Thursday, November 23, 2006

A Thanks Giving Dad

It's Thanksgiving morning and I'm sitting in our darkened kitchen, watching the sky turn from dark gray to pinks and oranges and wispy stretches of blue, and everyone else in the house is sleeping. We rarely get mornings like this, because Chunk is an early riser, and fairly vocal about his 5 a.m. needs, regardless of the hopes and desires of his exhausted parents in the next room.

It's customary, I suppose, to talk about the things we're thankful for on Thanksgiving. At the same time, I think it's also kind of cheesy, more like something you'd do on a sitcom, sitting between Lenny and Squiggy, waiting for the gravy boat that never seems to make it to your cramped spot at the table. But, since becoming a dad, I have learned I'm all about the cheese and if I can take it up another notch into full-fledged cheesy, darnit, that's what I'm going to do.

So, on this Thanksgiving morning, after a little reflection and no coffee, I have to say that what I am most thankful for is getting the holidays back.

I can be a pretty cynical guy. My raving orations about the pollution of the holidays, their loss of meaning, and the unnecessary expenses of ritual, are all legendary. And, like several of my Grandfather's stories, repeated a little too often, but I've noticed that fatherhood has taken a little of the air out of my cynical tires. And, as much as I'm still disturbed by seeing Christmas lights going up the day after Halloween, a part of me can't help but get excited about the coming holiday season.

Chunk is an inquisitive kid. The phrase he repeats most often is "Whassthat?" as he points, his voice getting more high pitched as his excitement rises. It's not just spectacle that insights this kind of reaction. Mini pumpkins do it. Unusual cars. Foods that he hasn't seen or eaten before. And, Superman. He knows full well who Superman is, Chunk might be his biggest fan, but our little guy gets so excited when he sees anything with a big "S" on it that he can't help himself. Frankly, it can get a little annoying at times, but its also a constant reminder of how new the world is, how there are so many things that his young eyes have never seen before, that he has never contemplated.

In a lot of ways, the holidays are all about newness. Yes, I know there are some important religious and cultural reasons for them and those reasons are the core of why we celebrate, but I also think that embedded within all of our different faith-based celebrations, our social customs, and even our calendar, the last few weeks of December are also about the hope of what is to come, along with our celebrations about what we already have. I have forgotten a lot of that, so outraged by the way our culture has turned family tradition into commerce, but with Chunk, I'm reminded of the more simple aspects. This year, it's not the about mall crowds, the Black Friday sales, or finding the perfect wrapping paper. It's about the anticipation of laying on the floor with my son, Christmas morning, and playing with the new trains that Santa has assured me that Chunk will begetting this year.

As much as I love Thanksgiving, and I do love it, I always thought rattling off the things you're thankful for was kind of goofy. This year, if someone asks me, I have an answer. I'm thankful for how my son has made the holidays new again for me.

Enjoy the holidays, everyone! Denver Dad is back!

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Denver Dad Is Officially On Hold

If you've been dropping by over the last month, looking for a new post, I apologize for not having one up for you. Things at work and home have really gobbled up my time and I just haven't been able to keep up the blog. So, as of today, Denver Dad is officially on hold. It's coming back. I promise. I just don't have the time I need to make it happen now.

While you're waiting, I encourage you to read some of the blogs listed on the right side of this page. They are all written by funny, thoughtful people and I enjoy reading them myself. In many cases, some of them are blogs that inspired me to start Denver Dad.

I'll see you all very soon! Until then, play nice, wipe your nose, and share!

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Update: Spouse Abuse, the Sequel

The threat of violence in my wife's workplace seems to have meandered leisurely from Defcon "BOINGINGING" to Defcon "Ho hum." Apparently the abuser and the coworker are back together again. At least, that's the rumor. Incredibly, and in spite of their mutual legal restraints against each other, the two have reconciled and he has even purchased a ring for her. So, the abuser is currently far too busy being romantic to sneak into my wife's office and massacre everyone there.

Hah ha ha... yeah. It's not funny, is it?

I guess I always saw abuse as an issue between two people, sometimes more if there are children involved, but its a bigger issue than that.

I have lost a lot of respect for my wife's coworker. She's a smart woman and knows, somewhere inside of her, that unless this guy takes serious steps, he's going to hit her again. She knows this because it's happened before... with the same guy. So, what does she plan to do then? Does she vow to leave him again? Does she find a new apartment again? Does she stand before a judge and explain that the restraining order is really necessary... this time... again? Do we get more weeks of vague, but serious threats about the safety of the people in my wife's office?

Like I said, I've lost a lot of respect for my wife's coworker. The heart may want what the heart wants, but the brain knows better than to step in front of a speeding bus. As much as I hate to admit it, in addition to my lack of respect for her, I've also learned to despise the coworker. It's one thing to be stupid. It's another thing to endanger the people around you, because of your poor judgement.

If you're being abused, and according to statistics, some of you are... then get help. If you can't do it for yourself, do it for the people around you and their families.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Better Dadding: Blame the Day-Care

I have a hate/despise relationship with our son's day care. I know, I know, my expectations are all out of whack. I should try to remember the positive things, the good times.

Like, for example, on Monday when I picked up Chunk after lunch. I grabbed his "daily report" from his cubby and it was completely blank, except for the stuff I had written on it when I dropped him off. His room teacher informed me that they don't really write on it until nap time, because that's the only moment they can squeeze all of that in.

Now, I don't doubt her claim. There's fifteen or twenty maniacs in there and I'm sure it would be hard to keep up with all of the paperwork they have to do for all of the obsessive-compulsive, panic-prone parents (of which I am the president, now on my second term). But, they track everything on those forms. And, I mean everything! Here's the data I get every Monday:

1. Diaper changes and what they find in the diapers
2. How much the kids eat at snack and lunch and other snack
3. How long each child sleeps, down to the five minute mark
4. Shifting political views and how those changes relate to current events

If you don't write anything down until nap time, how do you remember what each kid did that morning? I don't remember how many times I used the potty in a day and I guarantee there's no way I could keep track of the habits and outcomes of twenty other people. How much did I eat during my morning snack yesterday? I don't know. Was it a cookie? Pretzels? For some reason I remember having pickle breath. Did I have a pickle? Where would I have gotten a pickle?

So, how do they remember all this stuff? Oh, I know... they make it up! That's right, it's all a lie. It's busy work they have to do, that they don't see as important, but parents come to rely on it. It's stupid. I don't really care if Chunk had fun with the water table. I know he has fun there, but I do want to know if he's eating. If he didn't poo on Sunday, I want to know if he went on Monday. They're minor things, but they're also minor things that can actually mean something. And, if you're going to do them, please do them right.

So, day care, until you stop slacking, I'm going to start blaming you for everything. Chunk's hitting and foot stomping phase? You got the blame for that. Yelling at me in Spanish? Yep, that's you too. Crazy obsession with the bathroom? You, day care, all you, baby! 101.3 degree temperature and open-water-main strength running nose? That's you, just like it's always you, every Wednesday night.

Oh, did I forget to mention the sickness? Yeah, once again, he's a germ-filled ooze factory. How do I know? Waking up every four hours to hear Chunk loudly tell me the Tylenol has worn off was one clue. Toddler vocabulary, being a bit limited, has a specific word for this issue and it sounds a lot like, "WAAAHHHH!"

So, day care, you get the blame. For everything. And, I'm recommending all other parents do the same. Is that this week's lesson? Actually, no, this is all a long-winded way for me to get to a more serious "Better Dadding" lesson. It's laying down the law.

I'm not a confrontational person. I'm easy going. I let things slide. But, this is about my son and the care he's receiving. I'll let the little things slide, but my limit for that is a lot smaller than my limit for other things. I'm not good at confrontation, but it might be time to talk to someone at the day care. The sicknesses? We've had that discussion and there's no solution, aside from maybe a plastic bubble. But, the daily forms and their inaccuracies are kind of important to me and something I should tackle. This week's lesson is aimed at me.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Get these mother-fing kids out of my mother-fing movie theater!

Dear Fellow Denver Parents,

I apologize for communicating with you like this, in a letter. I didn't get a chance to speak with you at the movie theater and I don't have your home number.

It was very nice seeing your family last Sunday. You seemed like very caring parents and your two boys, who looked to be about five years old and six years old, were very well-behaved and polite. If you've read my blog at all, you know how much Denver Mom and I enjoy going to the movies and how seldom we get to see them, so I appreciate your children being quiet during the film.

Unfortunately, I did have one problem with your appearance in the theater. You see, we all know that the plot of "Snakes On A Plane" is fairly preposterous. Actually, that was why Denver Mom and I went to see it. Tired from a long, hard weekend with Chunk, when we got a chance to get away for a while, we wanted to do something that didn't require much thought and "Snakes On A Plane" seemed perfect in that role. I suspect that it was some of the draw for you and your family, as well. However, in buying our tickets, we did notice that the rating of the film was "R," which given the scares in the movie, seemed pretty appropriate.

Please understand, I'm not telling you how to parent. I just want to remind you that your five and six year old boys are at an impressionable age. I'm not sure if seeing passenger jets filled with snakes and bloated, grey corpses is the best entertainment for your boys. Bite wounds? Puss-filled sores? Harsh language about snakes? It was entertaining, yes, but not what I'd normally use to replace Thomas and Friends.

Maybe they get it. Maybe they have a keen understanding of what is reality and what is fantasy, and this sort of thing doesn't bother them, but I'm 35 years old and some of the imagery and situations, as wimpy as it makes me sound, gave me the creeps. Remember the little boy, about the age of your boys, facing his own morality? I remember it. It was the hardest part of the film for me. I suspect your boys remember it too.

I hope you had fun at the movie. I hope your sons also had fun and didn't wake up all week, crying from nightmares. I've met some great, well-adjusted kids who could see a movie like this one and just shrug it off. I've also met some kids who couldn't. Which type are your kids? I hope, for their sake, you considered that before you bought your tickets.

Again, keep in mind, I'm not trying to tell you how to parent. When our toilet was being replaced, I took Chunk (about 9 months old at the time) to see "Flightplan," but had him wrapped up and sleeping during the film, with the exit close in case he woke up. So, is this a case of the pot calling the kettle black? Frankly, I don't know. Our pot is silver and our kettle is white with flowers on it, so while that particular saying doesn't work for us, I do understand how easy it is to be a hypocrite. I just want to remind you that being a parent is about making choices. And, some of those choice are important. If you knew that going in, I applaud you for being so thoughtful and taking your job as a parent so seriously. I also applaud you for knowing your children so well that you knew how they'd react to a movie like this. If you didn't, I hope you had a chance to reflect on the responsibilities of parenting when that one snake was chewing on that guy's wang in the bathroom.


An Irritating, Know-It-All Fellow Dad In Denver

To the Readers: So, how was "Snakes On A Plane?" It really dumb, but Denver Mom and I had a great time seeing it. Keep in mind our last movie outing was to see "Silent Hill," so our standards are pretty low.

Monday, September 11, 2006

September 11th

September 11th is a strange day for a lot of people. I've read a few posts from a couple of parent-bloggers that reflected on some of their personal experiences of the terrorist attacks five years ago and its shocking how close to the surface so much of that emotion still is, even years later. There were many people who were deeply wounded on that day.

There isn't much I can add to the many remembrances being recounted on the internet. I've never been to New York or Washington, D.C. or the plains outside of Pittsburgh. I didn't know anyone who was injured or lost five years ago, and like a lot of Americans, most of my memories of the attack came to me via the television, not from first-hand experience. But, I can say, as terrible as that day was for a lot of Americans, I experienced it in an incredible way.

I was at a training conference in the mountains. There were just a few of us from Colorado with the rest of the participants were from all over the country. The conference was a team-building/history/brain-washing session for the organization I was with at the time and we were scheduled to be in the mountains for a week, learning about ourselves, each other, and how we could all make the world better. It was every bit as dull and shallow as it sounds. Then, one morning during breakfast, someone came into the cafeteria and announced that a plane had hit the World Trade Center buildings. I asked which one. He said both of them. I asked him what happened. He didn't know, thought maybe a pilot got drunk or went crazy or something.

We all had to hike a mile down the road to a small snack shop to find a television. About a hundred of us crammed inside that tiny, cheesy shop and watched as the buildings collapsed, silently, some of the people crying, others trying to make phone calls, most of us just confused and overwhelmed by what we were seeing.

Our trainers didn't know what to do. They eventually decided to keep going with the training, but cancelled some sessions that first day and found us a television we could watch. No one knew what happened. When the training sessions started up again, a lot of us skipped them and just watched the news, obsessively, from six in the morning until midnight, sometimes staying up a lot later.

Before the attack, there was a party every night, afterward, the drinking was hushed and somber. There was a lot of crying that week. There was a lot of anger. There were a lot of questions about how people were going to get home from the training.

No one could have predicted what was going to happen when the training was being planned, and at the same time, no one could predict what it would be like to have two hundred strangers from all over the country experiencing these unimaginable attacks, holding hands, hugging, helping each other handle the emotions. It was amazing. I wish I could articulate why, but being surrounded by people from all over the country, every one of them as confused and concerned as the person standing next to them, was very profound and very powerful. Our last night together, we all stood up and sang the national anthem. The hugs afterward felt real, even from people whose names were just barely in focus.

A lot of people lost family on September 11, 2001. A lot of people lost friends. There were even some that lost hope. It sounds sacrilegious and uncaring when I say this, but in some ways, September 11th brought me hope. It was a difficult time, hard to be away from my wife when it seemed like the world was disintegrating, but I saw more strength and compassion in that crowd of strangers than I've ever seen before or since. It is still humbling to know, truly know, the character of my fellow Americans and their seemingly limitless bravery. Its such a tragedy that we can only catch glimpses of it in such horrible times. Or, maybe it is what makes those times more bearable.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

We Interrupt Your Regularly Scheduled Waiting With An Update...

Yes, I'm still here. No, I haven't been posting. We've got a big special event coming up this Sunday and it's been nonstop work for a while now, as we all get prepared. I'm hoping to be back and posting some time next week.

Until that time, do I have any wisdom to pass on? I've said it before, both here and on other blogs, but my job involves fundraising for a non-profit in Denver. I have some very strong opinions regarding the ethical responsibilities of accepting a gift from a person or organization and some very strong opinions about when and how you should support an organization.

In that capacity, I can only offer this advice... give to organizations that are important to you. Give to organizations that are doing, in your eyes, work that is important and necessary in your community. Don't give to groups that send you mailing labels, just because you feel guilty. Don't give to groups that are aggressive about asking for your support, just because you want them to leave you alone. Support the organizations that you believe in and want to succeed.

It should be said, "giving" isn't just writing a check. Not everyone can afford to give their hard-earned money to a non-profit, but time can be every bit as helpful and powerful to an organization that can use volunteers. If you can't write a check, or even if you can, volunteer a few hours. You may not get stuck with work that you find interesting, but the karma rewards are amazing.

I'll be back. If you've been dropping by, looking for a new post, I apologize for not having anything here for you. I hope to change that within a week.

Want to help me get started up again? How about suggesting a topic for posts in the comments section!

Thursday, August 24, 2006

No mas!

Pickle's Papa accused me of glossing over the potty details mentioned in my post the other day. And, in my haste to complain about my son's new career as the heir-apparent to Houdini's legacy, I'll admit that I did move a little quickly over an aspect of the story that might be interesting for parents with children a little younger than Chunk, who like us, are trying to wrap their brains around the entire potty training issue.

So, how does one get a child ready and excited to use the potty, after twenty months of gleefully filling diapers? Do you have your pen and paper handy to jot this wisdom down? You do? Ready for it? Here goes....

I have no idea.

There, I said it. I have no clue how to get a child interested in using their potty. The truth is, this is something the day care did for us, somehow squeezing it into Chunk's once-per-week schedule.

Actually, the day care manages to teach Chunk a lot of things in his limited time there. For example, he's been telling us "No mas!" all week. Saying "No mas!" (Spanish for "No more," if you didn't know) isn't really all that strange, even for a toddler, but you can be fairly certain he didn't pick that up from his Norwegian/German dad and his Italian/Irish mother. He has also developed some weird table manners that must have been learned at day care, as we don't believe in table manners in the Denver household. I'm fairly certain he's also picked up hitting people at day care, but that's not what I'm trying to get at right now.

What wisdom have I bestowed upon my trusting son, the new, gentle human who needs guidance in how the world works? So far, that belching and farting is funny, croutons can be a meal, and Starbucks will split a green tea frappacino into two servings (for dad and child), even when you go through the drive through, if you ask nicely enough.

I hate day care. He gets sick at day care. He cries when we drop him off and pick him up. They have this weird system of filing, so that whenever our son paints a picture or works on some sort of craft, it just gets filed away somewhere and we never get to see it. And, its expensive.

On the other hand, we need day care. We simply couldn't survive without it. And, despite all of my frustrations with it, they are teaching him amazing things. His vocabulary is better, thanks to day care. He has better social skills with his peers, thanks to day care. He has a mountain of artwork we'll never see, thanks to day care. You can't argue with results, can you?

So, back to our little guy using the potty. It's simple. We take off his pants and diaper and his sits on the pot, literally. The only real problem we've found is that he's a little impatient and expects something to happen right away, so with even just a few potty experiences under our belt, we've already developed some bathroom rituals. I will present those rituals below, in screenplay format, should you want to film this and submit it to the Academy for consideration as "Best Short Film Regarding A Potty."


Two people enter the bathroom, one blurry-eyed and yawning, another considerably shorter and more enthusiastic about the day. The adult, grumbling about how early it is, despite it being the afternoon, helps the toddler out of his shorts and diaper. Then, holding a near naked boy in his arms, lowers the child onto his training potty.

Toddler: Do ta da da ra rey!

Denver Dad: That's right! That's what I usually say when I use the bathroom too.

The toddler jumps up from the seat, peering into the spotless bowl where he was sitting. He tries to stick his hand in the bowl, but is stopped by Denver Dad.

Denver Dad: Buddy, you need to keep your hand out of there. Icky!

Toddler: (pointing at bowl) Rurhooobs!

Denver Dad: Right.

Denver Dad lifts Toddler and puts him back on the potty. He sits down across from him on the adult "potty."

Denver Dad: Now, you need to relax. Take a deep breath. Are you ready?

Toddler nods.

Denver Dad: Okay, take a deep breath. Now, let it go.

Denver Dad starts taking deep breaths and letting them go, trying to show Toddler how to relax. After a while, he starts getting light-headed and has to grab the wall to keep from passing out and falling off the toilet. Toddler eventually follows Denver Dad's breathing example and during one of the breaths out, starts to "go."

There is much celebration and more attempts to touch it all once he is finished.

Fade to black.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Next step... baby straight-jacket

There are times when a man is tested. His skill, his resolve, and sometimes even his sanity are pressed by the forces of fate marshaling against him, plotting, even teasing him with the possible assaults, the schemes devised but not unleashed, the well crafted moves and countermoves being leveraged against him. How a man handles those threats, those taunts from fate, says a lot about him. If character is what you are in the dark, adversary is what you are when you're too stressed to check to see if anyone is looking.

What? What am I babbling about? We had one of those days on Sunday.

It started well enough. Chunk slept in a little and when he woke up, he and I went to the market, then came home and make a traditional, if indulgent breakfast for the family. After some spirited hide-and-go-seek games with my son, which resulted in lots of giggling and full body tackles (mostly from him), we went out and bought him a "potty."

A potty? For a twenty month old? Well, in a word, yes. His day care has all of the kids in Toddler 2 getting some potty training time, whether they're really ready or not, so we thought we'd back up these early habits at home.

How did it go? The kid is obsessed. He spent, literally, an hour in the bathroom, sitting, lifting the lid, carrying around the "deflector shield," opening and shutting the door to either get some privacy or announce that he still had the deflector shield if we were looking for it. He even used his new potty, twice, both times very proud of his... umm... production.

It's strange, because I didn't really expect him to be interested in the potty. We bought it thinking that it would sit, unused, until he decided that he wanted to check it out. We weren't going to pressure him. Potty training was going to be up to him and we were prepared to wait until that day, sometime in the future, when he would start expressing an interest. We thought it would be months. We were wrong. He's very interested, and with the few sessions at day care under his belt (so to speak), he seems to know the drill pretty well. I would never have anticipated that the stress of potty training would come from not being able to keep up with him, but there you go.

So far, a pretty positive day, eh?

Wait for it.

So, nap time rolls around after lunch, like it usually does, and we put him in his crib. As usual, he starts screaming and crying, a ritual which usually only lasts for a few minutes (think of it as the toddler equivalent of fluffing one's pillows). This particular screaming lasted a good fifteen minutes, going on twenty, with his desperation growing louder and more frantic. Something was wrong. Since I was busy loafing on the couch, Denver Mom went in to check on him and... he opened the door for her.

That was weird. We had a long conversation about the probability that he learned how to get out of his crib. More likely, I didn't know what I was doing when I put him down for nap and I actually laid him on the floor. It's crazy, but it was the only explanation I could come up with. So, we calmed him down, put him back in his crib, then continued scratching our heads. He was out in the living room within five minutes.

Stunned, we both checked his room, looking for some obvious route of escape. We devised several intriguing theories, most of which required removing various toys and stuffed animals from Chunk's crib. We checked for a rope, fashioned from torn crib sheets, under his pillow and found nothing. So, finally, we decided we had to see what was going on.

Chunk was placed in his crib and we huddled across the room, snickering to ourselves, in the dark. He yelled at us, called out to us, then tired of waiting for his uncooperative parents, walked to the corner of his crib and climbed over the bar, slowly and carefully lowering himself first to the mattress, then the frame, and then the floor, with all the grace and precision of a practiced mountain climber. I was speechless. I was in awe. And, most of all, I was scared to death. If Chunk could get out of his crib, it meant that the precarious order of things we had developed over the last twenty months had been smashed to pieces. It meant that no where was safe from the wraith of our cranky, hates-to-sleep toddler.

We discussed our options. Do we get him a "big boy" bed? Going from the most toddly of toddlers to potty training and big boy beds in just one day was too much for me. And, after confirming with Denver Mom that I wasn't underestimating our son, we decided he just wasn't really for a toddler bed. With his continued sleep issues it would be too much of a battle. Our only other option was to get a crib tent, which is just a nice way to say, crib-sized straight-jacket.

Have you seen these things? They look nice and reassuring on the package, but once its set up in your child's crib, it resembles exactly what it is... a prison.

His first reaction was overwhelmingly positive. He kept asking, "Wassthis?" and saying, "Wow!" as he explored it with his eyes and outstretched fingers. He demanded to be put in his crib so he could see it from the inside. We nearly had a meltdown when I had to take him out, so we could have dinner. Come bedtime, however, the new crib prison went from being intriguing to conjuring the kind of reaction I expect people have when they wake up and discover they've been buried alive. His usual, several minute long crying fit erupted into the kind of display that summons Social Services and neighborhood gossip. When I finally went into his room, he took at least a half an hour of calming, mixed with his "Sleepy Baby" CD and some slow, soothing iTunes visualizer on his computer to get him to finally calm down enough to sleep.

The crib prison? He made it clear that he didn't want it zipped up. I left it unzipped. It was either the strange shape of his new, tiny cage that kept him inside or the knowledge that his parents didn't love him any longer. I don't know which but it worked. He stayed in his crib.

Denver Mom and I made a few jokes about wanting to take up heavy drinking. Then, we started going through the bottles in our kitchen looking for something, anything, to make those jokes a reality. We found a six year old bottle of green apple "Pucker," some Red Wine vinegar, and a can of wasabi peas we didn't know we had. So much for that plan.

Unfortunately, it wasn't just the drinking plan that was thwarted Sunday night. With the excitement of a new thing in his crib, the stress of missing a nap that day, and what I can only assume is post-potty elation, Chunk woke up every two hours... all... night... long.

We'll try again tonight. This morning when we got up, he was still excited about his new crib/solitary confinement cage. Maybe it was a mix of other things that had him on edge.

I forgot to mention the best part! The crib penitentiary cost me $70, plus tax, and a little extra for some new sippy-tumblers he simply had to have. A lot of money? I thought so. For a little more, we'd almost have enough for a toddler bed, but it didn't seem like we had much choice, so I paid it and we left. When we got home and I tried to set it up, it became clear that the crib tent we bought had been returned and simply put back up on the shelf.

Now, I'm not one of those snobs that needs everything to be virgin and pure before I touch it. If I knew a place where I could buy a used crib tent on a Sunday, I probably would have gone there, but I don't like paying full price for something that is torn and filled with crumbs.

I called the manager at Babies 'R Us and explained what happened, knowing that I'd be told to bring it back (impossible, as bedtime was fast approaching and he was already skipping gleefully past psychotic into frothing, rabid, jungle animal). The manager, much to my surprise, said we could bring it back any time that week to exchange it for a new one, plus she would give us a discount for our trouble.

It's easy to pick on the "big box" stores, like Babies 'R Us, but we seldom say something nice when we're treated right by them. In this case, I have to say, I'm impressed. The staff have always been friendly and helpful and this recent situation, although still annoying, was handled better than I expected. Well done, Babies 'R Us! Well done!

Thursday, August 17, 2006

The Living Bruise!

Sadly, Chunk inherited his mother's lack of grace and his father's well-meaning, but notoriously unreliable coordination. So, as I'm sure you can guess, klutz plus spaz equals many, many bruises, in adorable, little boy sizes.

We used to try to keep up with what was happening and when it actually happened. We would have long, sometimes very complicated discussions about the origin of each bruise or mark on his delicate skin. It was like our own little game show... Name That Bruise!

Theme show music kicks in here.

"What round shaped bruise can currently be found just below his left knee?"

"Hmmm. That's a tough one. Umm, I'll go with... Chunk pushing his stroller on uneven concrete!"


Much clapping.

"Okay, I'll take, "Falling down at day care" for $200!"

Flashing lights and bleeping noises.

"That's the signal for Double Injuries! In this phase of the game, you have to name the origin of the bruise and the other day care child involved! Are you ready?"

"Yes, I think so."

"Okay... the scrape on Chunk's cheek!"

"Oh... uh... let's see... I think that was Carter's fault... and, umm, I think it involved the plastic food play-set by the book shelf!"

Now that Chunk has graduated to "running speed," otherwise known affectionately as "ramming speed," the game has become nearly impossible. His legs are a horrifying jumble of little bruises and scrapes. The outer part of his palms have permanent purple bruises, just beneath the surface of his skin. And, no matter how many times we tell him to slow down, he still charges head long into injury.

It seems that he really only ever injuries areas that aren't covered with clothing. Somehow his t-shirts and shorts manage to protect his pale flesh from any damage. So, I'm thinking about getting him a full-body Nerf suit. At this stage, it's the only thing that makes sense.

Monday, August 14, 2006

This Charming Spam

When are the spammers going to give up? For YEARS I have resisted the siren call of cheap Viagra, real Rolex watches, herbal supplements that will increase either my penis or bust size or both, and as cold-hearted as it may be, the impassioned pleas of nobles from Nigeria who need to use my bank account to sneak out millions of dollars for their revolution. Or, umm... something.

The point is, I am a black hole from which no spam escapes, and yet they continue to stream in every single day. One after another after another, touting all the great things that a 0.47 second Google search would reveal to me, if I had any interest at all in what they're trying to get me to buy.

I know, I know. Just shut up about it. We all get them. Still, don't you think that you would finally reach a point where they would stop? Don't you think that, after a while, the spammers would say, "That guy? He's a tightwad and doesn't even read my misspelled missives on the #1 Online P_H_A_R_M_A_C_Y. Don't bother sending to that dude," at their Spamocon '06 sessions?

Friday, August 11, 2006

Better Dadding: Enjoying It

So far, we've discussed the mystical benefits of the slow cooker, a device that can make even the most Wolfgang Puck disabled among us to take the burden off mom and still get the family a hot, healthy meal. We also talked about how important it is to step up and actually be involved as a parent and dad. This week's lesson is about something that we should be doing automatically, something that seems like a no-brainer, but often gets overlooked in our rush to do all the little things that are expected of us... enjoying it.

Yes, that's it. Just enjoy it.

I learned something while Denver Mom was in France, something that didn't make my list earlier in the week. Like cooking, time has different requirements of effort with two people, as opposed to three. Or, put another way, things are slower when there are only two of you. When you're rushing to meet all of the varying needs and interests of three people, a day can get eaten up pretty fast, but when its just two people, things don't seem to get nearly as hectic.

This isn't just true of time with a child. Remember back to those days without a baby? Remember how days seemed to stretch out as long and lazily as the whole summer? That's because there were just two of you. It's the addition of that third person, then maybe the fourth, and if you've suffered a head injury recently, fifth person, that makes things crazy.

So, while Denver Mom was away, Chunk and I got to play. And, in this slower bit of time, we really had a lot of fun. Not being rushed by anything other than nap schedules and meal and snack times, we had fun doing just about everything. Going to the bookstore? A blast. Going swimming? So much fun it was almost criminal. Our trip to the Children's Museum? Less fun, but only because we were tired. Going to the grocery store? Surprisingly fun, even in its mundane sort of way.

What I realized was that this newfound fun wasn't just due to the time-warp we were trapped in. It was also because I had made, whether I knew it or not, the decision to enjoy it all. Yes, as stupid as that sounds, sometimes you have to decide to enjoy yourself.

So, enjoy it. Enjoy your time with your child. Taking a bath can be fun. Reading a story can be fun. Walking to the park can be fun. The list is limitless, but the trick is still there. You still have to enjoy it. So, make that effort.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Public Service: Get Those Kids Insured

I just read about the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and their efforts to get health insurance for kids over on the Dadcentric web site. This is important! If you don't have insurance for your child, or know someone who doesn't have insurance for their child, check it out.

And, just as Jay suggests, spread the word if you can!


There's no clever way to talk about an issue like this. There is no chance for a light phrase and sideways "ho ho" to soften the blows. The topic is simply too serious.

Denver Mom works in an office with a woman who has, for the last year, been in a relationship with a man who has been hitting her. Somehow, even after early warning signs coming in the shape of fist-sized bruises, the relationship has blossomed and she had purchased a home with the man. She is no longer in a bad relationship. She has long since passed that point. Her relationship has become entangled and complicated, and in recent months, frightening and unpredictable.

Last week the situation seemed to have come to a head. The woman moved out (and moved in with another one of Denver Mom's coworkers) and has vowed that the relationship was over. Given the seriousness of the abuse and its escalation, it sounded like it might "stick" this time. She has said she's getting a restraining order and is looking for an apartment.

Unfortunately, these same situations, the proclamations that it is over, the temporary refuge with coworkers, has happened several times in the past and yet the situation has only gotten worse. Will it really stick this time? Has she finally had enough? I don't know.

The entire situation is very sad. I can't understand how anyone could lash out at someone they care for with physical violence. And, at the same time, I'm even more baffled by how someone could forgive that kind of behavior, subjecting themselves to further danger, again and again. I know this is a reality for a number of people, the status quo for many people, but its still alien to me, about as familiar as breathing underwater.

The problem is that the violence is threatening to expand. Last week, one of Denver Mom's coworkers (uninvolved in all of this, but sucked in as a sympathetic ear by the abused coworker) recommended that Denver Mom should not come into the office any more. She thought it was too dangerous. The ex-boyfriend was unstable, might have access to a gun, and given how bad things had gotten, was concerned that he might do something at the office.

Denver Mom is laughing it off, in a way. She doesn't think it's funny, but doesn't think anything will happen either. On the other hand, we're not independently wealthy. What could she do, even if she thought something was going to happen? She needs her job as much as I need mine and just not showing up to work isn't an option. Unlike the building I work in, her office is completely insecure. Anyone could wander in off the street.

Do I think that something will happen? I don't. But, there's still that fear. That sneaky panic that comes in when Denver Mom is running late or doesn't pick up her phone.

I'll admit. I'm angry about this. I'm angry that this is even an issue. I'm angry with my wife's coworker for letting things get to this point. I'm angry with the change in society that allows this kind of behavior and these kinds of threats, with repercussions coming only after the fact, when it's too late, when the smoke has cleared.

Last year, a friend of mine witnessed an attempted murder at the library where she worked. Despite an eye-witness, the man got off and has gone on to threaten and attack others in and around Denver. Yesterday a 5 year old boy was taken hostage by his father, only to be killed in a murder-suicide when the police SWAT teams moved in to end their twelve hour stand-off.

Denver is a beautiful place. The people here are good, kind, healthy people. And yet this stuff happens. I'm sure this is true in a lot of cities. How did it get so bad, so fast? What kind of world will my son inherent from me and my generation?

Monday, August 07, 2006

The Lessons of Temporary Single-Parenthood

You know that type of busy where you always seem to be running at top speed, but when you stop and reflect on your time spent, can't really think of a single thing you did? There might be a blur of grocery store isles and maybe a family member or two, but it doesn't really add up to anything concrete. That's the kind of week we've had since Denver Mom came home from France.

Yes, Denver Mom is home. It’s great to have her home again. Here is a list of the things I learned while Denver Mom was away and I was home alone with Chunk for nearly two weeks:

1. There is a surprising difference in the effort needed to feed two people, as opposed to three people, especially when only one of them needs to eat a balanced meal
2. Toddlers can get stressed out, just like everyone else
3. Potato bread is just white bread, only more expensive
4. After five days of skipping shaving, even the new electric razor I got for Father's Day has a tough time
5. I am no plumber. As a matter of fact, I'll admit that I am not, in any way, what you would consider "handy." And no, repeating "How hard can it be?" to myself, over and over again, didn't help.
6. Chunk loves his dad, but as strong as that love is, it's thrown aside the second momma climbs off her airplane
7. "Roaming" minutes are just as expensive as they are convenient
8. No matter how many people tell you they'll be available to help out before you're left alone, you'll have exactly zero real offers once you're actually left alone with a cranky toddler
9. There's simply no way to get your hair cut when you're a single parent, unless someone actually does step forward and offer to help
10. Running through fountains, hand in hand with your son, is a great way to spend a hot summer day
11. I have even less control at the store when I'm home alone with Chunk than I do when his mother is home. Chunk made out like a bandit and has a pile of new toys
12. Netflix is my new best friend -- if I wasn't already married, I would ask Netflix to be my best man
13. "Halo" can be beaten in one week, even if it is just played during naptimes, and after bedtime
14. Cheese sticks make a good snack some of the time and excellent projectiles the rest of the time
15. When a toddler can't sleep and wants to sleep in bed with you, there is a 98% chance that actually getting the toddler to sleep will involve having either his arm or leg lying across your face. Removing either extremity from its place on your face will cause the toddler to instantly wake up and scream

There are more lessons, of course, but those are the ones I thought were worth mentioning.

Thanks for coming back! I'm hoping to get back on a more regular schedule now.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Day Twelve: Too Much Affection?

When is it too much? When is the affection your child gets from someone that isn't a blood relative stepping over the line and how do you deal with it?

I work in an office that is extremely "family friendly." I think that much of this is due to the fact that our organization deals primarily with families and with children who suffer a specific type of disability -- a disability common in most of the families that make up our staff. This family focused environment is a big part of the reason I am able to work from home for half the week and it is also the reason why there is usually a child of a coworker in our office several times a week, for one reason or another.

With my own work schedule being what it is, especially during this two weeks without Denver Mom, Chunk has also spent some time in the office, running around, peeking in on people in their offices, and generally charming everyone within range of his batting eyes and quick smile. It has worked wonders, because he has brightened a lot of days and made a lot of friends, but one particular coworker has gotten a little weird with him. No, not weird in a Michael Jackson way, just overly affectionate. There are demands for kisses, plenty of hugs, and enough "goo-goo" talk to give you cavities.

Chunk is an affectionate kid, but only to a select few people and only at a select few times. At best, he tolerates the attention. He does that "smile and stiffen" thing that we all tend to do when we're uncomfortable, but playing along to be nice. It seems pretty obvious, at least to me, but she just doesn't get it.

So, where is the line? Where is the border drawn between a friendly show of kindness and an invasion of personal space? Am I teaching Chunk a valuable lesson about people by letting this go on or am I failing my son by not coming to his aid when he needs me?

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Day Eight

I love my son. He wears me out, but I love my son.

Actually, it's not so much my son that wears me out, but the dangerous combination of having no sensible supervision (i.e. Denver Mom) and a son that seems completely incapable of sleeping past 4:30 a.m.

Last night, for some reason that still doesn't make much sense in the clear, warm light of day, I decided to stay up until twelve o'clock watching "Nashville." Now, I know a lot of people who consider twelve a perfectly reasonable time to crawl into bed. Once, when I was younger and childless, I also felt that twelve was a workable bed time, but now that I'm old, rapidly graying, and have a nineteen month old boy, twelve may as well be an "all-nighter" or "next Friday" or "to Pluto and back, backwards." If my fingers are to be believed, I count only four hours of sleep, maybe five depending on when I really did doze off, and it's just not enough when your day consists of running after a cackling child.

Running after a cackling child? Yes. That's what I did all day. One of my wife's coworkers invited Chunk and I to join her, her goofy husband who is about as nerdy as I am, and their charming daughter for a walk through the Cherry Creek Farmer's Market. Why was I invited? Well, Denver Mom set up a network of women from her office who's job it is to check up on me while she's gone and it was this particular coworker's turn in the barrel... er... time to call me. Regardless of the reasons, it was nice to get out, talk to some adults a bit, and watch Chunk play with their little girl.

The Farmer's Market was actually kind of disappointing. I don't know why, but I have this unrealistic expectation for these things. I always imagine huge baskets filled with food so good and healthy that it practically glows with goodness, manned by old farmers in overalls, and I'm always disappointed when I find yuppies in Banana Republic clothes, sitting in booths with everything stamped "organic," and none of it looking all that appetizing.

Thankfully, the disappointing meander through the Farmer's Market quickly became a trip to City Park. And, what was in City Park that was so exciting? It was the twenty or so water jets that are hidden behind the Museum of Nature and Science, shooting cold water six feet into the air at random intervals. The best part? The tiled area where this is all set up is so kid friendly that the stone they used is textured enough that even a nineteen month old can run on it, water shooting everywhere, and not slip and fall. Even better? The big kid that knocked Chunk over while they were running and giggling through the water jets not only stopped to make sure my little guy was okay, but he also apologized.

We had a blast. Then, after a nap that was entirely too short, went to a BBQ at a friend's house, where Chunk was the life of the party, the guests were all really nice, and there was cheese dip.

Frankly, I'm worried that I might have hit my head sometime today and just don't remember it. When your day is this good, you immediately have to suspect a head injury.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Sesame Street, As Directed By Luc Besson

Natalie Portman is filling in for Alan at the store on Sesame Street. Although I find the way she's flirting with the bear both amusing and slightly creepy, I can't help but think this is all a clip that was originally cut from "The Professional." Natalie "cleans" Sesame Street! Mathilda tosses a grenade down Oscar's trash can, feeds Cookie Monster a cookie full of lead, and plays "Journey to Ernie" with a sniper rifle!

Okay... it's official. It's WAY too hot in Denver today. I think I need to lay down for a while.

Day Six... We're Still Here

Denver Mom continues to have a good time in France. Actually, that's not entirely accurate. The last time I talked to her, she seemed to be having a great time, practically bubbling over with her discoveries, both big and small. She seems to be having every bit of the trip of a lifetime I had hoped she would have.

Chunk and I? We're doing okay. We haven't had as much time as I thought we would. Although my intention was to take some time off and just spend it goofing off with my son, I've been putting in eight hours days all week to make sure I get everything off my desk in a timely manner.

We did manage to make it to the Apex Center for swimming on Tuesday. We went early in the morning, as we usually do, because it's a better fit for Chunk and his particular personality quirks.

He's an odd kid. He's not really afraid of anything, as a matter of fact, he's completely fearless, but he is a little shy, especially around other kids. In a public place like the swimming pool, he'll just hover around a parent and watch the other kids, rather than jump in the water and have fun himself. So, if we go early in the morning, we usually get the pool to ourselves and he gains a little confidence. And, as an added bonus, the water is usually a little warmer for the senior water aerobics class that starts at 7:00.

Did I mention fearless? He's fearless. He has no problem leaping off the side of the pool and into the water. He charges for the deep end of the pool, not once considering that the water might be too deep for him. He demands to be "put down" even when the water is deep enough to come up to his dad's armpits.

So, the question is, when do we develop fear? When do we suddenly find ourselves afraid of what could happen once we spring from the diving board? When do we suddenly start dreading trips abroad or weeks alone with our children, too consumed with the "what ifs" to rev ourselves up to enjoy it, the anticipation of it?

I wasn't afraid of these weeks alone with Chunk, but I know that I wasn't looking forward to them either. I depend on Denver Mom a lot. She depends on me. And, frankly, a lot of things become more difficult when you're alone with a child. Doing the dishes takes more effort. Making the bed. Getting dinner ready. It all takes just a little bit more, because your attention is divided, your "third eye" constantly searching for dangers and potential dangers, while you're trying to tackle your task.

But, the thing is, it hasn't been bad. Even when Chunk has been at his worst, cranky after a night of tossing and turning, it's all been surprisingly manageable. Like the diving board, once you're airborne you just have to toss caution aside and enjoy it. There's not much you can do about it anyway, so why worry?

I'm hoping that after the meeting I have in the office in an hour, I can stop working so much and get to the goofing off that Chunk and I had planned for this week. Tomorrow... maybe we'll hit the Children's Museum or the Aquarium.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Day Three

Mondays are never easy. They never have been. It's the only day that all of us are in the "office," with both Denver Mom and I going to work, and Chunk getting dropped off at day care.

When we first started taking him to day care, we thought we were very clever in putting together this particular schedule. Mondays he would get the socialization benefits of being in day care and the rest of the week he'd be home with either mom or dad, spoiling him with attention. It made things much more affordable and we thought we were getting the best of both worlds, but we didn't anticipate the separation freak out whenever we drop him off.

When he was a baby, he didn't care. We could sneak away without so much as a glance up from whatever toy he found. As he's gotten older, he's started clinging more, crying more, desperate for us not to leave him. When we go to pick him up, it starts all over again, with big, fat tears and strong, needy hugs.

The part that makes it so hard is that he has a good time when he's there. Occasionally I can sneak in while he's playing and watch him having a good time. He's no different than when he's at home, every bit as busy, every bit as engaged in whatever task he has set for himself. But, when he sees me, the dam breaks and the tears come fast and hot. With Denver Mom gone, he was especially desperate not to be left at day care this morning. And, given his fragile state, I felt especially bad about abandoning him.

Speaking of fragile, we had a minor emergency last night, that basically boils down to his father being almost criminally stupid. My little guy got a little too hot and not enough fluids, which resulted in some vomiting. The on-call nurse at Children's Hospital thought it was a virus that has been going around, instead of a little heat exhaustion, but the result was the same.

The great thing about a child's vomit is that it’s a great communicator. With Chunk, it comes fast and often, just to drive the point home.

For example, we had a few terrible, wildly arcing "sessions" last night. Kicking and cursing myself for being so stupid (I didn't realize the pulp in his juice had clogged his sippy cup holes), I cleaned him and the carpet up, then after I was sure we were out of the worst of it, ran to the store to get him some Pedialyte.

I don't know about you, but I find the Pedialyte section of the store a little nerve-wracking. There are a hundred different flavors, various ways to give it to him (liquid, popsicles, etc), and then there's the issue of official Pedialyte versus the cheaper store brand. While I was standing there, studying the different paths towards hydration and trying to figure out what we should get, I was holding Chunk in my arms. He had his little arms wrapped around my neck and then let out a little whimper.

"Are you okay, buddy?" I asked.

He nodded, but wore an expression that told otherwise.

"It's okay, buddy, we're going home right after this."

Then, it came. A torrent of juice-colored vomit, like some horrific geyser of warm, frothy gross. Since I was holding my young son to me, trying to keep him comforted and happy, there was only one place for the vomit to go and that was on me. Hadn't we already done this vomiting thing? Where the heck did all of this liquid come from?

So, not knowing what else to do, I grabbed a bottle of Pedialyte and wandered over to the check-out counter, covered in toddler ooze.

Chunk was on the verge of tears.

"It's okay, buddy, it's daddy's fault. You're fine. You don't have to feel bad."

That seemed to cheer him up. He liked being able to vomit on his father and have his father feel bad about it.

There was a long line at the express check-out and no one in line with me seemed to care or notice that I was covered in vomit. I was wearing a white t-shirt that was now pink and frothy, so it's not like it was subtle. Chunk was blubbering a little. That should have been a clue that something was up, but it was business as usual as far as everyone else was concerned.

The good news is that he's back to normal. We had several drinks of water throughout the night and some much needed sleep, and now he's back to his typical, happy self. The Pedialyte I bought? He refused to drink it.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Day Two

At 4:30 this morning when Chunk started to whine and moan in his crib, I rolled over thinking, "It's her turn. I was up with him at 10:30." That's the undeniable luxury of being one of two parents. I've been a "single parent" for one day, and although it hasn't been bad, I just don't know how other people do it full time.

Chunk is doing really well, so far. At the 10:30 waking I mentioned, he insisted I let him out of his crib, then ran around calling, "Momma?" searching for her in the dark. Just as I had done several other times yesterday, I explained she was far away, but that she misses him, loves him, and can't wait to come home to see him. As smart as our little guy is, I think some of those concepts are still a little bit beyond him, especially when he's already on the verge of tears. All he really knows is that for the first time, momma is gone.

His fever broken and his fighting spirit returned, we decided to go to the bird sanctuary out in Wheat Ridge this morning and walk around the lake.

It's a neat little park, but it's strange. Depending on the angle of your head, where your eyes are pointed, you could almost believe that you're out in nature, miles away from traffic, Starbucks, and 7-11, but if you move your head just an inch or shift your eyes a bit to the right, there it all is, just as you remembered. The entire bird sanctuary is surrounded by road, so you literally have nature on one side of the street and sprawl on the other.

Chunk had a blast. When I have a little free time from work, we like to get out in the morning and walk at various places. The great thing about most of the places we end up is that the other people there sincerely like being out. Like us, it's how they like to start their day. So, everyone is very friendly and happy and appreciative of the enthusiastic waves that Chunk provides to everyone we pass.

Denver Mom called this morning at 5:30 and she made it across the Atlantic just fine. She was calling from her hotel in Paris and finally sounded really excited to be there. I'm glad she decided to go. On the express bus one night (my mobile group therapy), I was asked if I wished Chunk and I could go and meet her for the last half of her trip, but the truth is, this is her time. Yes, I'd love to be in France with her, but it would defeat the entire reason for her going.

One thing I found kind of funny... people always make such a big deal about the light in Paris. It's supposed to be this magical, clean, even sparkling light that brightens everything without being harsh or glaring. Watch any film with a painter in it and they'll probably talk about how they have to get to Paris because of the amazing light (it's in the "generic screenplay dictionary" for painter, apparently). Denver Mom says it looks just like Colorado.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Day One

We dropped off Denver Mom at the airport without much turmoil. Was there any crying? Yes. Both Denver Mom and Chunk shed a few tears. I merely got dust in my eye, which should explain the redness and irritation.

I suspect that this is going to be easier than I originally thought. I've been bracing myself for the worst, for crying fits and frustration and sorrowful cries for a momma that is thousands of miles away. And, every one of those things and more will probably happen, but Chunk and I make a good team, so I'm starting to think we'll get through this just fine. What's bothering me is that Denver Mom is gone.

See... I didn't just marry Denver Mom because I think she's smart, talented, and because she gets more and more attractive every day I've known her. I married her because I genuinely enjoy spending time with her. I married her because she's the first person I want to tell my stories to and the last person I want to see at night. I married her because she's my best friend.

She's coming back. I know I'm making this sound melodramatic and a little bit corny, but it'll be lonely without her for the next couple of weeks. Neither one of has to travel much for work and the few solo vacations we've taken (me to visit family in the midwest, her to go hiking in Wyoming) have been short trips, little more than extended weekends. It's only been a few hours and I miss being able to talk to her. I helps having a new best buddy, even if he can't debate modern art with me.

Thank you for all of the great suggestions you provided several weeks ago when I first talked about this trip. Chunk and I are hoping to be able to do everything mentioned and more, but Chunk was up all night with a fever, so we'll be taking it easy today and making sure that everyone gets caught up on sleep.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Better Dadding: Just Show Up

Several weeks ago, I was riding the express bus home from work, and as is typical, was chatting with some of the regulars about the general sorts of chit-chat you usually exchange on the bus. Chunk is a favorite subject of conversation, likely because I usually have a picture or two to show off, and one of my fellow bus riders turned towards me and asked, wrinkling up her face, "Denver Mom isn't still going to France, is she?"

It seemed pretty clear to me that what she was really asking was, "Your wife isn't so heartless that she'd leave your innocent, sweet son with... with... with... YOU for two whole weeks, is she?

I know it's a generational thing and I shouldn't take it personally. And, I know that this particular lady is a bit weird. After all, when I bumped into her at Blockbuster last year, she accused me of getting a "naughty movie" when she saw I was trying to buy a copy of "The House of Flying Daggers." Yes, because it makes perfect sense that I would shop for porn at Blockbuster Video. Buying porn is just one of those many bonding moments a father and six month old boy can share.

Mom-101 had a post a little while back about how, yes, even a dad can be a responsible, attentive parent. It was a shocking revelation and the comments ranged from disbelief to jealousy of Mom-101 and her trained chimp of a husband. "Ho ho ho, boy, men sure are dumb!" was the tone of many of the posts.

Why is that? Why are men considered so helpless and stupid? And, why is it even acceptable to make these kinds of comments? If I put up a post that said women were unreliable and clueless, I'd be chased around the internet by angry villagers with pitchforks and torches. Yet, it's okay and even funny to point out how dumb men are, especially as parents.

Whether this attitude about men is fair or not, it exists. So, my advice this week about how to be a better dad, is just to show up. You don't have to know everything, standing proudly over your adoring children with your teeth gleaming in the sunlight, cape flapping dramatically behind you, but you do have to be involved. That's really all it takes. Show up. Be there. Don't allow this stereotype to torpedo your role as a dad. For all dads, be involved and change this stupid mindset that men are automatically idiots in the parenting department.

A bit of clarification: I just want to state that I don't believe Mom-101 was saying that men are stupid. I think she was, with tongue placed firmly in cheek, making fun of the sitcom dad stereotype and his inability to do anything without help.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Media Time For Youngins

A remote control for a toddler?

A cell phone just for junior?

Are they serious?

On the one hand, I'm encouraged by these sorts of gadgets. I genuinely think the idea of a dedicated "kid" cell phone that has easy to use and understand buttons, with mom and dad on speed dial, is a good thing. Our television and remote control setup is so complicated that even I can't work it on some days, so having something simple with a button that automatically switches to "PBS Kids" is a great idea. At the moment, Chunk is too young for gadgets like these, but what about one year from now? Two years? Should a child of the 21st century have a cell phone and his own remote?

We limit Chunk to one hour of "media time" a day and I suspect even that is too much. That includes time in front of the TV or sitting at the computer playing with his "Dr. Seuss's ABC" program. I'll admit, there are days when I'm facing a pretty strict deadline at work that his media hour sometimes stretches to an hour and a half or two hours, but we also go a lot of days without any media time at all, just fresh air, some errand running, and plenty of games of "hide and go boo."

According to some recent reports I've read, we've already destroyed Chunk's brain with this minimal exposure and he'll be a drooling idiot by the time he's ten years old (sort of like his dad), but I believe in moderation. A little Elmo or Baby Einstein won't kill him. He thinks Elmo is hilarious and loves Thomas the Train Engine with a passion usually only reserved for first crushes and sports teams, so a little goes a long way with him. Yes, sometimes he grabs my hand, drags me to the television and signs for "more," a somewhat creepy display of how much he enjoys the television, but he is easy to redirect.

But, what happens when he can turn on the television himself? What happens when, with the push of a button, he has instant access to the shows he wants to watch? What happens when parenting gets replaced by an intelligent remote control, designed to respond to toddler needs and clumsy fingers?

Again, I think these kinds of devices are neat. I don't think there is anything wrong with modifying our world to make it friendly for smaller hands and less proficient technical skills. I'm just concerned about that new ease of use taking parents out of the process. Supervision and good decision making are the keys to good parenting. That's true of everything, but when something like a remote control gives your child the power to make decisions that aren't good for them, before they're old enough to really understand more than just the want/get cycle, suddenly the dynamics of a situation change. Suddenly, parents are taking television away from a toddler, rather than just directing them to a different task before the "idiot box" is on and streaming colored, flashing goodness into your child's brain. It's subtle, certainly, but at certain ages, the difference between giving your child something and taking something away are massive.

So, what do you think about television and toddlers? No television at all? Some? Enough that the TV is called "Uncle Boob Tube" in your house?

As an aside, I noticed that Weemote has a "senior" model for senior citizens. They tout the Sr. as being "Ideal for users with memory problems or vision impairments." I can also see how it might be useful for people with arthritis, depending on the size of the buttons. Again, a really cool idea, but the less my dad wanders in to watch TV, the better.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Special Weekend Update: Chunk Likes Rocky Road

Sometimes, even when you know better, you have to do the wrong thing with your child. Things like... oh, I don't know... sharing your rocky road ice cream with your nineteen month old son, just minutes before his bed time.

Does my nineteen month old son like chocolate ice cream with marshmallows and almonds? Well, he likes the ice cream part just fine. The almonds go down easily, thanks to swimming in cool, gooey ice cream. The marshmallows? He makes a face like I'm actually slipping him turpentine and fishes them out of his mouth, dropping them into my hand. Ahh... yes... our new game. If he doesn't like it, it goes in my hand. We could be at the table, with a whole flat span of space before him where he could put whatever horror I've inflicted on him, but somehow it's always better if its in daddy's hand.

What follows the ice cream is screaming. Lots and lots of screaming. Screaming for more ice cream. Screaming momma's hand. Screaming because he doesn't want help with his toothbrush. Screaming for the sake of screaming.

I'm starting another cluster headache, so each shriek vibrates through my skull like it was punctuated with a rusty hammer, but it's still worth it. Seeing Chunk's face light up with his first taste of chocolate is pretty great, no matter what the price.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Better Dadding: Finding Balance

My first post on the Denver Dad blog was about my struggle to find balance between the demands of work and the demands of family. In many ways, I think that this balance of time and attention is even more difficult because I work from home and the trade between "work" and "home" time is so fuzzy and immediate.

I still don't have answers for that particular puzzle. It's something I struggle with every day. Clearly, I'm not working when I step away from the computer to change a diaper. But, what about when I take a minute to talk to my son, to give him a hug when he toddles over for one. What about when I change a diaper while trying to work through a particular phrasing issue I'm having with a grant proposal? When is something work and something personal? But, my post today isn't about that particular balance. Today, we're going to talk about a balance that I think might be even more elusive... the balance between being a good dad and being an individual.

When was the last time you went to the bookstore? Just you? No diaper bag over your shoulder, no stroller to push between the aisles, no little hands pulling on your ears or pointing at books nearby, announcing "lello!"

Or, if the bookstore isn't your thing, when was the last time you went to the movies? When was the last time you watched a baseball game, from start to finish, wearing your favorite team jersey? When was the last time you put the smack-down on your rivals in an online computer game? Or, more to the point, when was the last time you indulged in your hobbies, really indulged?

I'm not saying the two are unconnected. I think there is a lot of overlap between being a good dad and a well-rounded, happy individual, but I also think that because the demands of being a dad outweigh the demands of... say... being able to shoot par on hole 4, golf typically loses out when you're strapped for time. The issue is, as focused as good dads are on their children, we do have to take time for ourselves.

I take a lot of joy from my time with Chunk. He's a great kid and we genuinely enjoy hanging out together, but as he's gotten a little older, I've gotten a little more time, here and there, that I could fill with my own interests. And, you know what I found? Those first few times when Denver Mom took him shopping without me, I had no idea what to do with myself. I was clueless about what I should do to fill my time. And, while that probably gave me extra points in the "dedicated dad" tournament, it didn't do me much good in the "happy person" department.

So, please, take some time for yourself. Don't forget that before you became a dad, you used to read, take guitar lessons, play pick-up games with the guys, whatever. Whatever it was that you did, make sure you still take some time to do it. Don't go overboard. I'm not giving you permission to give up being a dad to pursue your dream of racing in the Tour de France, but you should take some time for you. You need to find a balance.

It'll make you a happier person. And, happier people are inevitably better parents.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

It Takes a Village

It's becoming more and more clear to me that the whole "it takes a village" thing isn't utter crap. Remember the village metaphors that were so big in the 90s? I don't recall the precise quote, but it went something like: "It takes a whole village of idiots to make sure your child is miserable and maladjusted, just like the rest of us." It's so heartwarming and so true, all at the same time!

Before Denver Mom and I had Chunk, I always assumed the quote ("It takes a village to raise a child") was a gentle nudge for the village to step up and get involved. It was a reminder to the village that it takes more than just parents to raise a child, and that everyone, at varying levels, should be responsible for the guidance and protection a child needs as they grow. Now that we have Chunk, I'm seeing the saying as more of a threat. It's not a reminder for the village, it's a warning for the parents.

We had a recent snafu with some babysitting. The situation, like so many others, was born of good intentions, but resulted in our nineteen month old boy not getting much nap time under his belt, when he desperately needed some sleep. The next day, Chunk went off to day care, where the "sleep" written on his daily report is actually just time spent on his mat, and so, our poor son went two days without a nap. Different kids respond differently to these kinds of situations, but in Chunk's case, he responded a lot like Mount St. Helens after a bad day at the DMV.

As parents, we try. We clearly outlined our expectations to the person watching Chunk on Sunday. We have had numerous conversations with the day care about how concerned we are about Chunk not getting any sleep while he's there. And yet, what seems like a simple thing gets trampled under the weight of other concerns, desires, and realities, none of which have anything to do with our son's wellbeing.

The fallout was terrible. Even after getting a decent nap yesterday afternoon, Chunk was out of control most of the day, bordering on tears and tantrums the entire time. Despite many threats of bodily harm, whispered when Chunk was out of earshot, Denver Mom and I were understanding and supportive, doing what we could to comfort him. Then, obviously not learning our lesson, decided that the best thing to do with a cranky, sleep-deprived child was to take him to a family barbecue, keeping him out way past his usual bedtime.

Yeah. I don't know what we were thinking either.

Considering his mood the entire day and his lack of rest, Chunk did great and was having a good time showing off for the assorted adults who found his every garbled word and spastic gesture completely enthralling. He was transformed, from the cranky kid who cried at us all day, to a graceful, charming social butterfly and life of the party.

I was on the patio, sitting next to my wife, while Chunk was in the other room with some family. Clearly, fate stepped in, because I somehow overheard one of our family members explaining to Chunk that he'd be filling up on strawberries in no time. Chunk is allergic to strawberries, to the point that if he gets strawberry juice on his skin, it swells up in large, blotchy pink sores.

So, I leapt from my chair and rushed into the other room, shouting like an idiot the entire way. We were lucky. None of them had made it into his mouth.

These are people we know and trust. These are people that, whether due to interest or payment, want what is best for our son, and yet the level of risk for him feels so overwhelming. Missing a couple of naps is hard on him and hard on us. Eating a food that makes him sick is dangerous and potentially catastrophic.

It takes a village. It takes a village to endanger your child's health and happiness.

Every parent has faced this and survived. Most children survive it too. I know that we will get through it, but I can't shake the feeling that I can't leave my son with anyone. It's a strange sensation, especially considering that he's been in day care for well over a year now, but there it is.

Friday, June 30, 2006

Denver Dads Of The World Unite And Take Over

It turns out I am not the only Denver Dad. Fear us, for we are legion, the Denver Dads of the world, spreading our wraith and oddities like beads at a Mardi Gras parade. Yeah, that's right, show us your URLs baby!

I finally succumb to the ego-maniacal step of "googling your funky self." I did it twice, once looking for "denver dad" and another time looking for "denverdad," because I was curious if my blog would pop up. It didn't, but I learned a few things about the army of clones out there all using the code-name "Denver Dad."

1. There is a Denver Dad out there that knows a lot about scanners. And, when I say a lot, I mean a LOT. If I ever have any problems with my scanner, I'm going to that guy. Seriously. He's pretty dang smart.

2. There is a Denver Dad looking for love and has several profiles up on a number of dating sites. The love he seems to be looking for runs the gambit from "a little lovin' before lunch, please, I'm kind of bored" to "someone to spend my life with" and I wish that particular Denver Dad luck in finding happiness.

3. There is a Denver Dad who was apparently a guest on the Dr. Phil show and has a complicated relationship with his wife, who in turn has an even more complicated relationship with their children, and I wish that guy a lot of luck too. It sounds like he needs it.

4. There is also a Denver Dad that is a stay-at-home dad and has organized a playgroup, a mailing list, and an extensive "Dad's night out" calendar. Whew! I wish I had his energy. He might also be the Denver Dad who has triplets, in which case his energy seems more the result of chemicals or alien technology, than simple drive and ambition.

5. Oh, and there is a Denver Dad that apparently has a brother-in-law who has left "racist" behind a long time ago and has entered into that overtly creepy stage that is so ick that it doesn't even have a name yet. In Latin it would be something like Racistius Maximius. In English it's just ass, I believe, but my dictionary doesn't really back that up. That Denver Dad? I wish him the most luck.

6. Lastly, there is a Denver Dad that writes a lot of restaurant reviews. I'd kind of like to know that guy, because I like to eat. I would say I like to eat as much as the next guy, but that next guy is an amateur. I really like to eat. Even then, I think this particular Denver Dad could teach me a thing or two.

That really isn't "lastly," there are more, but those were the first ones that came up in my search. Oh, and I did show up, but it was mostly my comments on other people's blogs. You know... the cool ones. I'm looking at you, Melissa!

The part that I find weird is that any of these Denver Dads might be one or more of the other Denver Dads, but I'm just me. For example, the Denver Dad that knows his way around a scanner could be the same Denver Dad that eats out and also dates a lot. If that were true, he'd pretty much be a superhero. Me? I'm just the Denver Dad that posts here and offers the occasional dim-witted comment on a variety of other mommy and daddy blogs. What about the Denver Dad with the racist brother and frequent appearances on Dr. Phil? That's not me either. I just post here, and given the alternative, I suppose I'm pretty glad that's the case.

It's not the first time I've been surprised by the multi-identity issue. In the real world, where I work, vote, and try to recycle, I have a fairly distinctive name and I just assumed I would be taken for me. But, it turns out there is another me, a doctor who orders magazine subscriptions and never pays for them, running around our fair city, inviting patients to call him at (my) home if they have any questions about their upcoming procedures.

I wonder if the other me has a goatee, like the evil Spock in that Star Trek episode. Or, maybe I'm the one that's supposed to have the goatee and evil plans for the Enterprise. Like I said, it's pretty confusing.

Final Score: Real Life 4, Blogging 0

Contrary to how it may seem, Chunk and I, along with the ever wonderful Denver Mom, are still very much alive. I've just been swamped with work and a cranky child and haven't been able to find much time to get a post up. I did, however, write a guest post up over on And Then There Was Pickle. If you're desperate for a little Denver Dad, you can check out my post about the grooviness of the internet and the parent blogging community, and then you can get yourself looked at by a professional. Desperate for a little Denver Dad? There's something wrong with you.

I hope to be back soon!

Friday, June 23, 2006

Better Dadding: Buy a Crockpot

I'm starting a new weekly series that I'm going to call, "Better Dadding," in which I'm going to share some of my own wisdom about tricks and tactics for how you can be a better dad. I was originally going to call the series, "Hair-Better-Than-Mediocre Dadding," but it didn't seem to have quite the same punch. If I can, I'll make this a weekly Friday thing.

My first topic? The magical benefits of the humble crockpot, sometimes known as a "slow cooker."

Here's what makes a crockpot so great: you fill it with stuff and hours later that stuff has become something tasty. And, if it somehow isn't tasty (rarely the case), it's at least cooked enough that the food inside of it won't give you botulism. I know! We do live in an age of wonder!

But, how does that make you a better dad? I'm glad you asked.

No matter how involved you are as a father, your child's mother is always more involved. It was a hard lesson for me to learn. As much as I wanted to split parenting with Denver Mom, right down the middle, there were just some things I couldn't do.

For example, take breast feeding. Setting aside the obvious reasons why I couldn't take over that task, our plans for me getting up in the middle of the night to feed Chunk with a bottle didn't really work out. Sure, I was getting up at 2:00 a.m. to feed our son, but Denver Mom was still getting up at the same time to pump, since she was getting uncomfortable. So, why should we both get out of bed when she could just feed our son and be done with it? It didn't make sense, so she quickly became the "nighttime feeding" go-to person, while I became the "Man, I slept GREAT!" go-to person.

See what happened there? We talked about a problem and together we came up with a solution. And, at the same time, we created an imbalance. So, to take up some of the slack, I started being the one to get Chunk up in the mornings, letting Denver Mom sleep in. I started doing a lot of little things to make things easier for Denver Mom, because she was doing so much to care for our son. The best thing I could do as a dad was to make things easier for her as a mom.

So, how exactly does the crockpot fit into all of this? It's easy to use and there are very few things quite as convenient that don't involve tipping the delivery guy. You get supper ready in the morning and then in the afternoon, when you don't feel like cooking and the baby is crying, dinner is still ready to go. The only preparation needed at that point is getting down plates to serve it on.

You can modify this tip, of course. Right now we're using the grill in place of the crockpot, because summer isn't really the best season for stews, but the concepts are basically the same. Sometimes being a good dad isn't about being the star player on the team. Sometimes it’s about just making the assist, so mom can "take it downtown and score."

Umm, okay, that sounds a little weird. Now you know why I don't use many sports metaphors.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Clean Up In Aisle Five...

So, I'm wandering the aisles at Safeway with Chunk in tow, looking in vain for the soy sauce, when one of the Safeway guys waddles up to me, pushing a utility cart that's carrying soda bottles and rapidly melting ice cream.

"Want to buy a root beer float?" he asks. "The proceeds go towards Prostate Cancer."

So, suddenly Prostate Cancer is hard up and needs the cash? Okay, okay, I understood what he meant.

"No, thanks," I answer. "We're getting ready for dinner, but thanks!"

I aim my cart down the aisle and get ready to shove off, but he's persistent and steps in front of me. He shoves a flyer into my hand.

"We're having a free screening for men your age," he continues. "Next Friday. It's a great deal, because getting tested can be kind of expensive."

Cancer is unfortunately fairly common in my family, so I appreciate the gesture. I can think of plenty of places I'd rather have my prostate checked than my local grocery store. It makes for some terrifying PA system announcements, for one, and frankly I'm not sure the teenager that bags my groceries is qualified for that kind of work, but as I said, I really do appreciate any company stepping forward with cancer awareness programs. So, to be nice, I look over the glossy flyer he has given me and pretend that I'd actually consider getting an exam in the same place I buy cheese. You know what it says?

"Prostate exams are recommended for men over the age of 50...."

Yeah, fifty. A free screening for men my age, huh? Men who, like me, are over the age of fifty years old. Is that it?

Look, grocery store guy, I know I'm getting gray. As a matter of fact, I'm even aware of the fact that I'm getting rapidly gray, enough that my wife tells me, "Geez, you're REALLY getting gray" at least once per week. I know all of that and I'm not even denying that I have left my twenties behind quite a while ago, but fifty is still fifteen years away, pal. Fifteen years. So, next time you come at me with melted ice cream and offers for getting a finger stuck up my rear in the ethnic food aisle, at least call me "sir" and stand up straight. You whippersnappers don't know how good you have it, daggumit!

Saturday, June 17, 2006

A Reminder Of The Good Things

You know those friends who only seem to call when their cat has died? Or, their car has broken down? Or, they're getting divorced, moving to Idaho, and starting a militia group? I think I might be becoming that friend.

Every once in a while, I go back and read what I have written here. Taken one post at a time, my blog is okay, I guess. It's like a lot of other blogs, only less interesting or witty. This morning, I read five of my most recent posts in a row, and... great Cesear's ghost! I am I one depressing guy. I seem to do way too much complaining about being Denver Dad and don't do nearly enough talking about the job's many perks.

So, in an effort to even the scales a bit, here are some things that make being Chunk's dad truly great:

1. I love music. Whether by choice or brainwashing, so does my son. There is nothing better, and I mean NOTHING better, than watching him dance. I'm serious. It would put a smile on anyone's face. He didn't get his moves from me. I don't know where he got them from, but that kid can shake it, and he has been shaking it since he was a baby.

2. What could feel better than walking with your son, his tiny hand wrapped around your finger, as you stroll through wherever you happen to find yourself? That question was rhetorical. I have an answer and it is "Nothing."

3. There is a strange sense of calm that comes from driving around town and having a sleeping eighteen month old in the back seat. The easy punch line is, "Well, yeah, he's sleeping!" but there's something more to it than that. I wish I could explain it, but when he's taking a short nap while we're out, I feel like I'm doing something profoundly right, even if it does mess up his nap schedule.

4. My son wakes up ridiculously early. So do I. When I can convince him to let Denver Mom sleep and we play quietly as the sun slowly comes up and through the windows... it's great.

5. His excitement is contagious. His excitement about seeing a dog, getting a cup of juice, touching snow, or any number of other things instantly melts my inner cynic. It's a gift that I think only children can give.

6. Chunk cackles when he swings. He doesn't laugh, chuckle or even guffaw. He cackles. It's hilarious.

7. Chunk kisses what he loves. His parents. His teddy bear. On more than one occasion, he's run up to the television and laid a big smack on the screen when the Teletubbies have been on. There's a lesson to be learned in that. We should kiss what we love. Although, I don't know if making out with your iPod in public is such a good idea.

Is that it? No. There is plenty more, but this post is already giving me cavities. I'll stop here... for now.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Father's Day

I'm not sure if anyone out on the internet heard about it, but apparently there is a holiday this weekend called Father's Day. I know, I know, I thought it was just an internet hoax too, but it really exists. There are greeting cards and everything!

Now, being one of a million Daddy-bloggers, I suppose I have a duty to say something profound. I should speak about the traditions of fatherhood, the power of the bond between a dad and his child, or what is the appropriate age for a father to teach his child how to burp the alphabet or how to make farting noises with his armpit. You know, the important stuff. But, instead of touching on those sentimental things, those lists of items you can find on the greeting cards, I thought I'd propose a question, instead.

So, for the father's out there, preparing for their big day of indulgence... do you deserve it? Do you deserve a day celebrating your contributions to your child's life?

If you had asked me that question last year, I'm not sure what my answer would have been. I was probably still too shell-shocked about actually being a father to really come up with anything coherent. I can say that this year, unlike last year, I know I deserve my day. I know that when the going got tough, I didn't always just hand Chunk off to his mom. I know that even when I was tired and cranky and overwhelmed, I still hugged that kid, told him him I loved him, and meant it every time. And, yes, I know that I took the time to be a part of the fun moments too.

I spent a lot of time with my grandpa when I was a kid, especially during the summers. We did a lot of fishing. We took hikes through the local nature preserves. We went to countless hardware stores so my grandpa could tell the various managers we cornered how to run their business better. Years later, after my grandma died and I was staying with him, my grandpa told me that he felt like I gave him a second chance at being a dad. He confessed that he missed so much of my dad's childhood dealing with his own problems with alcohol addiction, he was glad to get another chance by being a father to me.

Although my dad didn't have those same issues with alcohol, in a lot of ways he was the same way. As a father, he was distant, uninvolved, detached. And now, as a grandfather, he's everything I thought I wanted in a dad. Chunk, just like his two older cousins, is my dad's second chance and he makes an outstanding grandpa.

Fatherhood, it seems, skips a generation in my family.

I'm not a perfect dad. Frankly, I don't think such a thing as a perfect dad even exists. I know that I have my days when I do detach, escape to the internet and just let Denver Mom handle Chunk's tantrums while I click through whatever pages give me a break. I'm trying to get better. I'm trying to break that cycle of absentee fatherhood that my family has "enjoyed" and be present for my son, let him drag me away from what I'm doing to play, to read, to wrestle and run and swing and giggle.

Is that enough to deserve a special day? Maybe it is. Maybe the best we can do as fathers is try. Maybe the most important lessons we can take from our own childhoods is to see the disappointments we had in the men we looked up to and try to do better. Not all father-son relationships are like the one I shared with my dad, of course, but every child has been disappointed, at one time or another, when they didn't get the hug they needed or the time that they expected. Like I said, there's no such thing as a perfect dad, except in 50s television.

I love my dad. I know that he loves me. It took a lot of years of frustration and strife for us to finally figure that out and I'm glad we got the chance to find a kind of peace and understanding between us. Maybe I'm naive, but I think that with some work, I can keep that from happening between me and my son.

So, do you think you deserve a special day? If not, why not make Father's Day the day where all of that changes?