Friday, February 28, 2014

Emotional Eating

Locusts.  That’s probably the closest image I can develop when I try to describe how I and my brothers ate when we were kids.  We were locusts.  We loved food when we were kids.  (If you look at our family portraits, you know that we’re not starving now, either.) 

While there are people who talk about “enjoying” food, we were not those. 

Those people are enjoyers. 

We were shovelers. 

We didn’t care what we ate, as long as we had enough of it. While my mother made delicious meals of Cajun, Italian or Tex-Mex food, Dad understood that we boys did not actually taste our food.  (Note to my mother:  I love your food.  Don’t quit cooking.  I’m talking about Dad here.  Your food is great.)

So, when Dad was in charge of dinner—which came mostly when Mom had to work nights—we knew the code:  “frozen five high. 

“Frozen five high” came from months of experimentation and food testing.  Hormel didn’t do as much testing as we did to come up with the “frozen five high” code.  “Frozen five high” simply meant that each boy could have a packet of frozen hot dogs apiece, put it in the microwave on five minutes, high.  Remember, this was back when microwaves only cut out about an eighth of the cooking time.  Microwaves now could cook up these hot dogs in a quarter of the time, but we had an old one, so “frozen five high” was the standard. 

That was dinner.  Each boy got a packet of hot dogs.  Meal time.  Remember, we’re locusts, so ten hot dogs with buns was the first course.   Dad could, and did, join in the eating, shoveling in food as fast as he could.  You could barely see our hands because we were stuffing our faces so quickly.  It was great.  It wasn’t healthy.  It was a little scary.  But for a young kid, it was great. 

Dad knew how to make food special, to create interesting concoctions for special occasions.  When it got cold in the winter, he’d put a pot of red beans on the wood stove to cook all day.  When he didn’t want us to eat, he’d make corn bread.  (his corn bread’s the worst).  Every night, he’d eat cereal.  I know each of us boys have eaten bowls of cereal at 9pm, thinking of Dad. 

In our house, food wasn’t just for enjoyment, though.  It was a marker, a reason to celebrate or to have a special connection.  Dad knew that, mostly because he helped create the culture of food and love.  

Out of all those special times, though, I think I like Saturdays the best. 

He’d go down to the day-old bread store—he called it the used bread store—and he’d get a bunch of honey buns and creamy curls.  He’d come home and put those sweets in the freezer and he’d take out the frozen sweets that he’d bought the previous Saturday, and that’s what we’d have Saturday mornings. 

If you’re wondering whether I am morbidly obese from these food memories, I’d say no.  (The Centers for Disease Control would say no, too.)  We ate mostly healthy food when I was young, but it wasn’t served by my father. 

Mom used food to nourish us, both in a physical sense as well as a cultural sense.  We all three know how to cook and eat because of my mother’s great work.  My father used food to nourish us in an emotional sense.  While emotional eating has gotten a bad rap lately—I always see people crying on TV when they talk about emotional eating—connecting emotions to food is not a bad idea.  

Food--even junk food--can create intersections between people when intersections come tough. 

For Dad, feeding us was a way of showing that he cared, but it was also a way for him to enjoy watching us do something.  If you’ve ever seen a bunch of young boys—locusts—eat, you know how fun that can be.  Even if it was a packet of frozen hot dogs tossed in the microwave and watched them being nuked, dad loved watching us eat.  And we enjoyed it, too.  

Friday, February 21, 2014

The Creepy Crawlers

Like all parents, I had to take Jonah to new and different places to keep up with the changes in his little world.  I realized that, in small ways, people judge us according to how Jonah acts.  If he’s a great little kid with a good smile, fun giggle and a calm temperament, we’re doing ok.  If he’s raising the roof with screaming, if he’s destroying valuable property or generally causing a ruckus, we’re to blame.  New places with new sights and people can upset Jonah sometimes.  Like his father and grandfather before him, he doesn’t like to sleep in a bed other than his own.  Change can be tough.

Since Jonah can crawl, he changed to a different Sunday School class.  I was not too crazy about him graduating.  I’m not too good with these kinds of changes, and I was not looking forward to going to his next class.  I was worried that he wouldn’t like the new area, with the toys scattered all over the room.  The last place was great, with all the rocking chairs and beds for him to sleep in.  This new one didn’t have nearly as many of those things, and the toys looked like they were miles apart to me.  He’d have to travel to play.  I was nervous.

His last class was full of people who knew him and were happy to see him.  Heck, it was like taking Norm from the television show Cheers to Sunday School. 

Them:  Jonah!  How’s it going?
Jonah:  However it’s going, it better have food in it…

We would walk near the old classroom and I’d have people trying to take him out of my hands.  It was a great atmosphere, where they loved to see him coming and he recognized that these were friends.  A small part of me liked to claim that greeting for myself.  They were excited to see Jonah and those smiles were for him, but I would think, “It’s nice to see me, too.  I’m his Dad.  That’s right.  I’m his Dad.”  I would feel like a member of a professional athlete’s entourage.  I should have worn dark glasses and carried Jonah’s cell phone for him or something.  Getting into that old class meant that they were excited to see him because they knew him.  They knew us.  We got credit if Jonah was good.  We had to handle it when Jonah struggled.  Fortunately, Jonah was mostly good.  And we got credit. 

He graduated, however, and I took him across the hall to another class with smiling people who were not quite as excited.  They didn’t know his name or my name.  They couldn’t understand when I told them that I was not used to carrying him all the way into the class, that someone usually greeted us in the hall with squeals and smiles and hellos.  They didn’t understand that I had a lump in my throat because I missed the old Jonah who couldn’t crawl.  They didn’t understand that I missed the credit I got from the squealing, smiling friends. 

This was a new group of teachers who showed me the new system of dropping off and picking up Jonah—no greetings in the hallway, just at the door.  (Crawlers would get out of hand if they were picked up in the hallway).  This was a new group of teachers who didn’t know that he doesn’t need someone to rock him to sleep; he sleeps on his own.  This was a new group of teachers who believed that Jonah would actually cry when he’s hungry.  I thought, “THESE PEOPLE DO NOT KNOW MY SON!  DON’T THEY KNOW THAT JONAH WILL STARVE BEFORE HE’LL CRY?  DON’T THEY KNOW THAT?!?!”

I walked away from that new class with a sense of my parental future.   I paused for a moment, just to hear that little laugh I used to hear from Jonah when I left the old class.  I almost ran out of the church right there—I hated this new class.   I wasn’t changing, but Jonah sure was.  I wasn’t getting the credit I usually got.  I had to adjust better than this.  I know I’ll have years of small heartbreaks like these, but I don’t know if I’ll live that long.  As for Jonah, he couldn’t care less.  I dropped him off at his new Sunday School class and he smiled and squealed like he was in the old class. 

I walked away from the sound of Jonah’s squeal thinking about how sometimes dads do the one thing they don’t want to do. They do the hard thing.  They drop their kids off in the creepy crawler Sunday School.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

The Danger of Mobility

Now that Jonah is mobile, I have taken steps to ensure that he doesn’t move in areas he shouldn’t move. Sometimes I wish we could live where he could have a larger area to roam around in, exploring.  He doesn’t have a bunch of room, but what he has, he claims.

Since our apartment is about the size of the average living room, it’s pretty easy to limit Jonah’s movement. 

Here’s what we do:
I shut the doors to the bathroom, our bedroom, Jonah’s bedroom, and the laundry room.

Then I move the coffee table, blocking access to the kitchen.  I scatter his toys in the open area, and I watch him go from toy to toy, circling the living room.

Thus, Jonah has an area that he can roam around in, often circling the living room like a Shetland Pony in a corral.   I’ve been wanting to bridle train him, but he doesn’t have the ears to keep it on his head.

Anyway, Jonah’s movement is all about discovery.  He’s like the Magellan of our living room, often attempting to circle the coffee table to launch himself into our kitchen.  While discovery can lead to higher quality of life, Jonah’s effort at discovery often results in bumps and bruises.

For instance, the first few days of Jonah’s crawling efforts lead to an odd striping on his forehead.  As he discovered that he could move, he hadn’t figured that the furniture would remain stationary.  Thus, he ran into the rocking chair, the coffee table, the door (to the bathroom, our bedroom and the laundry room) and every corner we have in our house.  Unlike those mechanized toys that simply pull a 180 every time they hit a wall, Jonah would run into something, back up, run into it again, sit down and cry. 

We ran a full-time comforting service during these times while we developed plausible reasons for the zebra-striped bruises on Jonah’s forehead.  Part of our effort at comfort involved the distraction.  This technique is often overlooked in the face of a screaming baby or a panicked parent, but it works.  If we are forced to take away the small chainsaw he happened to find behind the couch, we can easily distract him with a less dangerous form of entertainment like, say, an attack duck.  Since I have been around both a chain saw and an attack duck, well it’s a toss-up.  Chain saws can cut through wood rather quickly, and ducks bite like the Dickens.  Anything done like the Dickens often trumps other things that can cut wood quickly, but we figure both a chain saw and an attack duck are bad ideas.  Thus, we distract him with simple, non-lethal toys like wooden spoons or baseball bats. 

As he made his way, bumping around the room, Jonah discovered these sources of excitement.

Item #1:         Door stopper spring.  We have one of those things that attach to the wall to keep the door from slamming when it’s opened.  Jonah crawls over to the spring jutting out of the wall.  He reaches out his hand, grabs it, and then lets go.  BBBBOOOOIIIINNNGGG!!!  Jonah laughs.  BBBOOOOIIINNNGGG!!!  Jonah laughs.  BBBBOOOIIINNNGGGG!!!  Jonah laughs.  Repeat ten thousand times. 

Item #2:         Basket of magazines.    We saw a preview of this one with Savannah.  Both she and Jonah love to tear apart magazines, page by page. Neither Sunday nor I have had a magazine subscription for over two years, but we have a basket full of magazines.  Jonah views the basket as his opportunity to create his own little tickertape parade, over by our television.  He takes out one magazine, disconnects each page from its staple, and tears each page into little bitty pieces.  Unfortunately, he does this so quickly that it he’s tearing up page 36 before I know that he’s over there.  He’s a ninja!

Item #3:         Fireplace.  We have a fireplace.  We do not use it.  I have enough memories of sledge hammers and wood-splitting wedges to avoid ever starting a fire in my own home.  I get calluses on my hands just thinking about building a fire.  Bring on the electric, gas, or oil heat!  Nevertheless, Jonah loves the fireplace so much, that he tries to crawl into it.  The first time he tried it, he had his torso entirely inside the fireplace.  By the time I pulled him out of there, he had so much soot on him that he looked like a little coal miner. 

Items #4/#5: Me and Sunday.  Four days after Jonah started crawling, Sunday and I were sitting on the couch talking as he made his way around the room.  We were so interested in our conversation that we hadn’t noticed that Jonah had pulled himself to a full standing position.  By the time we stopped talking, we were staring at him as he gripped the couch cushions.  Both of us realized that we were in huge trouble, because crawling is one thing, but climbing and walking are advancements that we’re not equipped to handle just yet.  And if he keeps up this pace, he’ll be taking Calculus in preschool. 

Friday, February 7, 2014

Crawling: or, life as one big buffet

When we visited our family in Virginia Beach, we got a great chance to see how Savannah, Jonah’s cousin, progressed in her crawling and exploring and such.  Sunday and I like to see her as a type of “crystal ball,” showing us where Jonah will be shortly.  (Savannah’s a few weeks older than Jonah).  During our visit, Savannah motored around, taking a look at the tops of tables, the insides of magazine racks, and the undersides of dogs.  As we watched Savannah crawling away from any type of geographic limitation, both Sunday and I thought, “Maybe no one will notice if we Velcro Jonah wherever he sits.”  

It’s not easy to admit, but we enjoyed Jonah’s immobile status.  We thought of Jonah as yet another piece of luggage we could set beside the couch when we visited relatives.  Sure, he ate more than the average set of luggage, but we couldn’t fit many pairs of pants in him. 

When we left the beach, we didn’t think his crawling would come as soon as it did. We thought we had about a week or two before Jonah would begin galloping around the room.   We didn’t tell our “luggage” our plans and he began his little journey without us.

As is our routine, I am in charge of feeding and caring for Jonah during the mornings while Sunday goes to work.   The week after we returned from the beach, I was up one morning, going through my regular routine of squeezing in great works of literature between feedings, diaper changes, and puke cleanings.  I put Jonah where I could see him and he could see me and I sprinkled toys around his little cuerpo.  I put my work boots—the same boots that had traveled through cattle lots and church sanctuaries alike—near the wall across the room from where Jonah was sitting. 

I looked down at my book, read a few pages, and then looked up to see Jonah tasting my boot.  Now most would think, “EEEWWW!!! GROSS!!!  He put his mouth on your dirty boot!”  Before he began crawling, I would have agreed with you.  Now that he has access to the entire floor of our apartment, however, I am relieved when my old work boots are the only things he has put his mouth on. 

Since he’s mobile, we have been asked, “Have you ‘baby-proofed’ the apartment?”  Well, no.  In fact, we’ve adjusted our lives, post-locomotion, by cleaning the apartment the way we should have been cleaning it all along.  We now pick up our bags, our books and our boots. 

To accommodate Jonah’s newfound mobility, we have scattered his toys like chickenfeed around the living room so that he can go from toy to toy, buffet-style, until he is entertained. 

When he’s not tasting stray toys or shoes, he’s following us from room to room, often yelling at us when we go out of view.  Soon after he became comfortable crawling, I was there taking care of him, and I heard “nature call.”  I quickly moved to the restroom—as is my custom—and I began my business. 

Well, my requirements were not to Jonah’s liking.  If it were up to him, I don’t think going to the restroom would be allowed.  It’d be like taking long road trips with our parents, but for life.  

Anyway, there I was, in the bathroom.  But from Jonah’s floor-level vantage point, I had just disappeared forever down the hall.  He galloped his chubby knees down the hall to investigate.  When he discovered that I still existed, he quickly became interested in the bath mat. 

We stared there, gunfighter style, both knowing that Jonah was going to gallop over to that bath mat and put his mouth on it.  (Now you wish we were back at the boots, don’t you?) 

I had a decision to make:  do I ignore my own bathroom needs and recognize the necessity of my son’s well-being?   Jonah didn’t give me too much time to contemplate this dilemma, because he was moving toward the bath mat. I acted fast.  I snatched him by the scruff of his extra-cute outfit and put him in the hall.

As I was flushing the toilet, I thought, “I am the super Dad of the year!  I averted certain disaster by not allowing my son to snack on the bath mat!  All Hail ME!!!!”   As I was washing my hands, I heard Jonah fall into the bathroom trash can.