the ultimate "null" confronting all that is the Cult of the Swinging Cod.


Even mentioning the term amongst the Brethren of the Hairy Armpit will instantly create snickers, if not outright mockery. To be forced to participate in one is to be emasculated to the core of your soul. Or at least, this was my attitude on the subject prior to this weekend.

Amy had warned me before that it was entirely probable that at some point (notice all the qualifying words - even now, my core still rejects what has come and gone) we would have to make other couple friends. Specifically, couple friends who had a child the same age as our son. Ah, joy, rapture, and bulshevik, says me: I don't do double dates, I don't do social outings, and I SURELY do NOT do other people's small children. Oh. Hell. No.

So it was with some surprise that I found myself agreeing to - even, possibly urging towards - a pair-with-child social outing this weekend. The truth is I'd yet to see my child playing with other children. We don't exactly hang out together at his school, and Lucas is the lone gunman at our place. I was curious. In this case, the fact that I knew one of the pair coming with the other kid helped, too. She's decent folk, and possessed of good sense, relatively keen mind (relatively. She's a teacher, so c'mon, be reasonable, heh, heh) and sarcastic wit. The excuse to clean up our house (yeah, that's one you'll run into as well - with a little one rumpusing around, cleaning house seems a bit more pointless) was a good thing to have as well.

So. Clean house, clean kid, hell, I even shaved on a weekend. That's all the effort you get from me for this pair-with-child (no, I won't say THAT word again) social outing.

I must admit I was surprised. Turned out not to be such a bad gig. Thing is, having a kid makes certain normal outings a bit more stressful. It's not that you CAN'T go out to eat with the Lil' Dude, it's that he makes things a bit more interesting. When he decides to test his maximum volume with a mighty gleeful shriek at home, this is enchanting. When he does it at your favorite Italian eatery and the entire room turns to see what horrible medieval act you are performing on your child, this is humiliating.

Pair-with-child social outing, not so much. Both kids are going to shriek. Both pairs know it. So we're all good with it. Bonus: you get to see the other child's reaction to aforementioned shriekage. You can talk to adults without wondering what they'll think when Lil' Dude unloads a big pile into the ol' diaper. If he tosses food on the floor now, this is not uncomfortable - it is accepted social norm! Amongst non-parents, a child getting a bloody nose would be the cause for much alarm. In this case - because, as it happened, the visiting child managed to bonk herself a good one with one of Lucas's toys - it was hardly even worthy of a minute's change in conversation.

Yea verily. Pair-with-child social outings aren't such a bad gig. Kid gets to play (and you get to see a bit more of your kid's personality thereby) you get to relax, and all is well with the world.

...just don't mention the concept to the other Lords of the Couch.


Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Lucas Emmett Fletcher, 370 days later

So the dude had his first birthday party this weekend. Kinda weird. The wife says she can't imagine that so much time has passed and that he's already a year old, but to me it feels about right. Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying every moment was agony or anything like that (though the number of times that guy managed to rack me....his career as a ninja is assured) but it feels to me like a year has indeed come and gone.

Lucas isn't a "new" thing in our lives anymore, and he's not an "adjustment" that has to be made. Clan Fletch isn't two anymore. It's three. We're a group, a team, and that's that. We make plans for three, and even if one member isn't terribly polite at the dinner table, that's hardly a switch from having Dad around anyhow.

I'm guessing most guys are like me, and prior to having your own kid, going to the birthday parties of little kids always seemed a bit silly. Waiting for kiddo to open the paper on his presents, watching him ooh and ahh over some silly thing for twenty seconds, then fuss, drool, and move on to the next one. Oh yeah, here's big fun, lemme tell ya. I even had the thought - more than once - that Amy was making far too big a deal about his first birthday party. It's not like the kid's going to remember it, right? So why put in so much time and effort?

Yeah, well. Truth is, the first birthday is kind of two-fold. It's partially new experiences for the kid, and there's a definite undertone - if not exactly stated and celebrated - of "Congrats on making it through a year of parenthood." And hey, that's not a small deal. There's a lot of change in that first year, and it's not all the dude. Rescheduling your life and having to set up a reliable babysitter for Friday nights is new, y'know? (Yes, there's a lot more, but hey, let me dwell on what I choose, m'kay?)

The new experiences for the kid, I must admit, are kind of fun for the dad. I can see how other guys might roll their eyes, but take heart new fathers, this day will not suck so verily mightily as other lil'-kid birthdays you may have been suckered into in the past. Watching some other kid dig into his first birthday cake? Meh. Woopty-friggin-doo. Watching your own kid do it? Not so bad. Kids are at their most ... "personalityish" when they're experiencing new things. You see the real personality of YOUR offspring. And seeing Lucas try to figure out both what the heck this white squishy thing in front of him was, and why everyone and their brother was watching, was kind of fun.

(For the record, Lucas scratched at the cake, leaned down to bite it, reconsidered, and then began tearing off huge hunks to stuff in his mouth. He rapidly acquired a cake "glove" and when bathed, the water looked a lot more like he'd done some biz than it did like water-with-cake.)

I still stand firm in the belief that presents that make noise are the kind of thing you give people you hate, by the by, but Lucas seemed quite amused with his. Thankfully for dad, though, he was most fond of a big plastic toy truck that he also got. That, too, is an interesting change in pre-and-post Dad life; you take - at the very least - an academic interest in what your child's favorites are. You wonder about what this suggests and implies about the child and his/her future.

(And in point of fact you're probably wrong in all cases, but hey, won't stop the speculation, right?)

Speaking of speculation, a final point or two in closing - Lucas still isn't crawling, but he's got what I refer to as a "monkey walk" he does now. From a sitting position, he reaches forward with his arms, pulls himself along the floor, and pushes down with his legs for more traction. Looks kinda like a monkey dragging himself along. Very silly, but surprisingly effective. Gotta wonder what the pets think, though:

Lucas can drag his butt on the ground, but they can't? What gives?

-MT out

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Passing time, his and mine

One of the hardest adjustments most dads - or at least, this dad - has had to make is probably pretty obvious on the surface, but also a bit more complicated as time goes on.

Funny thing. Babies - or I guess in Lucas's case now, infants? (Sidebar: When do babies become infants? I get that "toddler" is probably the point at which they can, well, toddle, around... but I mean, there's this progression, right? Newborn, baby, infant, toddler, little kid, child, teenager, parent, college student, adult. What demarcates those early stages? End of sidebar.) Infants take a lot of time. The thing is, though, it's a different kind of time-taking than when they were younger.

Wee lil' ones tend to take your time in blocks. They're asleep a lot, so you get some spare time, and when they're awake, their need for attention is medium-constant. Partially it's because you WANT to play with kiddo. Partially it's because kiddo needs a lot of things when they're awake. So you get used to "Dad mode" and "Not dad mode" which can also be called "sleep mode," for the first month or two. Fine, cool, you get used to it, life goes on.

Around about Lucas's imminent 1-year age, though, things change. Kiddo is learning to amuse himself, at least some of the time, as long as he can keep an eye on one of his parentals. (Usually he prefers mom, but occasionally I get the nod. I've moved from "disposable furniture" to "mildly important but non-required mobile jungle gym. Woot.) When he does need something, though, it tends to come somewhat without warning, and it tends to be more urgent. He gets cranky faster at this age - and louder, too. You think your baby can unleash a wail? Fella, let me tell you: the bigger the kid, the mightier the lung, and by one year they can drown out a full symphony if they've got a mind to do so. He still sleeps for decent blocks of time, but they're not as long or as frequent, and when he's awake, he requires less attention, but it's more intermittent.

This tends to cause a problem if you're like me, and you need a chunk of time any given day that isn't interrupted. Some people's hobbies and nature are such that they don't mind getting up to do something quickly, then going back to what they're doing and aren't in the least bit disrupted. My wife is one of these people, and I, the world, and Lucas are vastly enriched for her nature. I, on the other hand, am not. I can quite happily take care of Lucas for a decent block of time without batting an eye, and I have no qualms about any job, no matter how onerous (okay, I lie, I fear the poo diaper).... but when I'm "off duty" I tend to do things that require no interruption, and my inherent nature as a person is that I'm very much "involved" in what I'm doing. As a result, the fastest way to a cranky daddy is to constantly interrupt me.

...which is what Lucas tends to require at this point, and I imagine once he's crawling around, I'll see one hell of a lot more of.

Now my hobby set is probably a little unusual for most guys - I'm a reader, a gamer, a writer and a "sit and think"-er. Not a single one of those hobbies deals well with interruption, alas. I'm guessing most guys will have "television watching" on their list, and unless you own a T-VO, you're not keen on interruptions either.

This does present a problem. I'm not sure that there IS an easy solution, but perhaps with enough forewarning you can shift things around a bit. I've had to pretty much bag up and toss out two of my favored games that I played quite a bit, as they both can require two and three hours of uninterrupted time, and have consequences such that an interruption literally can set you back several weeks if it comes at a bad time. I've actually taken to blogging during spare moments at school as well, since writing with constant interruption is an absolute impossibility. (Obviously at school I'm interrupted, but getting here early, staying a tad late, and planning periods in which all your work is done do present reasonably large chunks of interference-free time.) My thinking I mostly do while driving now which, provided Amy isn't along (she hates the radio being off), works out reasonably well - silence is golden, all that jazz.

Alternatively, rather than sacking a hobby altogether, you could adopt the system m'dear and darlin' wife and I sometimes use as well. There are times when one or the other simply needs a break. Perhaps an evening or an afternoon on a weekend or what have you. Fellows, this is an excellent opportunity for a little wisely-proposed give-and-take. If you miss going out with the guys once in awhile, the best way to get that chance back is to encourage your lady to go out and have fun herself. She goes out some of the time, you stay home with kiddo. Not only might this cause you to have unexpected fun with the kid (because being the ONLY caretaker, you're going to spend more time directly with the kid) but it earns you mega-brownie points. Then, when you DO want to go out on Friday night or Saturday for golf or whatever, you look entirely reasonable in doing so - provided you give a little advance warning. For my part, I really don't go out terribly much. M'dear wife is by far the bigger social butterfly of the two, but the way it works out for us is that I tend to get a decent block of time (hour or two) in the middle of the evening where I am relatively interruption free. (Relatively being the key word.) In truth, the balance of time is probably still fairly heavily in my favor, but I figure it works out because I CAN still be interrupted, and when Amy's out doing her girl stuff, she's footloose and fancy free.

The bottom line is this, though: make sure you talk about it, make sure your lady does NOT simply stay home all the time, and if you are wise, try to make sure she goes out a tad more than you do. Moms have a very bad habit of feeling trapped with the kiddo unless you really drill in the point that they should go out, too. It's easy brownie points, makes you look like a champ, it's great for her and great for your parenting skills. Hand her the keys, kick her out the door, and rest easy knowing you can go out yourself once in awhile, too.

Smaller issue but something I wanted to touch on as a means of mental musing.

Lucas is now approaching his first birthday, and sitting here on my desk is an updated picture of him. He's got overalls and a ball cap on, and is holding a baseball with his typically hammy-happy grin for the camera. Makes me smile just looking at it. There is some irony in it, though: I'm not at all a fan of baseball, and I have no plans of encouraging him to try it. This is an issue Amy and I have talked about repeatedly - are we going to be the kind of parents that push a kid into a sport or hobby?

On one hand, exercise for the kiddo is assured. That's a good thing. Kid might make out-of-school friends in a controlled environment. Also good. Most sports instill discipline, which all kids can use more of, and teaching a kid to rely on teammates is a strong social skill... one his dad probably could've used more of, back in the day.

On the other, the idea of pushing Lucas to do something he doesn't want to do is repugnant to me. I will never be a helicopter parent, nor a vicarious liver, and I'll actively put a stop to any sport activity that insures he gets less than 8 hours of sleep, after homework, on a school night. Sports are great, but grades are better. Amy and I tend to follow the philosophy of "let Lucas do what he wants and encourage his passions."

Thing is, though, look at his parents and their hobbies:
- Cooking
- Sewing
- Scrapbooking
- Knitting
- Reading
- Writing
- Gaming
- Really eccentric and rare sports like Dodgeball, Fencing, and Archery

...if Lucas follows the examples of his parents, he's not likely to pick up anything that encourages teamwork, fitness, and discipline, with the exception of dodgeball or fencing, and finding organized groups for that is like trying to find an honest man in Washington D.C.

Do we fake interest in something we dislike? Do we hope that he'll take an interest in something he'll only get exposure to outside of our presence? Neither of those options seems appealing. One is lying, the other is effectively throwing our child to the winds of chance. I'm fully cognizant of the fact that Lucas's life is NOT entirely under my control, but that doesn't mean I'm going to be quick to ignore chances for good parenting where they exist.

Since when did hobbies become serious business?


-MT out.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Getting the Last of the Dust Off (Part 2)

So to continue where we left on last time:

Mother's Visit, and Two Kinds of Grandparents

So anyone who's read this thing more than once or twice probably knows that my mother and I have a strange, somewhat difficult relationship. That's kind of like saying "Lincoln didn't have the best day at the Ford Theatre." I try very hard to be a man of decent character, though, and so despite the distance, I promised my mother she'd get to meet her grandson as soon as possible.

As fate would have it, we were able to get her a plane ticket out to our neck of the woods relatively recently. Now thanks to the visitations by Amy's parents previously - they found the means to come out on their own - I've been able to confidently say that grandparents, fall into two categories: those parents who are supportive, offer cautionary advice, and try to bulwark you ( the rarer variety) and those people who seem to make it their goal in life to tear you down, convince you that only dire days are ahead, and wish to dance cheerily upon the grave of your hopes and dreams to the tune of "Woe is me, woe is me." The resemblance to the same behaviors in advice-givers during pregnancy is remarkable.

To no one's surprise, my mother is one of the second category. Some choice comments she made at various points in our visit:

Comment 1:"Daycare is just a place where kids go to stay sick all the time." Why thanks, Mom, very warming. What would you like us to do, sell our house and move into an apartment so that Amy can stay home with the boy? Oh wait - our rent would be about the same as our mortgage, so that's no solution. Since we can't change the situation, thanks SO MUCH for reminding us that no daycare, no matter how great, is so wonderful as a parent home. While you're at it, let's bemoan world hunger and political corruption, too. Nothing like making people feel bad about what they can't change to give you a moral high ground, no sir.

Comment 2: "Abuterol? Ugh. They won't even use that stuff on animals." Ah, great the wisdom of Professor Profound strikes again. Yes, somehow, your drug-addled sixty-year old mind that had a child thirty years ago - and raised quite poorly - is superior to multiple up-to-date minds of modern medicine, all of whom have handled Lucas's illness before and done so with great success. Somehow, even though the FDA, countless pharmacists and doctors ALL have no problem with the meds and it's been in use for years, YOU, madame, are the authority and can pronounce with a holier-than-thou 'tude that the medicine is dangerous for our child. Perhaps next you can produce the cure for cancer and sneer at we simpletons who could not possibly have understood your greatness. Let's just pronounce the parents unfit and send the kid home with you, oh master of parenting. Oh wait, the last kid they left with you came out with psychological issues and a broken nose. Oops.

And so on. I could easily continue, but that kind of ranting gets boring to the reader, no doubt. The moral of this subsection story is this: If you are lucky, and you have a parent who is nothing but supportive, make darn sure they know you appreciate them. Make a point of specifically naming and praising that behavior. People like to hear they're appreciated. If you are unlucky, and have a parent who is doing nothing but trying to make you second-guess your parenting skills and decisions, remember that 1: if they were the perfect parent, you'd agree with them, because they raised you, right?, and 2: being a successful parent once gives you experience, not expertise. It's very possible your own situation is different and they aren't recognizing that. Trust your instincts - humans have been raised that way and survived the ordeal for thousands of years.

Speaking of surviving ordeals...

Lucas, Meet Gravity. Gravity, Meet Lucas

Along about three months ago, Lucas started mastering a lot more of his bodily capabilities. Walking, crawling, and such were still a ways off (more on that later) but he HAD learned that he could produce significant force by pushing on things hard, and that sometimes the force even moved him. Sadly, what daddy hadn't learned was that this, unmonitored, can be a recipe for disaster.

It was a pleasant enough afternoon; I had picked up the wee fellow, Amy having other duties to handle, and returned home. Having been changed, cleaned, and fed, I sat down on the couch next to my son (also cleaned, changed, fed, but not quite in the same manner) for our usual afternoon pasttime: me to dork around on the X-Box, him to sit on the couch, watch the pretty pictures, and play with his toys. And so we began, and life was good. At some point in the proceedings, Lucas had dropped one of his toys and over the edge of the couch it went, but this was not in and of itself unusual. Out of the corner of my eye, I verified that Lucas was sitting back against the couch and that was that.

Or so I thought. Lucas managed to get a leg under himself, and he shoved off the back of the couch with all the might in his considerable 25-lb-baby frame. Small rockets have launched less swiftly. From the corner of my enemy-slaughtering eye I glanced and OH DEAR GOD HES GOING OVER THE EDGE OF THE

...wham. Lucas lands, top-of-head-first, on the floor directly below the couch, and then promptly topples the rest of the way over, landing face up with a thud, staring at me with a look of shock that very rapidly changed to pain, fear, and outrage.

Scooping my kid up, thoughts flashed through my head in rapid succession:

1- You are now a failure as a parent. You have let your child come to REAL harm in your care.
2- Your child now has brain damage, and will no longer be your genius superior one day, in fact, you'll be feeding him - you, not your wife, you slackass inattentive bastard - until your dying day, at which time you'll be given a super-cheap funeral (all you deserve) so that they can afford his caretaker.
3- No matter what you do, you will never forget or forgive yourself for this moment.
4- .....what do you tell Amy?

The last thought stopped me cold. At the moment, I was still spending all my time consoling Lucas, who was still having a mighty holler about the experience. After a minute or so, his upset ended, and he began playing with a toy he enjoyed, and I started to calm down. He was whipping his head back and forth, looking at the world, and I actually got a small smile out of him. Okay, so he's not immediately injured (but oh god what if he has some internal injury I don't know about that's getting worse) and now I have to figure out what to do about Amy.

Okay fellas. As the dust settled, here's the advice I offer for when, NOT if, your kid eventually manages to whomp themselves pretty good:

- The kid IS going to holler a bit. If, however, the kid returns to normal behavior and functions (head moves both ways, nothing's hypersensitive to the touch, isn't acting suddenly tired, isn't puking, isn't bleeding, etc) then chances are very good, kid's fine. Babies are durable. They have to be in order to be raised by clumsy ogres like us.

- Yes, you will feel really bad. You will remember it for a very long time. Understand, though, that it is physically impossible for any parent to spend every waking moment watching their child without going barmy and needing changing themselves. So, eventually, SOMETHING is going to happen. If it happens daily, yeah, you suck at life. If it happens once in a few months, okay, accept your imperfections and move on with your day. You are not a failure as a parent. You are human. Move on.

- Be honest with the significant other. Do not change the story, modify it to remove blame on yourself, downplay the injury or the incident in any way. Downplaying the injury will get found out in short order and make you look exceptionally lame. Modifying the story to remove blame will make you feel guilty, and chances are - since Mommy knows baby best - she's going to see any place the story seems unlikely, and will then assume you have modified it for some exceptionally foul reason, multiplying blame rapidly. It may be that she will be angry with you for the incident. Here's an unfortunate fact: she probably has a right to be. Humans make mistakes, but that doesn't make mistakes okay. Own up to your screwup, accept that you do in fact have something to make up for, and do so. If she has the wisdom to recognize that accidents happen and reaffirms her faith in you as a parent, buy her flowers and thank her for being a great wife. Most will not do so.

And oh yeah, lying to/deceiving your significant other about your kid opens all kinds of bad doors, sets all kinds of bad precedents, and is just tremendously bad juju. Blame yourself when the kid lies baldly to you in ten years if you're modelling the behavior for the kid before they can even walk and talk. At the risk of sounding preachy, open communication about EVERYTHING, not just kiddo, is definitely the right idea when married. You're going to be in very stressful situations with the chica who resides in the house with you for a LONG time. Far better that the two of you understand each other's good and bad points, for better or worse (yeah, sounds familiar, I know) before you get into the situation where you'll set each other off. Talk to the lady. It's important. Now.

Moving on....

Milestone Mania

So as Lucas is now approaching the one year mark (dood. Eleven months and a week. Zounds.) I occasionally have to fight off a certain tendency in myself to compare Lucas to his classmates. I say "fight off" because the comparisons DO happen - you just have to learn to take no stock in them. Lucas, you see, is now "Behind the curve" in some ways. He's eleven months, and although he can sit, scoot, roll, grab, imitate and babble, there's no crawling going on. He can stand holding on to things, but there's no walking - even briefly - going on either.

Now you'll note I quoted the phrase "behind the curve." The reason for this is that the curve itself is something of a misused idea. Apparently (you never see this in the movies) some babies just never crawl. They're totally not keen on the idea, they don't see the parents ever doing it, so they just never learn. Lucas appeared at first to be one of these, but he pops up on all fours now often enough that he'll probably start trucking around soon. Also, larger babies have a distinct tendency to take longer to do stuff. In a way, this makes sense. It's easier to learn to drive a bike than a motorcycle, a scooter than an 18-wheeler. Lucas has a lot of chunk, so he's throwing a lot around when he tries to balance and what not. And let's face it: how many healthy adults do you know who are incapable of walking and talking normally? They all figure it out sooner or later.

Thing is that, intellectually, I get all of the above. Realistically, there's this thing in my bloodstream called testosterone. And as any woman can attest and we fellas know far too well, testosterone poisoning can make you get a little weird in the head. Like, say, mentally being competitive about your kid compared to other kids in the class who are already pulling themselves up and walking, tripping and going straight into a crawl, and then walking again. This little skinny twirp's practically ready to dance the rumba, and the best my kid can do is to sit and spin? Seriously? Great job on raising the class dunce, dad.

(Side note: is this where the preconception that "big = dumb" actually starts? Does the notion that strength and size directly relate to being dumb begin all the way back with bigger babies take longer to coordinate themselves?)

So anyhow. Dad, tip time:

- Don't mention your concerns to mom. For one, she may or may not be thinking it herself and surely doesn't want YOUR paranoid ruminations on the subject making her worries worse, jerk.
- Don't mention your concerns to mom. Even if she's not thinking it, you're still a jerk: have some faith in your kid and some patience, huh? Quit being competitive. Jerk.

(Yeah, whatever, we're jerks, they married us anyhow, so they got what they got. They can deal. Yes, I just said communicate with your wife, but there's a difference between communication and badgering her with those terrors which are commonplace to all parents. Mention it once, endure the tongue lashing that will commence, and then be done with it.)

- Try not - as best your hormones allow - to do the kid-comparison thing. It really doesn't matter, after all. Even if you are competitive: is the quarterback of the football team the kid who walked first? Does anyone even know or care? Would you seriously be concerned if a kid learning a new sport didn't progress as fast as another kid on day one? Not so much. All kids eventually start crawling and walking, and when they do, you're going to get a lot less sleep and a lot more broken household items. Don't be in such a rush to lose even more free time and fragile items. While chasing an energetic toddler around may be good for the waistline, it's probably highly destructive to your freetime. Enjoy the non-mobile phase while it lasts.

...and that about gets me up to date, I'd say.

I'll try to keep this thing a bit more up to date. (Yeah, I've never said that before.) But in this case, I think I've made a change or two that might make it worthwhile.

Now if only I could come up with a way to turn this into a book and make money on it, no?

Until next time.