Thursday, July 17, 2014

A Conspiracy of Three

Help me; I think my kids may be conspiring against me.

Some nemesis gaining the ability to think is a facet of lots of recent movies of course.  I’m thinking of The Planet of the Apes series for one.  The Will Smith led I Am Legend is another.  And of course I’ve already compared my brood to zombies.

So maybe its just recent media that has me up at night worrying.  Then again…

You see, it seems to me that when urgency is most valuable, they are at their slowest.  When time is of the essence, they are black holes, sucking all the time away.

One day they will show me how they can put their shoes on – all by themselves.  Two days later when I have to have them out of the house – like that minute – they suddenly revert back to one year olds.  Shoes are roughly banged onto feet at angles that leave no hope of success; shoes that do make it onto feet are on the wrong foot, or worse, backwards.  How can someone who can barely manage to put on shoes manage to one on backwards?

But that is nothing compared to the planning, collaboration and coordinated attacks that occur when I’m at my most vulnerable.

I’ll tell you: My kids are awesome.  They are more awesome than yours, by a long shot.  They are awesome at speaking.  They are awesome at behaving.  They are awesome at listening.

Except that once I’m tired, they go into a three-pronged flanking attack.  Suddenly, they are rendered caveman like: unable to speak and left to communicate only through whines and grunts.  A kid who can, on a good day, choose from a menu of words to express themselves can suddenly solve the problem only with a full throated shout followed by a complete meltdown.  Accompanied with a side of biting or some hitting, perhaps.

Now, that might seem reasonable if they had their favorite toy take away or had been bitten.  I’m not a troll, I understand they are 3.  But when it arises in all three of them, and simply because one has more Gold Fish than the other, well, its hard to believe it’s a coincidence.  And not just "more" Gold Fish.  One.  More.  Gold Fish.  A kid that repetitively skips 5 when counting will suddenly know exactly what five Gold Fish looks like.  At a distance of 100 yards.  Through a bowl.

Kids that can open doors and take incredible tumbles with the ease of acrobats are suddenly flailing their heads about, nearly blinding me.

They've gotten so good at pulling their pants up and down that we stopped giving them rewards for doing it before going potty.  Like I said, my kids are awesome.  But then, suddenly, in a fit of disability, one will become incapable of using thumbs and instead uselessly slap at his pants with nub-hands.  I can only assume is some scientific process through which he hopes to discover some new Zen way of removing pants. 

There was movie recently about a sisterhood of traveling pants.  I don't think it involved new, Zen ways of nub-handing pants.  I didn't watch it.  But maybe all my concerns of a little zombie takeover is all a media creation.  Or maybe, just maybe, I’m in some weird game of three-year-old Catfish.  

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Loving Your Kids: At A Distance

I wish I could blame my month-long posting hiatus on my recent vacation, but alas, I can’t. 

I can, however, tell you that I learned some lesson while visiting Virginia for a cousins wedding.  When you go on vacation without your kids, you do a couple things differently.

1)      You begin using your spouse’s name again, and what a nice feeling that is.  Instead of “Mom” she becomes a wife again.  The shift was almost immediate for me, and I don’t even thing I recognized it until about the third time I called her by her name.  It was both awesome and freeing, as if I had been transported back to a time before kids.
2)      You don’t realize how stressed you are until you leave it behind.  I’m such a better Dad the last two or three days and I credit the vacation.  I feel less stressed.  And yeah, I realize that is the reason for vacations, but still, worth noting.
3)      As much as I missed the hell out of my kids, I also missed them like  you miss scratching poison ivy.  Its such a visceral and fulfilling thing, scratching poison ivy, that you love it no matter how much the underlying issue bothers you.
4)      As much as you might dread returning to the structure and the crying and the diapers and the kid talk and the lack of personal time, the minute you walk in the door, you’ll realize how much you missed being Dad.

I want to return to #2 for a moment and its interplay with #3 and #4, because I think its something that is easy to miss.  It was hard leaving our kids behind.  It was the first time when we did it last year, it was this time, it probably will be next time, I imagine.  It was made more difficult by the fact that these are cousins I haven’t seen in 10 years or so, and who really wanted to see the kids.

Make no mistake - taking the triplets on trips is fun.  But taking the kids to Virginia is no kind of vacation.  It requires extra planning, extra packing and extra managing, to say nothing of the extra room we would need to book.  Between the extra planning, packing, and managing, it is more a chore than anything. 

And that is where point number 2 comes in.  Some stresses are immediate, like deadlines.  The Supreme Court is going to issue an opinion on the contraceptive mandate on Monday, so Monday is going to be one of those immediate stresses type of days for those of us who write about the litigation.

But other stresses are slow burners.  The petty kid fights, the strain of constantly being “on,” the need to always plan your next move so that one of the kids don’t explode – it all adds up.  The stress sneaks up on you.  Your shoulders tighten over the days; your outlook darkens over the weeks; your mood crashes over the months.  And pretty soon you aren’t the Dad you want to be anymore. 

Being away for four days – glorious days of mornings with no plans and days with nothing booked - washed the stress away. 

I’m more calm now, more in control now, more able to see my “happy place” when I need it now.  So while my kids may have missed me during those four days, they get a better Dad for the next month or two as a result.

And for the record, they hardly seemed to miss us at all. 

Thursday, May 22, 2014

World War T: The Prequel

We aren’t getting any sleep, here, and before you say “welcome to the club,” know that our triplets have always been pretty good sleepers.  Anyway, we aren’t getting any sleep, and you can probably relate.  We are now part of the Slow Zombie Parents. 

A little introduction:  When I say slow, I don’t mean it derogatorily.  Instead, “slow zombies” refers to the types of zombies typically featured in older movies.  Those are the zombies we in the parenting set are most familiar with, I’d imagine - Zombies slowed by the fact that they are held together by rotting flesh and essentially brainless.  Not the newer, “fast zombies” that move at Usain Bolt speeds and cut on a dime like Adrian Peterson.  Those zombies move spectacularly for even a healthy human construction, let alone one made of only the flimsiest of remaining connective tissue.

You know what can make you a zombie (in real, real life)? The poison from a fugu fish - i.e. Japanese Blowfish.  Really.

You know what else?  Having 2.5 year-old triplets who aren't sleeping.  Think about it.  We groan as we roll out of bed, our eyes swollen with the 4 hours of sleep they still need.  Becaues our eyes are blurred by that lack of sleep, we stumble and slide-step our way to the nursery.

We reach mindlessly into cribs to pull out our victims, er, children.  After putting them we immediately realize what we have done and begin to chase after them.  However, children are the one age at which humans can actually move like fast zombies, regardless of little sleep they have had.  In fact, sleep appears to be inversely related to how fast they can move.  So now they are zooming around getting into,

hey, get out of that, get away from there, no, don’t do that

and we are right behind them, hands outstretched.  Know what we look like in this pre-caffeine, no-sleep state?  We look like the picture at right?  What I have just described looks exactly like the dance from Michael Jackson's Thriller.

That example doesn't require anything like toxoplasmosa gondii to turn an average parent into a zombie.

Have you heard of mad-cow disease?  When a human eats infected cow and contracts the disease they call it Creutzfeldt-Jakob.  Anyway, what are the symptoms?  Glad you asked:

1 - Changes in gait (walking)
2 - Hallucinations
3 - Lack of coordination (for example, stumbling and falling)
4 - Muscle twitching
5 - Myoclonic jerks or seizures
6- Rapidly developing delirium or dementia

Um, OK.  If that defines zombie, well, good luck.  A tired parent is, um, well, lets go down that list, shall we?  Number 1: Changes in gait? Check, as I noted above.  Number 2: hallucinations?  Completely reasonable in someone missing sleep.  Number 3: lack of coordination?  Lack of coordination?  As I noted in a recent post, I lack coordination on good days. 

Well, we are already 3 for 3, so, lets quit before we come to any existential crisis, OK?

Worried a zombie apocalypse could actually occur?  Don't read this.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Nature v. Nurture?

Three things I don’t know how my kids learned:

-          All three sleep on their bellies.  We were big “back-to-sleep” parents, so its not like we were putting them down that way.  I am, and always have been a belly sleeper, but they have been in their own room since they were just months old - there is no way this is a learned behavior.  I guess two of them could have learned it from the other, but its odd that they all ended up that way.
-          What is it, from a genetic standpoint, that makes kids not eat crust?  I eat my crusts; my wife eats her crusts.  At 2.5 years old our kids haven’t been around any other children who refuse their crusts.  And yet…no crusts
-          They all like to have their ears covered when they sleep.  This is something my wife does.  I wasn't really totally aware of that fact until she mentioned it in reference to the kids.  Its not like we talk about it – or again – is something they would see.

  Nature?  Nurture?  What do you say?

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Cellphones, Oh The Horrors, The Horrors!

It's Spring time, so of course parents are going to be outside with their kids at the playground.  And if adults are outside, of course they have their cell phones on them.  And it someone has some piece of relatively new tech with them, of course some Luddite is going to complain.

It happened this week when my Facebook feed lit up with a post chastising a Mom at a playground for being on her phone.  Being on her phone while... what exactly was happening?

What exactly was she missing?  The story chastises her for missing, well, I guess its point is that she is missing her child's childhood.  In reality, as I mentioned in a previous post, she is missing no such thing.  If she is any kind of parent, she has seen her kid climb steps and go down a slide.

What the post ignores is that we outsiders have no idea what she is doing on that phone.  Sure, it fits into our nice preconceived notion if she is texting a friend (oooooh, please let be a drug dealer!) or playing Flappy Bird, but what if her sister is in the hospital and she is getting updates?  What if her husband is texting to say he'll be late?  We just don't know.

We also don't know what the rest of her day has been like.  Maybe she has spent all day doing art projects and playing Legos with her kids and took them here both as a  treat for them and herself.  Why do we ignore this possibility?  In my experience its at least as likely as the idea that she has been on her phone ignoring her kids all day long.

I mean, sure, we can assume the worst.  But in that case, why not just assume the Mom brought her kids to the playground as part of a devious plan between her and her husband to leave the kids there?  Perhaps she is texting her husband at that moment about how, ahahaha, the plan is working perfectly and she will be home shortly?

In short, you can be a perfectly good parent and text while your kids are at the playground.  And because you are giving them space and letting them play and learn for themselves and giving yourself some time to unwind, you might just be a better parent for it.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Please kids, don't grow up to be like Daddy.

I haven't been posting regularly because I’ve been stuck trying to come up with a way to post about how I hope my kids won't grow up to be like me - without it sounding like I hate myself or making people worry that I’m depressed.  Essentially, a way to say what I’m about to say without sounding like I’m fishing for a “its all going to be OK.”

I've written before about Live Like Daddy Syndrome, the idea some Dads have that their kid must grow up liking the same things they do/did.  But this was a little different.  

As if in answer to my conundrum, I poked myself in the eye while getting my daughter out of her car seat hard enough I worried I dislodged it.  As if that wasn’t enough, I then spilled a three-gallon can of paint all over the bedroom floor.  As my wife says, these things just seem to happen around me.  Like the time I spilled a large Dunkin Donuts iced coffee in the exam room of the fertility clinic. 

So, yeah, I don’t want my kids to grow up having those things happen to them.

But I see it, and I worry.  I see my fear of heights – and moreso my fear that I’ll fall for some unforeseeable reason - each and every time my son shows fear of going down the steps.  I see my own social anxiety in them every time they freeze up in front of others.

So, no, I don’t want my kids to grow up like me.   Which one of us do the kids resemble?  Man in the sky I hope it is my wife.  Intellectually, she’s broad like me.  She can dress herself up in a way that will completely confound you, yet she is fully capable of applying joint compound on a Saturday.  She’s socially cool and nimble and makes it all look so easy.

Again, this isn’t meant as a pity party.  Despite the fact that I regularly knock over anything within arm’s reach, get weary in groups of 3 or more, and nearly take out my eye every 6 months or so, I have all my body parts, a good job and a very good support structure.  My life is pretty damn good.  I hope my kids all manage the life I’ve achieved and so much more.  So, so much more.

But do I want them to grow up like me?  No. 

Because I’m the type of person who, while taking my daughter’s car seat strap off, has their fingers slip and ram directly into their eye.

At least this time it was only my wife who knew. 

Thursday, April 3, 2014

The Ten-Toy Plan To Parenting On A Dime

I saw, again, that raising a child from birth to 18 costs somewhere north of $300,000. That puts me at nearly a cool million. One million dollars over the next 16 or so years. Having raised my triplets almost to the age of 3, I can confirm that a hefty portion of that $300,000 per child cost is diapers and formula.  You can breast feed and pare that number down, and good for you because you'll save something like $25,000. Not exactly chump change, but not exactly living frugally, either. You can try to cut down on diaper costs, but good luck with that. Its pretty much a fixed cost. You can't exactly leave your child in a single diaper all day. That doesn't work out well. You can potty train as early as 1.5 years, but good luck with that, as well. I'm somewhat convinced that potty training during the time when your kid is forming his own opinions about what and when and how he will do things is an evil trick played on parents just to see how far we are really willing to go in following “expert” advice. Some 100 years from now some scientist will reveal that it was all an ongoing study on how willing parents are to follow “expert” advice that even on its face seems a little like suicide.

So what makes up the part you can control? My guess is approximately $200,000 of that cost comes from toy purchases, as far as I can tell. And after watching my kids react to the old, supposedly far below them developmentally, toys my wife was tagging for resale, I now know the secret of doing children's toys on the cheap.  Of course, you can Google this issue or read the parenting books suggesting you search secondhand stores or one of the abundant resale opportunities like those my wife was tagging for.  By all means buy these toys secondhand. For the first thing, your 3 year old won't notice. Hell, your five-year-old might not notice. For the second thing, within five minutes of purchase the toy you just spent $55 on will essentially be in the same condition as the $5 secondhand toy.

Buying secondhand will definitely save you money.  But the true savings from my plan is that it only involves 10 toys. Yep, 10. That's it. You can feel free to replace any of the following with favorites of your own. Or purchase more if you feel your poor prince or princess is being given short shrift here, but I think this program works perfectly well with 10. If you choose cheaper toys, you can even save more money.

  1. The book Oh The Thinks You Can Think. Because its wacky and creative and fun for both kids and adults. And who doesn't need to contemplate what they would do if they met a Jaboo. That right there is a question chock full of philosophical depth and life lessons.
  2. The book Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus. Because its never too soon to teach young kids to say no. The book specifically points out that its one of the only instances where a kid gets to take control. Because that is just what every parent wants – to present as an example to their children an angry pigeon who is quite possibly swearing because he can't do something clearly above his skill level. That doesn't set you up for failure at all. Not. At. All.
  3. A drum set. Its loud, yes, but its quieter when you leave them in front of it for an hour and walk away. Plus, some aunt or friend is just going to do it any way, so you might as well pick one that fits in some dark corner of your house, rather than the really big one that only fits in the family room.
  4. Some kind of electronic learning toy. Because, well, it wouldn't be 2014 if you didn't have a Leap Pad or iPad or Einstein something or other. You don't want to be an embarrassment as a parent right off the bat, right? You can break this out when your friends come over to show how advanced your kids are.
  5. Wood blocks. Wood toys are having their heyday because of the fear of plastic. Therefore, you can show not only how environmentally sound you are, but how concerned you are about childhood exposure to APBs, or something. You can also break these out when the grandparents visit. This short-circuits the “in my day we played with wood blocks” comments.
  6. A kitchen. This is critical, because if you plan on having play dates you need to have a variety of toys. If you only have single-sex toys, well, the play date is gonna suck for that kid of the opposite sex, and all he or she is going to do is hang around the parents. So, ideally, this is a brown color, because if its too girly, any visiting boy children won't want to play with it, and if its too boyie, any visiting girl children won't play with it. And lets face it, play dates are for the adults.
  7. An art easel + markers, paint, accessories. This is a serious recommendation. Art easels are great fun and provide lots of opportunities for entertainment. The school system is a drab, dreary, institutional place focused on the standardized tests we all know prepare us for the #2 pencil-only multiple choice tests we all take as adults. And the arts are underfunded and unappreciated. This may be your kids only chance at creativity.
  8. A ball of your choosing. A kick ball or a ball that lights up in some way is recommended, but not necessary. It can be a baseball, softball, whatever. Keep in mind you only get one, so make it as multi-dimensional as possible (i.e. - don't choose a football or god-forbid a crochet ball).
  9. A multi-pack of Play-Doh. See #7. Plus, fun to eat.
  10. A cardboard box of sufficient size. Make sure its a nice one, preferably corregated, because it will probably get more use than the other 9 toys combined.
So, now that we have that out of the way, I'm sure you are wondering how these 10 toys will keep your child entertained for the next 10 years. The key is rotation.

Choose any two – or three if you really, really must because you feel like your kid is going to miss out – of the toys plus a book and introduce them into the playroom. Let's say Play-Doh, your electronic toy of choice and Thinks.

We are getting down to the real nitty-gritty now, so pay attention.

That should last you a good week. You can do literally 100 things with Play-Doh before kids start to eat it. Once that happens, its time to switch to the electronic toy. Bored with that, its reading time! After you've read that book 150,000 times in a row – and you will, direct them back to Play-Doh.

After a week, switch it up. Take all the toys out and introduce, say, the box, the ball and Pigeon. Make the box a net for a quick game of soccer. Make the box a rocket ship. Make it a friggin box. The kids won't care.

Ideally you'll mix and match well enough that you won't have two creative toys at once, so avoid Play-Doh and the easel being out at the same time. However, having the easel and the box out at the same time is so much fun its like cheating, because you can color at the easel AND on the box. And if you aren't careful on the book as well. Its really like having a fourth toy.

You might worry that someone, be it a friend, or neighbor, or meddling grandparent, will worry you don't have enough stuff for your kids. But if you mix-and-match well and let your kids follow their natural inclination, those toys will be all over the place in no time and pretty much any size room will resemble a construction zone, so no one will notice.