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.