Friday, September 27, 2013

Imbecile Dad Stuff, Part I

Have you ever noticed that men get more credit for childrearing than women?  In other words, I get all sorts of accolades and applause when I take care of Jonah or when people hear I actually change diapers or feed him.  I think that’s kind of dumb.  If Sunday struts into a room and announces that she changed a particularly toxic diaper, people don’t think anything of it. 

If I do that, however, I get ooohhs and aaahhhs.

It also works in reverse.  If I forget diapers (which I have) and wipes (done that too) or even a bottle (three for three), people shake their heads and chuckle at me.  If Sunday did that, she’s looked upon with scorn and jeering, with some of the elderly saints wishing to stone her. 

I have mixed feelings about all that.  For one, it’s pretty unfair that Sunday is held to a higher standard than I, when we both have the same level of experience.

Neither of us got Jonah’s owner’s manual.

When we went on vacation, Jonah rolled over for the first time.  Well, he was actually sitting up on a pillow, so his rolling was helped somewhat by gravity.  So even after we got back from vacation, Jonah was not too proficient at rolling over on flat surfaces and he was downright immobile in places where we can “wedge” him in somewhere. 

My mother-in-law, Pat, brought our nephews, Kori and Seth, down to Kentucky for Vacation Bible School.  Having those two, plus Jonah is a three-ring circus that is nearly unimaginable.  Really, they’re all good kids, but they have enough energy to keep the lights burning on Manhattan Island for the next decade.  As she was shuttling the boys out to the car, Pat needed some assistance, so Sunday took some pillows and packed them around Jonah on the couch.  She literally ran out to the car, helped Pat and ran back in, only to find Jonah on the floor getting more acquainted with the legs of our couch.   

Here is where I think Jonah’s thoughts should come to the forefront.  Can you imagine what went through his mind as Sunday walked out the door?

Thought #1:  I guess this is when that super-handsome guy with the large cranium will come in and help me.

Thought #2:  Wait Mom!   I can help!  Look at me!  I just need to get this pillow out of        the way…

Thought #3:  Hey.  Nice carpet.  Let’s take a closer look.

Thought #4:  The couch tipped over.  I promise.  It was all the couch.

When she came back into the room, Sunday was horrified, blaming herself for our child’s advanced physical acumen.    She also thought I’d have some sort of disappointment or something like that.  I figured stuff like that happens all the time and, hey, he landed on a pillow.  Didn’t hurt him much.

Since that day, though, we haven’t been able to leave him without some form of rolling being attempted on Jonah’s part.

Jonah’s quick trip to the floor made me realize that my view of parenting and Sunday’s view of parenting were totally different.  While I thought I recognized these differences before we had Jonah, Sunday’s expectation that I would be “disappointed” jarred something. 

If Jonah had fallen under my supervision, Sunday may have been disappointed or worried.  She trusts me, but her mind and emotions go to places that experience what could happen.  Not what did happen.  What could happen. 

Which brings me to a major philosophical and cultural phenomenon in the United States:  the father as imbecile.  Turn on the television and you might see him every night.  He’s the one getting into “trouble” with his wife, leading his kids astray and acting like a complete doofus.  He has become an icon, an anti-parent, a man who cannot be responsible for another human being, including himself.  As an imbecile father, these characters don’t help, they don’t contribute, and they don’t care.  

So the mother becomes the parent, in the entertainment industry, in the literature on parenting, and in the minds of fathers.  Look around.  How many television shows have fathers who are not consistently the punch line?  How many more books are written with the word mother in it as opposed to father?  Has the word mother become a synonym for parent, leaving father out?

The imbecile father does not exist for me.  He has never been evident in my life, before or since I have become a father myself.  The imbecile father is unwelcome in my house, and I can thank my own father for that.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Swimmers and Floaties

Parenting is one of the few jobs that offer a non-stop schedule, which is why vacations are most important.  I need those breaks, those vacations, to reveal another side of me to Jonah, so that I am not just a parent who is always “on”, performing my professional job. 

I learned a few words on vacation. 
First Magic Word:  Snugli.  The Snugli is a device that allows the parent—me and Sunday—to carry the child—Jonah—without having to use hands or arms.  It is backpack in nature, allowing Jonah’s arms and legs to move freely while the torso and bottom are safely and firmly affixed to the chest of the parent.  (Word of caution:  if Snugli is used by the male parent, the swinging, kicking, thrashing legs could cause severe damage to said parent’s “region.”  Watch out).  To the uninitiated, the Snugli is a mechanism for geeks, a prop for those who wish to continue in their vast and dense nerditude.  I once thought like the majority of society when I looked at the Snugli users of the world and sneered.  I have quickly changed my ways.

As I walked through the airport terminal, I noticed that people were looking at Jonah as he smiled and drooled in response.    I looked down and he looked up with a grin on his face that said:  “Look at me.  I got a pimped-out ride here and all the ladies are checkin me out.”  As we walked through the terminal, I imagined Jonah with a velvet hat with a peacock feather in the side, platform shoes, and velour bell-bottoms with a white belt.   My man was getting the attention he believes he deserves and he was loving it.  I was enjoying it, too.

Second Magic Word:  Large Stroller.  Taking a baby on vacation requires a tad more than the usual two pairs of underwear, swimsuit and sunscreen I like to take on the other vacations we’ve been on.  I know what you’re thinking:  now that we have a baby, a little more packing may be required, and you’re right.  To complete the hefty task of packing for Jonah and carrying the luggage to and from the airport, we requested the assistance of the 101st airborne division for logistical and on-the-ground support.  That little guy has some stuff.  I looked in his cabinet the other day and he has shoes.  SHOES!  My boy can’t walk yet and he has shoes.  Why do we have something that he can’t yet use?  Why don’t we just go ahead and buy him a toothbrush, a moped, and a shaving kit while we’re at it?  Crazy.  Anyway, the insanity didn’t stop as we packed for him, mainly because he still poops his pants, so we had to take diapers, wipes and tarpaulins to use while we clean up his bottom. 

To save his stuff and our backs, the stroller helped a ton.  We would throw J-Dawg in the Snugli and pile all the bags in the stroller.  As we traveled throughout the airport, we would get scowls and nasty glances from people who realized that we had outsmarted them!  It was great.  We put Jonah on Sunday’s back and I pushed all the carry-ons in the stroller.  Terrific!  I was relieved while Sunday experienced back and shoulder pain from Jonah’s hefty size.  Brilliant!  Do you get the feeling that Sunday got the raw end of the deal? 

Third Magic Word:  Swimmers (and Floaties).  Obviously, going to Aruba encouraged fun times in the pool and the ocean.  Sunday and I can swim, but Jonah has not taken himself down to the “Y” for lessons, so we had to think of other ways to keep him afloat.  Sunday bought something called lil’ swimmers that act as both diaper and swimsuit.  I know that these products bring a sense of relief to the parent who absolutely MUST have her child in the pool by six weeks of age.  My opinion differed somewhat.  I don’t really know if everyone has this reaction, but when I see a baby in a pool I think one of two thoughts:  one is, hey isn’t that neat?  The baby is in the pool.  That must be a wonderful time for parent and child to bond in the cool waters of love.  My other thought is, eeewww!  To be honest, when we took Jonah swimming in his lil’ swimmers, I couldn’t get the eeewww reaction out of my head.  Although his cute little head and arms and legs bobbed up and down gently, I knew that the grunts he was voicing were not the usual, “Hey this water feels great!” grunt.  He was working on something while he was in the pool and while the package said that everything would be fine, I doubted it.  In fact, I was afraid that his little head and arms and legs weren’t going to be the only things gently bobbing up and down in the pool.

Now that I’m a parent, I recognize the value of taking breaks.  At the end of Jonah’s third month, he went on vacation with us.  We went to Aruba, and, to be honest, I had my doubts about taking a three-month-old child to a foreign island paradise. Bringing Jonah on vacation was great, though, and I am glad we did it. 

Friday, September 6, 2013

The Trauma of Family Vacation

A friend of mine asked me the other day if we went to the beach regularly when I was a kid.  Since we lived four hours from the ocean, she thought it would have been a normal activity for us to enjoy.  Unfortunately, we were not a normal family.

I answered that, no, we didn’t regularly go to the beach and that I did not go to the beach with my family until I was an adult.  Every year, we traveled from Virginia to Weatherford Texas, to visit relatives.  Every year, we would load up the car, pack homemade cookies and sandwiches, include a jug of apple juice, and begin the drive to Texas.  Every year, we returned from Texas never wanting to smell, taste, see, or hear about apple juice.  Ever.   Apple juice smell has a half-life of 3200 years.  It sticks around forever.

Most years, we traveled during the summer, when school was out for vacation, which allowed all three kids and Mom and Dad to have the stress-free environment of a 22-hour car ride.  Imagine the scene.  The three kids would ride in the back of the car, unless Mom fell asleep.  Then one of us would be required to sit up front.  Unfortunately for those years, we sat in a small Toyota Corolla without the benefit of a portable DVD player or Satellite Radio. 

Thus, our vacations became a type of contest, with the person who could sleep the most during the trip won a special award:  sanity.  Family unity doesn’t come any better than when you’re stuck with each other without benefit of fresh air or DVD player.  In addition to the close proximity—one does not move very easily in a 1979 Toyota Corolla—we discovered that the vacation time created something we did not experience during the non-vacation time.  It’s called boredom. 

After years of research on my family, boredom has one distinct result.  We all become very annoying.  On these car trips, my Dad would not allow anyone else to drive because he says he can’t sleep when someone else is at the wheel.  To compensate for the exhaustion Dad would feel—usually around the 18-hour point, Texarkana—he would blare the radio, turn on the air conditioner all the way, and begin singing whatever happened to come through the speakers.   You don’t know fear until you hear the words to “Take This Job and Shove It” being sung at full throat while the air conditioner of a Toyota Corolla emits a sound similar to that of a whale belching.    As a ten-year-old boy, the scars remain.  I still can’t hear Johnny Paycheck sing without the air conditioner blasting.

In fairness to Dad, there were others in the car who may have had an annoying trick or two.  For instance, my mother would ration cookies.  I think back on those days of rationing cookies and I think, “What could have motivated this woman, other than sadism, to torture her family in such a way?”  We had three ravenously hungry boys who could have eaten the head rests, if given enough ketchup, and she’s rationing cookies!  The outrage!  And we ate, according to the schedule set by mother.  Four hours to the border of Virginia, then you can have a cookie.  Just one.  Although Mom baked enough to fill up the trunk, only one may be eaten at a time.

Four more hours into Tennessee, and then you can have a sandwich and some apple juice. 

Four more hours until Memphis, another cookie.  And so on. 

Every four hours, we got something else, until we got to Texas. 

We still talk about this maneuver at holidays.  Sheer psychological devastation.

And then there were us boys.  I am certain we had the normal “he hit me” or “he won’t stay on his side” arguments, but they didn’t last long.  Either Mom or Dad had the talent necessary to stop a silly argument in a minute.  (There’s nothing like threatening to abandon your child in Jackson, Tennessee, to get that kid behaving again.  Even though we were cramped, we knew we didn’t want to start life over in Jackson.)

No, we had other problems.  Take, for instance, our diet during these trips.  Apple juice, tuna fish sandwiches and cookies.  Want something else?  Tough it out.  Got a hankerin’ for baloney?  Too bad.  Want to nibble on some Doritos?  Not in this lifetime.  We’ll get to Nanny’s house and you can gain ten pounds in a day and a half.  Until then, fill your gut with some tuna. 

As little boys will do, we had bodily reactions to such a diet.  By the end of the trip, our car smelled like a strange mixture of apple juice and used tuna.  Sure, Mom or Dad could have declared a moratorium on the exhalation of all gas, but we would have done it anyway because, to boys, gas is too much entertainment to pass up.