Category Archives: Parenthood

At last we have the mighty Butterball…

“We’re going to get a turkey,” I said on the way to the grocery store last night. “Gobble gobble gobble!”

From his car seat behind me, Kyle asked, “Why did you say ‘Gobble gobble gobble’?”

“Because that’s the sound a turkey makes,” I said. “Well, a live turkey, anyway.”

“But not dead ones?” Kyle asked.

“No,” I admitted. “Not dead ones. The one we’re getting is a frozen turkey.”

“Frozen?” Kyle asked. “In carbonite?”

Welcome to Parenthood: Ice Cream Dreams

Visions of mint chocolate chip dance in his head...
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My morning began with a three-year-old boy addressing me from the side of my bed.

“Daddy,” he said. “I had a dream.”

This is pretty standard stuff these days: Kyle marches into our bedroom in the morning to tell us about his dreams of the previous night.

“You were there,” Kyle said, “and mommy was there.”

Nothing at all unusual about that; most of his dreams feature Laura and I.

“And I had ice cream,” he said.

Ah, there’s the wish-fulfillment aspect. Kyle had been denied ice cream twice yesterday: once because he had just eaten a popsicle and a second time because he wouldn’t eat his dinner.

“And Uncle Miller took my ice cream away.”

That’s harsh, Miller. Harsh.

Star Wars: My Chinatown Moment

I had a Chinatown moment recently while watching one of the Star Wars movies with Kyle, my three-year-old son, and I realized that George Lucas is the Jake Gittes to my Evelyn Mulwray. ((If you haven’t seen Chinatown, starring Jack Nicholson as J.J. “Jake” Gittes and Faye Dunaway as Evelyn Mulwray, you should; this analogy makes more sense if you have. Go ahead: put in in your Netflix queue or run down to the corner video store. This blog will be here when you get back.)) It’s not that much of a stretch, is it? George delivered three prequels like so many slaps to the face of die-hard Star Wars fanboys like myself, and they hurt.

Before Kyle was born, I banished the prequels from my home. Even after I began his training—introducing him to the space opera by way of the LEGO Star Wars II: The Original Trilogy video game on my old Xbox—I was determined that the prequels would not sully my DVD player. We played the entire game together, and he experienced Tattooine, Yavin IV, Hoth, Dagobah, Cloud City and the forest moon of Endor in a multitude of interlocking bricks. When I upgraded to an Xbox 360, Darth Elmo I decided that there was little harm in upgrading to LEGO Star Wars: The Complete Saga as well. I’d played through the prequel trilogy LEGO game before my son was old enough to pick up a controller and found that (surprise!) it’s much more entertaining when there’s no intelligible dialog.

A few months ago, we graduated from the video game to the movies. Despite a few bumps (he’s not terribly fond of the Wampa ice creature in The Empire Strikes Back; ditto for Luke’s encounter with Vader in the tree-cave on Dagobah and Jabba the Hutt’s menagerie in Return of the Jedi) the movies are a big hit at the International House of Johnson, and I get requests to watch them on a daily basis.

Then a couple of weeks ago I decided to lift my ban on the prequels. I realized that as much as I reviled them, the prequel films would be right up my son’s alley. He’d already been inoculated: he loves Yoda in all of his puppety glory, pretends to be Han Solo and Luke Skywalker, ((I have yet to convince him to pretend to be Lobot.)) refers to a Belle (Beauty & The Beast) PEZ dispenser as “yellow Princess Leia”, runs around the house yelling “Open the blast doors!” and “Oota goota, Solo?”; he even knows who is “in Darth Vader”. But there was an entire trilogy’s worth of characters that he’d only ever seen in LEGO minifig form.

So I borrowed Star Wars: The Clone Wars from the local library. He’d seen the endless advertisements for the series on Cartoon Network and would often strike a Power Rangers-esque stance while yelling “Star Wars the Cone Wars!”—he’s not so good with the letter L just yet—so I thought we could ease into the prequels with the animated adventures of Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker. The reaction upon seeing the Star Wars logo was pretty much what I expected—an explosion of ecstatic joy—but the movie didn’t really hold his interest beyond a few oohs and aahs during one of the lightsaber battles.

I suspected that my son would be more interested in the familiar characters and situations in The Phantom Menace, so I picked up the DVD from The Exchange, my local used music/movie/video game store. We watched the movie together and I saw everything that made me hate it: Jake Lloyd’s horrible acting, Natalie Portman’s inspired impersonation of a woodcarving, the utterly ridiculous Trade Federation droids. ((“Roger, roger!”? What kind of nonsense is that? If the droids are all controlled by a giant ship in orbit and every last one of them shuts down when that ship is destroyed, why do they need to communicate verbally with each other at all, much less in an idiotic homage to Gomer Pyle?)) All of it.

And my son loved every last minute.

I’ve watched bits and pieces of The Phantom Menace three or four times since then, and it still makes me cringe to hear Anakin Skywalker ask Padmé Amidala if she’s an angel. Something screams inside me anytime midi-chlorians are mentioned. ((Riddle me this, George: If the Jedi believe the Sith have all been wiped out, do they not understand that one who will “bring balance to the Force” is going to have to kill a cubic buttload of Jedi? Why would any Jedi in his right mind want to find such a person?)) And when Yoda appears, his face swollen and his features distorted as though he’s in the midst of a horrible allergic reaction—possibly to a gundark bite—I just shake my head.

But it’s still Star Wars, and my son loves it. And while we were watching it together one night before bedtime, I suddenly felt like Evelyn Mulwray.

I love it!

*slap*

I hate it!

*slap*

I love it!

*slap*

I hate it and I love it!

Lucas has always maintained—despite the froth and fury of fanboys like myself—that the prequels were geared toward children. Watching my young apprentice’s reaction, it’s clear that Lucas wasn’t just blowing smoke; I am a generation removed from what passes for Star Wars these days, but experiencing them with my son has brought an unexpected appreciation for something I was convinced I loathed.


This was originally written for Whateveresque, a web forum maintained by author John Scalzi. It is reprinted here—in a slightly altered form—at my wife’s request.

Welcome to Parenthood: When Ideals Collide

I could not think of a more perfect example how parenting priorities can clash than to compare what Laura and I are teaching Kyle to repeat.

LAURA: “Our Father, who art in Heaven, hallowed be thy name…”

KRIS: “Knight Rider: A shadowy flight into the dangerous world of a man…who does not exist…”

I could tell you who’s been more successful thus far, but that might come across as gloating.

Welcome to Parenthood: Want some candy?

Belle PEZ DispenserThough I do not consider myself a collector of PEZ dispensers, I do have an assortment of the candy-disgorging hinged heads and I keep most of them on a shelf above the television in the living room. Every once in a while, I fill Batman or Spider-Man or Darth Vader with candy and give the dispenser to Kyle, who proceeds to eat every piece in a matter of about ten minutes.

Some time ago, my niece—who is, as one might expect a young girl to be, a fan of the Disney princesses—gave me a Belle ((The “Beauty” in Beauty and the Beast.)) PEZ dispenser. Disney princesses aren’t really my thing, ((Exception to the rule: Jasmine is hot.)) but it was a gift and I like PEZ dispensers so I gave Belle a place on the shelf next to Spider-Man and Chewbacca and the Unnamed Snowman.

Kyle and I have been enjoying LEGO Star Wars: The Complete Saga on the Xbox 360, so lately the Darth Vader ((“Darf Vay-to!” says Kyle.)) PEZ dispenser has been in heavy rotation, but something absolutely magical happened last weekend: after R2-D2 and C-3PO ((“Artie-pee-oh!” says Kyle.)) escaped from the besieged blockade runner, Tantive IV, Kyle wanted some PEZ.

“Daddy,” he said. “I want some candy. I want yellow Princess Leia.”

I’ll admit that it took me awhile to parse his words, but when I finally figured out what my young apprentice wanted, my heart was filled with joy. My son looked at Belle and saw Princess Leia dressed in yellow.

That’s my boy.

Welcome to Parenthood: 30 Months

Sidewalk NapSomewhere just before the two-year mark, parents typically stop reporting their child’s age in months. I had planned to report my young apprentice’s age in weeks until he legally became an adult, but that plan dropped by the wayside when I forgot to actually keep track of how many weeks old he is. I could have easily written a widget to manage that little bit of data for me, but it’s a little late in the game to go back to tracking the weeks; the last thing I want to be is gimmicky.

Kyle will not technically be thirty months old until the thirteenth of July but I suspect that, developmentally, not a whole lot will change in the next six days. On the other hand, he picks things up very quickly these days, so I suppose it’s possible that he might potty-train, count to twelve, learn to read and develop a cheap, clean and completely renewable energy source by next week. That’s just how far the Pendulum of Parental Expectations™ swings these days.

Yesterday, as I sat on the couch with a box of tissues trying to cope with an allergy attack, Kyle climbed on to my lap, looked up my nose and declared, “You got a boogie, Daddy.” He then climbed off my lap and headed for the stairs. “I get it!” he exclaimed as he ascended. He disappeared into the master bedroom and emerged a moment later, descending the stairs with a cotton swab clutched in his hand.

Laura and I occasionally use cotton swabs to clean Kyle’s nose when he has a particularly crusty cold, but those swabs are in a small box, tucked away in his room where he (ostensibly) can’t get at them. However, after watching daddy’s post-shower rituals on occasion, Kyle knows that there are cotton swabs in a jar we keep on a shelf over the toilet in the master bathroom; a toilet that he sometimes climbs when he wants to wash his hands with daddy.

So, Kyle descended with the cotton swab he got out of our bathroom ((Time, I think, to move the cotton swabs.)) and climbed back onto my lap. “Oh,” I said, reaching for the swab, “thank you!”

“I get it!” he repeated, and before I could stop him he jammed the tip of the cotton swab up my left nostril.

I don’t know if he got the boogie, but I managed to stop him short of drawing blood. Not, however, short of causing a firestorm of agony in my nose.

Tree HuggerA very helpful and considerate firestorm of agony. And that made it worth the pain.

Welcome to Parenthood: You’re Doing it Wrong

Kyle will find your pawprints.
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Over the past two years, my young apprentice has been a source of amusement, joy, amazement, wonder and, above all, pride. He has also been a source of frustration, befuddlement, more frustration and, on occasion, disappointment. Not disappointment in him, mind you, but disappointment in myself; in my clear failings as a parent.

I have to believe that every parent experiences moments of fear, denial and confusion when their offspring makes a choice that goes against every tenet of their upbringing. When, as parents, we witness these blatant affronts to our values, the question that echoes endlessly in our thoughts must certainly be, Where did I go so wrong?

And so it is with my young apprentice and his preference for Joe.

Yes, Joe. Not Steve, but Joe.

Where did I go so wrong? Did I not read to him enough in the first twenty-four months? Was I neglecting him in some manner crucial to his development? How can this have happened?

Blue's Clues“Boo’s Coos!” he exclaims. “Boo’s Coos Joe!”

“How about Steve?” I ask, hopefully, poised to queue up “What Experiment Does Blue Want to Do?” or “Snack Time”.

“No!” is his reply. “Boo’s Coos Joe!”

Joe Burns (Donovan Patton)So it is Joe that we watch. Joe in his orange shirt. Joe, whose real name isn’t even Joe, but Donovan Patton. ((Why the lies, “Joe”? What do you have to hide?)) Joe, who can’t even be bothered to draw in the notebook himself; instead, the clues simply appear in the notebook, then sing about themselves (“I’m scrunched up eyebrows!“). ((More deception. Why do you even bother with the crayon, Joe? The whole thing is a giant farce with you.)) Joe, who, at the end of each episode, sings, “Me and you and our friend, Blue” instead of “Me and you and my dog, Blue.” ((Because she’s not your dog, Joe! She’ll never be your dog! Blue will always be Steve’s dog, and I’ll bet that just eats away at you, doesn’t it?)) Joe, who must, must, must somehow be responsible for the abomination that is Blue’s Room. ((She talks! Blue talks! From what bizarre alternate reality did the notion that Blue talking would be a good idea originate? Are the strange beings who inhabit this universe also of the opinion that Chilly Willy, Snoopy and Charlie Brown’s teacher should speak coherent English as well? It’s madness!)) Joe, who isn’t fit to sit down in the thinking chair and think, think, thi-i-ink.

Admittedly, we thirty-something parents are a little protective of our own precious memories, and the idea of our children latching on to some obviously inferior reimagining of our favorite childhood icon (e.g., Transformers Animated, Ruxpin: The Next Generation, any Star Wars film produced after 1983) chills us to the very core. But that does nothing to explain the bias I have with respect to the hosts of Blue’s Clues. The show came along well after I had stopped watching Nickelodeon (apart from SpongeBob Squarepants) and well before my young apprentice started; I had never really watched it prior to becoming a parent, and by the time my progeny arrived Joe had been the host for four years.

Despite the fact that my bias does not spring from the fear that the kids today are trampling all over my beloved childhood, I am biased. Perhaps it is basic human nature: an inherent belief that change is something to be feared and the original will always, always, always be the best. ((Team Knight Rider? What kind of psychotropic pixie dust do you need to be snorting to believe that could possibly work?)) I don’t know; I’m neither psychologist nor social anthropologist. I am, I suppose, just a caveman, one who assumes a threatening posture and shrieks loudly whenever he hears Joe sing, “Come on in. What did you say? A clue! A clue!

Steve BurnsTherein lies the uncomfortable truth: there’s simply no logic to my preference for Steve. I feel a surge of hope on those all-too-rare occasions when my young apprentice says, “Boo’s Coos Steve! Geen Steve!” and a few seconds later, there he is: Steve in his green shirt. Steve, who somehow makes finding three blue pawprints a true adventure. Steve, who skidoos into a book or a painting like no one else can. Steve, whose true feelings for shy Miranda ((Magenta’s owner, played by Shannon Walker Williams)) will forever be unspoken. Steve, who should never go off to college and leave poor Blue with his orange-shirt-wearing ((Joe also has a purple shirt, as well as a green one, but he is at his most duplicitous and untrustworthy when wearing orange.)) younger brother.

But all too soon it will be time for so long, and as Steve sings just one more song, I find myself fearing that the next time my young apprentice wants “Boo’s Coos” he will once again demand to see Joe, and the dreaded question will once again spring to mind: Where did I go so wrong?

Welcome to Parenthood: Fourteen Months

The boy is dangerous. They all sense it, why can’t you?

When Jedi padawan Obi-Wan Kenobi spoke those words to his master, Qui-Gon Jinn, he was referring to Anakin Skywalker, whose passion and anger would eventually turn him to the Dark Side.Or perhaps he was trying to warn George Lucas about casting Jake Lloyd as the boy who would grow up to become Darth Vader. That is a discussion for another time. My young apprentice has not yet started down the path that will forever dominate his destiny, but since we began weaning him off baby food and feeding him “real food”, Laura and I have witnessed the Dark Side.

I’m talking about poop. Specifically, the ever-intensifying foulness of that which darkens the diaper. In the beginning, the diaper biscuits were largely odorless, but as we slowly change the nature of what goes into Kyle’s mouth — abandoning bland jars of baby food in favor of more interesting fare like spaghetti with meat sauce, ice cream and peanut butter — so do we unwittingly change the nature of what comes out the other end.

Where the diaper change was once a thirty second affair involving — at worst — a vaguely unpleasant odor, a few moist wipes and the danger of an unexpected golden fountain, today the affair might potentially involve an eye-watering, tongue-shriveling pungence, a half-dozen or more moist wipes, a kicking, flailing child whose mood changes from unbridled glee to unrestrained outrage and back four times in as many seconds, and the danger of an unexpected golden fountain.

Diaper changes are often preceded by a faint odor that inevitably leads to a period of denial, wherein the parent who must ultimately perform the task attempts to assure the other parent that the growing stench is “just gas”. To be fair, Kyle does seem to be propelled by rapid-fire flatulence at times. As with most denial, this is a defense mechanism, for with every diaper change there is also the threat of that most disastrous and unpleasant event, the Blowout.

The Blowout is exactly what it sounds like: the capacity, fit or structural integrity of the diaper is exceeded by the viscosity, volume or sheer tenacity of that which fills it, resulting in failure of the containment field. When this happens, plasma is vented into space, Yes, it’s a euphemism. There are only so many times I’ll use the word “poop” here. necessitating special hazardous materials cleanup processes. It ain’t pretty.

Thankfully, there is more life with my young apprentice than the occasional journey to the Dark Side of the Diaper. In early January, he made a sudden transition from crawling around on his belly to pulling himself up on furniture and “cruising” around the living room, dining room and anywhere else he could get. The amount of stuff he could reach tripled and end tables were no longer safe havens for keys, iPods, cell phones and the like.

Right around the time Kyle started “cruising” he also, much to our surprise, began climbing stairs, which necessitated the use of a second baby gate in the living room (the first preventing a fall into the downstairs hallway). Now, when it is time for a diaper change, a bath (one of his favorite activities) or a nap, Laura and I simply remove the second baby gate and follow Kyle upstairs. He has not yet learned that sometimes a climb up the steps means it is time for a nap (by far his least favorite activity).

As Kyle’s mobility has increased, so has his curiosity. The farther an object is out of his reach, the greater the lengths he will go to retrieve it. Objects with many buttons are particularly alluring, as the connection between pressing of buttons and something interesting happening is one that Kyle made several months ago. The object he most desires is the remote control, and if it is on the back of the couch or on the bookshelf near the couch, he will climb over Laura and myself to reach his prize.

When not attempting to steal the remote control or “pet” the cats, Kyle researches new ways to foil the latches on our kitchen cabinets. His library is vast, and he will sometimes roll around in a pile of Richard Scarry, Dr. Seuss and Sesame Street books, much like Scrooge McDuck in his money bin. While the wealth of knowledge at his disposal may not help much in the realm of breaking and entering kitchen cabinets, Kyle has learned much about the BTFD (Busytown Fire Department), the challenges inherent in keeping oversized pets, the folly of trying to touch the moon, and the ticklishness of crocodiles; information which will undoubtedly prove valuable in years to come.

The next big adventure for Kyle will be walking without hanging on to a couch or coffee table. As with most of his advances, I have mixed feelings about Kyle walking. I am at once excited to see him learning and growing every day and saddened that it seems to be happening so quickly.

Just this week, Laura and I stopped giving Kyle a bottle before bed, and I felt strangely wistful when I put him to bed. I miss cradling him in my arm as he drinks the day’s final bottle (which, in the past month, had become the day’s only bottle). I’ll miss his Army-style belly crawl when he starts walking, and I’ll miss his enthusiastic chanting of “dada” when he really starts to talk.

I won’t miss changing the Diaper of the Dark Side, though. Not one bit.

Welcome to Parenthood: One Year

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My young apprentice has been free from the uterine hoosegow for three hundred and sixty-five (consecutive) days, a milestone we deemed worthy of celebration. As is customary on such occasions, there was cake.

There were also friends and relatives, who came bearing gifts. The earliest gift of the day, however, arrived at approximately 8:45am in the form of a technician from Time-Warner who brought high-speed Internet access to the International House of Johnson. Oddly enough, Kyle seemed far more interested in his new V-Tech Smartville Alphabet Train Station. Perhaps another three hundred sixty-five days will change that… or perhaps not.