Monday, August 31, 2009

Sorry everyone. No new Dadlosophies post this week. Also, I'll be taking next week off for Labor Day. Look for my next post on Monday, September 14th, by 10am. Have a great two weeks!

Scroll down to read all of my previous entries.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Praise God, School is Back!

Last week, my daughter went back to school. She's now a proud first grader. It seems like just the other day I was picking her up from preschool, her Little Mermaid backpack lightly grazing the ground as she shuffled off to class, holding her teacher's hand. Now she's no longer into Disney Princesses. Ariel, Cinderella, and Sleeping Beauty have surrendered their thrones to Hannah Montana and the cast of High School Musical. My little girl is growing up fast. Before I know it, she'll be wanting a cell phone and texting messages. Next comes boys. Talk about frightening! I can hear the theme from Halloween growing louder as I think about it. Already, while in preschool, she's had one little boy ask her to marry him. Emerson told him that she would, but first she wanted to finish kindergarten and get a horse. That's my daughter, a romantic perhaps, but with a practical side. Since then she's completed kindergarten, but given that I still haven't bought her a horse (nor can I find a law enforcement agency that does criminal background checks on six-year-old boys), I can just about guarantee that Emerson won't be getting married any time soon.

Yes, if my wife and I stop to contemplate the swiftness of time, we can become a little sad at how fast the years move. However, truth be told, last week we were too busy being fired up that summer was drawing to an end and that the little ones were heading back to class. This year, for the first time in our parental lives, all three of our children will be in school at least a couple of days a week. A few days ago, it was Emerson. Next week, her little brothers will follow. My wife and I feel like a couple of inmates recently put on work release. Sure, we'll still be incarcerated first thing in the morning and again after 2pm, but in between we actually get to live adult lives. I can work without having to stop every ten minutes to yell things like, "Get Elmo out of the toilet!" or "Take your underwear off your brother's head!" As my wife does house work she can actually watch TV shows that don't involve singing dinosaurs, numbers of the day, or five rather creepy Australians called The Wiggles. (I don't know how they got the name The Wiggles, but whatever they're wiggling, they better not do it anywhere near my kids.)

Finally, Meredith and I can talk to one another for at least a few hours out of the day without having to out yell a three-year-old. No more sitting on the commode ten minutes longer than I have to and pretending to have an intestinal virus because it's the only place I can escape screaming, whining, and emotional meltdowns over who got the bigger pop tart at breakfast. At least until next year, I won't come downstairs every night to find my wife crouched in the corner of the kitchen, an I'm one spilled sippy cup away from insanity look in her eyes as she marks the refrigerator with a crayon, counting down the days until school starts like a prisoner tracking time until freedom. We've survived summer with three kids! Along with army ranger training and a couple of Asian religions that require you to beat yourself with bamboo, that's about as tough a test of endurance as you'll find.

Funny how life changes. When I was a kid, I lived for summer. I celebrated the last day of school and mourned the summer's end. I basked in the freedom of no school, no responsibilities, and as many trips to the pool as I could maneuver. Now, summer just means it's hot when I go to work. My wife and I frantically search for any art camp, gymnastics class, Bible school, or sport that will keep little people too busy to sit around the house all day with nothing to do but pout, complain, and take issue with the amount of crust left on their peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Heavy scheduling gets us through early July, but that's a month too short. We try to set up play dates, but all our kids' friends' parents are at their wits end too. The last month before school is turbulent. Vacations are over. Summer camps and classes are done. Play dates are few and far between. The little people are restless, discontent, and rebellious. It's like living in Munchkinland during the 1960s.

And so we begin another school year. Another year of attending meet and greets, school productions, chaperoning field trips, and scrambling to clean the minivan enough so that an avalanche of crackers, Cheerios, and discarded Happy Meal toys don't bury some poor, unfortunate teacher during car line. So goes life with kids. It's not bad. In fact, its right where I want to be. And, yes, summer's can still be fun (for a while). But, believe me, fall is sooooooo much better.

So off to school, little people. Mom and Dad are going to take a nap as soon as you're out the door. After that, who knows. Maybe we'll get crazy and watch the news--maybe even Sportscenter. Praise God, school is back! Where's the clicker.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Reelin' in with Friends

Last Saturday night, I did something I haven't done in a long time: I went to a concert. A couple of my old friends from Charlotte, Patrick and Chris, drove down with their families early in the day and crashed at our place. It was a packed house. Six adults and seven kids made sure that the weekend was anything but quiet or boring.

We had a blast! The wives caught up with one another, sipped wine, and exchanged mommy stories. In between beers, the guys talked about the upcoming football season, pushed kids on the swings, and played a rousing game of boccie ball. Trust me, nothing says fun and excitement quite like three beer-drinking dads throwing rock-hard spheres in a yard full of frantic children. Fortunately, there were no concussions, although it was fun watching Chris chase his four-year-old around the swing set while yelling, "Let go of Daddy's balls!" After grilling out and downing a few hot dogs, the guys and I headed off to catch Steely Dan. Meanwhile, our angelic wives stayed behind to look after the kids.

I've never been a huge Steely Dan fan. But I like their music and was up for anything that would get me out of the house on a Saturday night, especially if it meant hanging with two of my best friends. Plus, Steely Dan puts on a pretty mellow show. At age forty with three kids, that's the only kind of concert I want. There was a time when I went to concerts to yell, scream, and be an obnoxious jerk, but now I reserve such behavior for little league soccer games ("That's a trip ref!"). All I want is a relatively comfortable place to sit, talk with friends, and listen to some good music.

We arrived about a half-hour before the show. After parking the car and hiking a good quarter of a mile in flip-flops, we made it to the ticket window. Patrick approached the window first and asked for three of the cheapest seats available. "The cheapest thing I have left is $70 each," the young man replied. For a moment, the three of us just stared at one another. Seventy bucks is steep for a concert. Heck, that's at least three trips to Monkey Joe's including the overpriced pizza. Ever resourceful, we asked if we could get in for $35 a pop if we just saw Steely and left Dan for another time. The ticket guy said, "No," all the while giving us a they don't pay me enough to put up with idiots like you glare. So much for thinking outside the box.

Fortunately, the seats were decent. We sat back, popped some long-necks, and settled in for the show. It was great. The band played most of their best: "Reelin' In the Years," "Hey Nineteen," and so on. I was disappointed that they didn't play "Rikki Don't Lose that Number," but after thirty-five years, I guess they figured that if she hadn't lost it by now they didn't need to keep reminding her.

In addition to the band, the evening also featured the standard really drunk girl sitting next to you that comes with almost any concert package. At the beginning of the evening she seemed extremely nice. An attractive young blonde out on a date with her boyfriend. The two of them struck up a conversation with the three of us over, of all things, garlic. Don't ask me how a night out to hear Steely Dan results in an impromptu garlic conversation. All I can tell you is, once you have kids, your brain falls into a state where any subject can arise at anytime. Nothing is off limits. We could have just as easily ended up discussing circumcision or the Jesuit priesthood. Regardless, garlic turned out to be a great ice-breaker (if only I had known this during my single days: "Hey Beautiful, what's a nice girl like you doing eating garlic in a place like this?")

In less than an hour, however, this "friendly young lady" digressed into an intoxicated mess. When she wasn't talking Patrick's ear off in unintelligible slurs and babbling, she was yelling "Woooooo! Steely' Dan!" and dancing like a girl in search of her long-lost pole. At one point, Patrick leaned over in the middle of a guitar solo and asked me to kill him. I told him that I thought it was adorable that he had managed to make a new friend.

Fortunately, we and our marriages survived the drunk girl debacle. Other than that one low point, it was an awesome evening and weekend. As dads, our lives are hectic. Work, family, and daily life can make it hard to get time with friends. Relationships can drift or get lost all together in a sea of well-intentioned but unfulfilled pledges to get together. But we need times like the evening I spent with Chris and Patrick. We need other guys in our lives that we can talk with, kid around with, fend off drunken concert goers alongside of , or just catch a ballgame together. Sometimes Patrick, Chris, and I will talk about deep stuff. We'll share concerns or challenges we face as dads. We don't just tell each other what we want to hear, we tell each other what we need to hear (even when it's unpleasant or means realizing we're the one who needs to apologize instead of our wife). Most of the time, we just enjoy hanging out and joking around. Serious or laid back, such times are always therapeutic.

So, dads, make time for the guys. Certainly, the needs of our wives and children come first. But getting some good guy time keeps life fun, reminds you you're not the only one fighting the daddy battles, and helps you be what you need to be for your family. Provided you're hanging out with the right kind of men--men who love their families as much as you love yours--guy time is often the place you find just the encouragement and boost you need to pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and return home a stronger and better man. My only suggestion: avoid the drunken pole dancer at all costs. Trust me, Steely Dan or boccie ball is a whole lot easier to explain when you get home.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Diaper Wars

When my daughter was born, I was horrified to learn that a new baby craps eight to ten times per day. This fact still amazes me. As a forty-year-old man, most days I'd pay good money for just one good bowel movement. How something so small can produce so much waste in a twenty-four hour period is beyond my comprehension. A baby's bowels are like the Free Fall ride at Six Flags. They're not full for more than a few seconds before WOOSH! Down everything goes at a hundred miles per hour.

The rapid pace of infant poopage makes changing diapers a lot like playing paintball unarmed. Often you know when the baby is pooping. You see the unmistakable Oh my gosh, I think I'm squeezing a banana out of my rectum! look in their eyes as their face turns red and tiny grunts of satisfaction escape their lips. Other times you're holding the child and suddenly feel a quaking down below. Still, other times, you aren't aware that anything has transpired until that dreaded smell you've come to know all too well hits you square in the nostrils. Regardless of how you're made aware, you know what you have to do. It's time for battle. You've got to enter the combat zone. You've been dropped square into the middle of the diaper wars.

Cautiously, you open the full diaper to be greeted by things no human being should ever have to see. Even worse, you're well aware that the child may not even be finished. Chances are, it's a trap--a cruel hoax meant to get you to remove the diaper so that your precious angel can pummel you with even more baby waste the moment you're within range. The chamber of the gun isn't empty. It's merely cocked and reloaded, awaiting the moment fresh air hits your baby's bottom and alerts him or her that they are free to fire when ready. Don't shoot until you see the whites of Daddy's eyes!

As a first-time dad, you're a sitting duck. It takes time to master the art of the rapid diaper change. Sure, you did all right on that doll you practiced with in parenting class. But that doll didn't flail, scream, and kick the petroleum jelly out of your hand every time you tried to gift-wrap its loins. Like a lone soldier sprinting across open terrain, all the while knowing enemy snipers are somewhere on the hill, you rush against time. You pray to make it to safety before being fired upon. You get the baby's butt clean and fasten one side of a fresh diaper around his or her little hip. Almost there! The safety of camp is in sight! Then, just yards away from home base: rat-tat-tat-tat-tat. You're hit! Dad down! Like a slow motion scene from a Rambo movie, you can hear yourself screaming "Noooooooooooo!" You look to see yourself, the changing table, and the deceptively peaceful picture of your infant sleeping that sits on the nearby shelf all covered in infant excrement. Like a wounded combatant dragging himself to a nearby trench, you frantically scramble for wipes as brownish-yellow goo runs down the sleeves of your formerly favorite shirt. You manage to clean the child enough to finally get a fresh diaper on. But it's an empty accomplishment. You know you've been defeated. You made a valiant effort, but the enemy still took the hill.

Over time, you become a more experienced warrior. Your skills and speed improve. As children grow older and become squirmers, you master the skill of fastening diapers with one hand while keeping a resisting toddler pinned to the mat with your other. If you have multiple kids, you even learn to wield diapers and butt ointment while refereeing fights over Oreos and answering questions like Daddy, can Batman beat up a dinosaur? and Daddy, how can Mommy really love us if she's always making broccoli for dinner?

Eventually, the battles change as well. My youngest, Carson, is the only one still in diapers. Just having turned two, he's reached a stage where he wants to remove his diaper whenever he feels like it. He's not learned to go potty yet, mind you, but apparently Carson doesn't consider that a prerequisite. The other morning I entered his room to find my son standing in his crib, holding his diaper in his hand, and towering over a pile of his own doo-doo like a victorious gladiator over a fallen opponent. All the while he grinned back at me as if to say, "Screw you and your rules!" He was clearly bucking the system--rejecting traditional institutions of authority. The smell, the statement, the anti-authoritative display... throw in a couple of doobies, some signs that read "Make Poop, Not War," and a Jimmy Hendrix version of "Old MacDonald Had a Farm," and you'd have had a toddler's Woodstock on your hands.

And so the diaper wars continue. March on young dads. Stay strong fearless moms. One day soon, the diaper wars will end. Until that time, keep plenty of hand sanitizer around. And the next time you enter your baby or toddler's room to be met by smells too foul to describe or the sight of a child finger painting with his own bodily excretions, take heart. Never forget, it's supposed to be this way. After all, war is hell.