Sunday, July 31, 2011

He Kissed a Boy

B and I saw some exceptionally horrid parenting at the beach, and I'm not being picky. There was shocking negligence: parents leaving their non-swimmers in the baby pool while they were several hundred yards away, doing god knows what. Seeing this, after reading 5,000 signs all saying non-swimmers have to be in arm's reach of an adult swimmer, made me understand why they have to print the signs. I read somewhere (Freakonomics?) that pools are more dangerous than guns, and I believe it. I pay such literal attention to everything I'm told about How Not To Accidentally Kill Or Die (Gee, you know, because it seems kind of important!) that I asked my pediatrician if it was safe to have the baby in a diaper while he slept. Because she said there should be "nothing in the crib." Imagine my confusion when she said he could not only wear a diaper, but could also wear tight fighting clothing, be wrapped in a swaddle, and suck a pacifier! Plus, there could be a fitted sheet on the crib mattress! That seems like scads of stuff to me, certainly more than "nothing." The pediatricians need to take note that, though 90% of parents ignore the SIDS recs because oh, the bumper is so cute, and the baby has to have a lovey, there are a few like me, who actually listen. So, like, pediatricians: mean what you say.

I've been told and told that I'm too literal, which pisses me off because, hey, should I take that literally? I remember when I was twelve I was allowed to swim in our neighborhood pool without adult supervision, and I thought that was an arbitrary age. I had been a good swimmer for years, and I could still just as easily drown as before. I would read the "swim at your own risk" sign and panic just a little. I would envision myself suddenly losing consciousness mid-stroke due to I-don't-know-what-undiagnosed-illness, and I would think I could drown at any moment. Now that I have a child, this instinct is more refined and focused. I have a laser gaze, which hones in on Ari's mouth and nose in relation to the water level, and I use it all the time. This causes me to walk into things, but never mind the bruises, or the toppled pile of stuff I knocked over, or the stares of others. I have Locked On. I do not remove my eyes from his face. There could be a hydrogen bomb or a tornado, and we could all get sucked out of the pool and carried to Kansas, but that boy's airway would be Above The Water Line, goddamnit.

This, to me, seems like normal parenting. Making sure that the kid doesn't drown and all. But parents get so tired, and when they come to the beach, they just lose their minds a little bit.

Ari made a friend at the beach. His name was George (changed, of course, plus I don't remember), and he was almost exactly Ari's age. George and his parents, who were actually pretty attentive, hung out at the same kiddie pool we hung out at, so Ari got to know him. Then they started making out. (Ari and George, I mean. Not the parents--they were too tired.)

The make out preparation was always the same. Ari would begin making animal noises, and George would, too. The animal was always some cross between an elephant and a police siren. Then the boys would start smiling and walking towards each other, making the noises and puckering their lips. When they were two inches apart, their mouths would be, well, on each other. And they would just stay there like that, making the animal noises, kissing, and giggling. George's parents seemed both too exhausted and too cool to care. I was surprised, but thought it was pretty cute. George was a good-looking little boy who never hit or screamed, so what did I care? Seriously. Priorities, people. Three year old boys making out is not a catastrophe. Nobody is going to get pregnant, and every three year old has 38 cold sores already.

However. Some people gave looks. The parents who seemed most upset by it were a pair from Rockville (Everyone at the beach resort we went to was from the DC area.) who did not function. The husband was a skinny, poorly-attired man named Larry (changed, of course). The wife was a shrieker who yelled at Larry for being unhelpful, but then would not allow him to help. They had two children. One of them was four. His mother said he had special needs, but from what I could see, his only need was better parenting. Example: The boy (Nate--changed) had a pool noodle and kept poking it into other kids' faces. His mother told him to stop. He kept doing it. She told Nate that if he did not stop, she would Take The Noodle Away. She made sure that he heard her and understood. So far, so good, right? But then! Nate did it again, and his mother DID NOT Take The Noodle Away. Why not? Because she sucks. Thus, poor Nate has special needs. It all seems so simple, in my head. Of course, in the moment, it is Not Easy to Take The Noodle Away. But what choice do we have? We must put down our drinks, get up off of our lazy asses, and wrench that noodle away, pronto, right now, no matter the screams that will ensue, because That Is What We Said We Would Do. We have to mean what we say.

Hours later, after Nate had traumatized the entire kiddie pool with his noodle, I ran into his mother in the ice cream line. She apologized for Nate's behavior, saying he'd been hungry. I wanted to say so many things. I wanted to tell her that she needed to speak to her husband more kindly, that she needed to let him take the boys while she went to the bathroom instead of shrieking about how she couldn't even leave for a single second. I wanted to tell her, above all, that she should have Taken The Noodle Away, that a parent's first duty is to say what she means and to mean what she says, but I said nothing. Who was I, to her? There was nothing to say. My biggest problem was that my son liked to make out with George in public, with siren/elephant noises to ensure everyone was watching. Hers was lack of follow through, and a son who bullied with a noodle, for now. We were worlds apart. But I think of her, now, when I'm tired and don't feel like Taking The Noodle Away.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Running as Mistress

Those of you who know me understand my feelings on exercise, especially running. Self-mutilation disguised as yuppie fulfillment. Imagine my surprise the other day as I found myself doing it. Let me begin at the beginning.

For the past couple of months, B has been exercising. She goes to a gym and uses a treadmill. Also, she suddenly loves music and has been kind enough to share the stuff she finds with me. Finally, her pushing about Madonna got to me. Of course, I've heard of Madonna, but I'm one of approximately seven people on earth not to have strong feelings about her. B kept revisiting the topic, and eventually I had to be swayed.

It is under these ideal circumstances that I began to walk. I don't know what got into me. Maybe it was my desire to have my pre-baby stomach back. Maybe I was just imitating my wife. Or, more likely, I saw it as a way to escape from the mommy chores for an hour without judgement. Leaving The House, when you are an unemployed mommy, becomes very important. It doesn't really matter what you do. Even going outside to take the trash or get the mail becomes a thrill because there is that shock/fear/pleasure of being Away From Your Child that reminds you of who you used to be before him.

The weather had cooled. I was frustrated at my lack of job offers. I was sleepless due to the family's latest stomach virus. I was unemployed and had time. So, I walked. I did this evenings, after the sun had set, and sometimes mornings, too. After a few days, I was out one evening, walking as quickly as I could, and I couldn't get my heart rate up. I couldn't walk any faster without running, so of course the thought occurred to me to (Blasphemy!) run.

I'm ashamed to say it, but I began to entertain the notion. I considered all the harms that would surely come to me: a stitch in my side; a pebble in my shoe; a tiny little cut on my toe turning into an enormous, infected blister; early onset arthritis; stress fractures and so on. I sighed. I was alone on the street. No one would see me. I could keep my run-hating cred. Maybe I would just try and see what happened, whether the All-Engulfing Misery would overtake me, as usual, within the first six steps. And if it did, I could go right back to hating exercise in all forms, especially running. As you see, my hopes were not high.

So, I ran, just this once, for maybe 400 yards. Then I walked. Then I ran some more. I was sore from so much walking, and I found the muscles running used were different from the sore ones, so that was nice. Also, I was panting in no time, which was, after all, the goal. I was hot and sweating, and my fancy black muscle shirt did something neat and new-fangled to help me stay dry. It was cool. I passed some older women on the street and felt like telling them, "Look at me! I'm running!" Nothing hurt. I was going a decent speed, one that no one could mistake for anything other than running. And then! Just when I was getting comfortable and feeling safe about the whole thing, like nothing untoward was going to happen, I was seduced. Euphoria is all that can be said. I felt like I was gliding. I felt beautiful and strong and free. I felt like the star of a Nike ad. Even though the whole thing lasted only 120 seconds, I knew I would be back again and again, looking for that same feeling. Some unknowable lover had gotten into me and made me its bitch.

So now I run.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

An Analysis of Sid (the Science Kid)

Sid is a biracial boy (cartoon, of course) of indeterminate age. He acts 7ish, but must be in kindergarten, since the kids seem unable to write. I think this is an attempt to interest the preschool set by having the characters older (and thus, cool) but with similar experiences to your standard preschooler.

Sid's mom drops him off at school, and his grandma picks him up. His dad is around, but does not prepare meals, pick up, or drop off. He fixes things, and he helps with the kids, but in the kitchen, he does not cook or clean.

Sid is very attached to his microphone, which does cool things like reverb and record. He is playful and happy and sweet to his baby brother, Zeke. What the writers do well is combine Sid's enthusiasm with lots of tenderness and gentle curiosity. He is a Myriad of lovely Contradiction and the only character who escapes the stereotypes of race and gender.

Sid has three friends at school. The boy, Gerald, is all heavy metal and boisterous. He shouts a lot, and is a bit of a ruffian doofus, but he is kind to the others. There are two girls: Gabriela, who is basically just a poorly-fleshed out soccer jock; and May, a meek little librarian type. (She's everyone's favorite. If she were a real, adult person, she'd be a bad-ass knitter vegan who knew lots of useless, charming things. You would like her until you found out she had an ugly-ass, old man for a boyfriend, and then you'd be all yucked.)

May and Gerald are both cute and interesting, but Gabriela is dull. The creators could have escaped the Latina stereotype by having her be the nerd instead of May or by having her like badminton or cricket instead of soccer. Clearly, they need me to help them realize the error of their ways.

The parents are a little too patient with Sid, and their purpose is clearly to make the rest of us look bad. The dad doesn't mind a bit when Sid stops holding a flashlight which leads to dad banging his head on something. The mom and dad both seem practically blissed-out when Sid pulls out the bedtime delays. They fawn over all of his stupid ideas. Yes, I know. You are saying, "Isn't that a parent's job?" Sod off. We're tired.

The teacher is never around while the kids are at school, and when she is, she is singing some dumb song or another about some trippy thing, like breathing. During these interludes, the scene changes to ridiculous space lava flower land. The woman (whose name I forget) is clearly on drugs, and in real life she'd be fired. Also, no way does a school have a class size of four.

Obviously I let my son watch this thing, or I wouldn't know nearly as much about it as I do. There are worse things on tv for preschoolers, and I know this. But is it too much to ask that somebody produce something that doesn't portray gender and race in such stereotypical ways?

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Is there something in my teeth?

B and I have high standards when it comes to sincerity. Specifically, I prefer her to be honest with me at all times, except when I prefer her to lie. The times when she should lie are (to me) self evident--such as, some weeks ago, when I was discussing what sheets I wanted to buy for Ari's bed. In this tricky situation, she was supposed to appear extremely interested, while simultaneously having no opinion whatsoever. If she'd had her own opinion, I would have feared she might actually want some say in the sheets, and that Ari would end up with either black or brown woolen, vintage sheets from a stoop sale in Brooklyn.

This particular instance of the sheets was one of our conflicts. I wanted to buy Ari sheets, and B said, "go ahead," and I felt she did not care about our love-child's decor. When I told her this, she said, "Well, I don't" and sighed exasperatedly.

At this point, my mood changed from hurt to hopeful that she might actually not care, and then I would get to decorate Ari's room however I wanted. This thought was wonderful, but I wanted more. I wanted to decorate and then have B proclaim me a genius for my taste and shopping skills. Here is where B hit her stride. She redeemed herself for her prior bored attitude by exclaiming convincingly about how great Ari's room looked and how lucky she was to have a wife who cared about interior design.

You see, decor sounds silly but actually is key. How can one be in a good mood, ever, if one's decor is shabby-non-chic or dark and dreary or uncomfortable? One cannot. That is how B was, when I found her. She lived in a basement apartment underneath an unrenovated house. The old lady who lived above her owned the house, had never dusted anything, and had rented the basement, furnished, to B. The location was wonderful, but the furnishings were hideous. First of all, every square centimeter of space had a fragile, filthy bauble on it, so you could not put anything down, except on the floor. This offended me especially, as I am a minimalist and shall be forever more, no matter what the fashion might be!

The floor of this wretched dungeon was covered in dark, disgusting rugs. It was the kind of place where a cloud of dirt billowed forth every time anything moved. This was mostly unnoticeable due to B's chain-smoking, which produced a dust-disguising cloud of smoke. B herself was such a slob that even the landlady (no slouch in terms of slobbishness) complained. I saw the diamond in the rough, though. I knew I could civilize this girl and take her excellent wit home with me and teach it to behave.

But this was about the sensitivity required of B and I in our marriage. Let us return to the question of honesty versus lies. Let us say there is something in my teeth. This, of course, has never been true, but just in case. Here is what I require. I require any person I am romantically involved with (in this case, B) to immediately and quietly tell me that there is something in my teeth. Then she shall offer a mirror or, if she does not have one, tell me where to find one. Then, after I have excused myself to correct the state of affairs and returned, she must pretend that it never happened. She must immediately change the subject to something fascinating enough to make us both forget the whole incident. Here is where I expect some high-quality lying. I do not care if the CIA sends agents, or if they water-board her. I do not care if she is hypnotized or drugged or drunk. She must never reveal that I have had something in my teeth in my lifetime. In fact, if either of us refers to my having left for the lady's room with a mirror, she must have another excuse ready, such as, ". . .when you left to go refill the parking meter." Never mind that there are no parking meters or that we walked.

There are other instances, such as stomach viruses and morning sickness and disgusting colds, that Never Occurred. All of this seems obvious to me, and to B too, which is why she does so well where others have fallen. She can fetch a glass of cold water after my morning sickness and then 2-3 seconds later straight-facedly insist it never happened. Prime marriage material, that.

Since she can handle it, I've upped the ante. She now would insist under duress that I have never had a blemish, blown my nose, had a grey hair, burped, peed, tripped and fallen down, gotten unbecomingly angry, perspired, drunk more than a person should, stepped in a pile of doo, or done anything else unattractive ever. If I ask her opinion of a shirt, say, or my hair, and it looks awful, she knows the proper response is, "that shirt does not do you justice" or "something is wrong with your shampoo." Something like that. I need information, or I wouldn't have asked, but there are ways to communicate without being rude. Basic stuff, this, but oh, so hard to find.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Don't Wake the Baby

On this post July 4th afternoon, I would just like to take a moment to warn you that we parents have the ability to turn ourselves into 65 megaton thermonuclear warheads when our children's sleep is threatened. For once, I do not exaggerate. It is only due to incredible restraint that we do not Kill Your Head Off when you play with your stupid bottle caps, have your inane arguments, and honk your dumber than dumb horns during precious, precious nap time. Thank you for your attention to this matter.

The beach is so funny. I love it, like everyone else does, maybe a bit more than most. I'm not afraid of sharks or jellyfish. I'm afraid of the rip currents. My grandfather would say that was a fear appropriately placed, though he, like all southerners, called it "the under-toe."

When I come to the beach I turn into a bit of a poetic megalomaniac. I suddenly think I am the one the beach is for. Like I alone cannot live without the ocean, like I alone am destined to live on the shore, in a distressed (yet new construction) beach bungalow with a massive deck and infinity pool and a man-servant named James. Sometimes in the midst of these crazy thoughts, I honestly believe it is original to want to live near the ocean, in spite of the prices of shoreline real estate. Or, I don't think that, exactly, but rather that I want it More Than Anyone Else. We all think this when we go to the beach, and I suppose we all think all the other things I think, too.

1) How have I survived so long without the sound of waves, the smell of salty air, blah, blah, blah?

2) Why do I not drink beachy drinks like this all the time?

3) How come I don't have any decent bathing suits? followed quickly by (if you're a woman):

4) Who is the torturing sadist who came up with the whole women's swimwear thing?

I noticed after 3 & 4, when I took a stroll to the nearby marketplace, that none of the beach shops sell women's bathing suits, though they all sell men's. This is because nobody wants to get killed. When I asked, they had the nerve to look as if selling women's swimwear had never occurred to them. Lying bitches.

I did enjoy my little shopping jaunt, which occurred during nap time. (You see why it's so important, people?) I bought two bottles of wine. Then I came back and had parent nap time with B.

Ari's cream towel
We've had one other shopping trip at the beach. The rental didn't have any bath towels, and we'd only brought beach towels. We didn't have enough to double use them, since we've been swimming twice a day. Luckily, Delaware has no sales tax and scads of outlets, so we went to the Ralph Lauren Factory Store where we let Ari choose his own towel. "What color do you want?" I asked him, prepared for pink or lilac. "Cweam!" he said, grabbing like six of the cream ones. "Um, really?" I said, "Do you understand you're a three-year-old?" "Don't you want purple or green or yellow or blue?" asked B. "I. Want. Cweam." he said. "Cweam! I want a cweam towel. Stop askin' me!" What I think he meant was, "Get with it, mommies. I said I wanted cream, why is that so bizarre? People buy cream towels everyday, all over this country. It's a regular cream towel extravanganza, so please get a hold of yourselves and stop acting like I'm some kind of freak. It's embarrassing."
The towel up close. Could I be a product photographer, or what?

So we got him the cream. At first I thought he was being boring, but now we've gotten it back to the beach rental, and I took another look. It is a stunning shade of cream, I must say. Not yellowy or dingy-white at all, not derivative of some other color the way so many creams are, but its own unique shade. That boy has a good eye.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Summer Wine Groove #2

Song: Marquee by Greg Laswell
Wine: Kendall Jackson Reserve Chardonnay 2009

You get that I'm trying to pair wines with songs the way wine critics pair wines with food, right? I thought that was obvious, but my wife tells me I should make it explicit. I must not be the first (or even close) person who's done this, so I'd just assumed people would know what was up. If I had to pair wines with food, everything would be paired with a Twinkie and a side of beef, and it would be no good.

The other thing I want to explicitly reveal is that I listen to the song and drink the wine while I write the post. Since I'm asking my reader to sit, drink, and listen, I do, too, and I can't complain this is a hardship. I didn't intend to conduct any kind of a Writing Experiment, but my wanna-be-English-teacher self tells me this would be useful in a classroom for teaching mood and tone. You can't give children wine, or you would soon be fired, but the song you could do. Many have done this before, but it's interesting don't you think? I use music as an anti-depressant, and I always assumed it works for me because I don't actually need an anti-depressant, but maybe there's more to it. Maybe the connection between music and mood or music and *mood* (literary mood) is more nuanced than we believe.

Tonight's wine is a conservative choice, a common favorite available at many chain restaurants. I wish I were cool enough to say I hate chains and that I never drank anything I didn't discover myself. The reality is you need a standby if you're caught at a chain because your toddler only eats chain food. That's the purpose of this choice, which is good and reasonably priced. It was one of those wines my wife and I were almost ashamed to like as much as we did, given the yuppie American mainstreamness of it.
Kendall Jackson Reserve Chardonnay has defined some genres for me, both of chardonnay and California. The one I "tested" is the 2009, but I've drunk enough to know any year will do. I pair it with Greg Laswell's song Marquee, which I'm sure most of you have heard. The purpose of the Summer Wine Grooves is not to teach anyone new music or new wine, but to remind people in case they might have missed something good amid all the hoopla and non-hoopla of the world we're in. I find that with both music and wine (two of my favorite things) I lose objectivity and have such strong opinions I can't see out of them. But then someone I respect will sometimes remind me to taste or listen again.

Anyway, we're at the beach this week. I was utterly afraid of the three hour drive with Ari, which turned out to be six, but then he was fine. B and I were so traffic stressed we almost imploded, but Ari thought it was a grand adventure.

Still, it's hard traveling with a young child. B and I often go without the basic human necessities of regular liquid or food consumption and excretion because we're both so focused on his. I can never understand how this happens in retrospect. It seems utterly implausible that one normal child can make two adults so non-functioning, but I know the phenomenon is common, even among the experts. My former therapist, who has two kids of her own and specializes in new moms, once told me she had "no idea" what she and her husband were so busy doing with their kids that made them too busy to pee, eat, sleep, or shower. Since she told me that, I feel no shame, which I suppose was the point of her telling me. I've had many excellent shrinks, but none are needed right now!

My biggest problems this week are my hair (in eyes forever no matter what I do, but prettily so, according to wife, therefore I cannot cut it) and the one half of a corkscrew in our beach rental. See my solution in photo above. Oh, and there are only Supremely Tacky glasses here, but B and I embraced the tack and chose the tackiest one for our K.J. consumption (also in photo.)

Happy Fourth.