children

Kinder is Coming

Yesterday, my baby daughter was born. I remember, quite distinctly, when she opened her eyes, seeing the world for the very first time. She wasn’t much of a crier, didn’t scream a peep. She just looked around. Large irises that bordered on purple looked left and right, constantly blinking, absorbing and adjusting to this newfangled light thing.

The nurse took baby and me off to our first crash course in diapering, bottling, burping, swaddling. Mama was out of commission, so the first twenty-four hours or so was all daddy. Figure it out, daddy. There’s a reason they don’t call it a paternal instinct.

I remember it all so clearly. The water breaking at 1:00 in the morning after I had been scorekeeping at a minor-league baseball team until past 10:00 PM. The “to pitocin or not to pitocin” question, when neither Wife nor Husband (not yet Mama and Dada) didn’t know what the fuck a pitocin was. The “Hey, I’m going to go home and shower and get dressed because the doctors say you’re still hours away from delivery.” Followed by the “Holy shit, I was only gone an hour and baby’s already on its way? Is that what the fuck pitocin is?”

I remember it like it was yesterday.

Because it was just yesterday. Wasn’t it?

Because today, I registered my daughter for kindergarten.

So clearly, one of my internal timestamps is inaccurate.

I know I’m far from the first parent to lament the acceleration of time. And I’m pretty sure I’ll be posting the “she’s going off to college” post any day now. Will blogging still exist in 2032?

But the really weird thing about my soon-to-be-kindergartner is that, while it totally feels like she only showed up a few days ago, I also can’t really remember what things were like before. I’ve always been a parent, right? There was never a time when Wife and I could just plan a weekend trip to Reno without securing promissory notes from seventeen institutions, was there? I seem to remember, back in some amorphous prehistory, the existence of an hour of happiness at bars and restaurants, when alcohol and appetizers were cheap. And all it took was a text to Wife that I’d be home by 6:00 and should I pick up some take-out. Pretty sure if I tried that now, Daycare would call CPS.

Then again, there were thirty-eight years of my life when I didn’t even have a wife to text. Back then, I believe, happy hour might extend beyond an hour. But I’m not entirely sure. Perhaps I only saw that in a movie.

Not that I’ve seen a non-animated movie or TV show in four and a half years.

Life has a funny way of doing that. What seems so normal one year is all but forgotten the next. Something that happened five years ago feels like it happened yesterday, and yet at the same time, it feels like it’s always been there.

Like cell phones. There was a time before cell phones, when I couldn’t text anyone anything. I’m positive of it. I actually remember a twenty-something Gen Xer saying he’d never get a cell phone. Why the hell would I want to be reachable at any time of the day? Why in the world would I want to let some future wife and daughter know that I was picking up dinner at a place that might or might not have a happy hour special?

So I know there was a time. I know for a fact that I didn’t get my first cell phone until I was in my late twenties. And yet…

When I think back on things that happened, I can’t fathom how it happened without a cellphone. New Year’s Eve, 1999, me and four friends were going to a huge radio station-sponsored party at the Convention Center downtown. I had to work the dinner shift at Old Spaghetti Factory, so the others went to the party before I got off work. When I got off work, I went home to change, and went to the convention center to meet my friends, who had already been drinking for a couple hours.

As I think back on that scenario, I can’t fathom how I found them amongst the milieu of thousands. Nowadays, I would send out a text as I walked into the convention center. “I’m @ entrance. Where r u?” And then I would stand there, within feet of where I sent the text, until one of them either texted me back or came to get me at the entrance.

Clearly, that didn’t happen in 1999. So what did happen? Did we set up a meeting place and time? Except we didn’t know what the layout would be. Nor when I would be arriving. Was one of them supposed to check a general area every fifteen minutes? Or did we all just figure we’d meet up in the drink lines? I’m not being funny when I say I can’t remember. It almost seems an impossible task to do without cell phones. But I know it was done.

The way we coordinate play-dates with my daughter and her friends seems something that couldn’t have happened before. Daughter wants to go to the neighborhood park, so Wife instant messages parents of neighborhood kids and when we get a positive response, we head to park and, lo and behold, neighbor child is there.

Something similar happened when I was growing up. I always seemed to be having friends over or going over to friends’ houses or going to the park with friends. And I’m not talking the birthday parties that are planned for months. I’m talking on a whim. Let’s go to the beach and meet up with friend X. One time in high school, I organized a softball game with 10-20 friends on a Saturday afternoon. How the hell did I do that? Did we coordinate it at school during the week or did we call everyone that morning? And how did we know if people were running late or just not showing up?

And don’t get me started on how teachers taught before Google. I would’ve flamed out in one year.

Hey, didn’t someone once write about becoming overly dependent on new technology and forgetting how to do things the old way? Hold on, let me google it…

The Unabomber? Are you sure? Okay, moving on.

Let’s see, where was I? I’ve always been a parent, even if it seems like she was just born yesterday. And then today, I…

Right! Kindergarten! Coming soon to a suburbia near you.

There are times I feel like she’s totally ready for kindergarten. She’s making wonderful observations and connections between disparate items.

“I have a surprise for you when we get home,” she said in the car the other day.

“Okay,” Mom responded, “but dinner will be ready as soon as we get there, so we can’t be running off to get engaged in something else.”

“Don’t worry,” Daughter responded. “It’ll be faster than a horse can run.”

An interesting concept. “Did you hear that phrase somewhere?”

“No. I just made it up.”

Which makes sense, because “faster than a horse can run,” while an acceptable metaphor, is not exactly a colloquialism that I’ve encountered before.But who knows what sort of mischievous language quips those hoodlums at daycare are making up. Criss-cross, applesauce? What the hell is that? Why don’t they just keep calling it Indian Sty… ooooh, I see what I did there.

The surprise, by the way, was an impromptu dance to “Pup, Pup, Boogie,” from Paw Patrol. Making the horse reference even farther fetched.

A few months ago, we pulled into the Starbucks drive-thru and she counted two cars in front of us. “Two cars plus us makes three,” came the commentary from my back seat. “If one more car comes behind us, it will be the same number of cars as how old I am.” Four is currently her favorite number, for obvious reasons.

“Good job, Miss,” I responded. Then on a lark, I asked, “If there were five cars in line, what would we have to do to get to four?”

She stared out the window for a moment, then returned her attention to me in the front seat and responded, “take one car away.”

Holy shit. I’m pretty sure I teach teenagers who couldn’t have maneuvered that complicated of a word problem.

But then there are other days when I wonder how in the world she’s going to sit still long enough to read or write or learn anything. The pouting didn’t stop after Christmas was over, and now we can’t threaten her with anybody “comin’ to town” for another eleven months. You can’t correct her for shit.

“Hey, honey, ‘the’ isn’t spelled t-e-h. Move the e to the end.”

And then she stands up, walks away from her artwork and curls up in the corner like a dog that’s just been smacked with the newspaper. She’s about to commit hara kiri after disgracing herself and the name of her family by spelling a word wrong at the age of four. Have fun with that level of bat-shit, kindergarten teacher.

In December, my daughter performed in “The Littlest Nutcracker,” which is way better than the actual “Nutcracker,” because each dance only lasts two minutes instead of the usual twenty. Each group had about five kids, each of whom had to do a routine of five or six steps. Plus the teacher was on stage doing the steps, so all they really had to do was copy the teacher. My daughter hit about seventy percent, because she’s the self-immolating perfectionist type. And the video clearly shows a shocked and mortified look on her face on every move she misses. Even if the other kids in her class were barely aware that they were on a stage and that there were set moves they had been working on for four months that they were supposed to be performing.

And these are the kids that are going into kindergarten with her. Not all into her class, of course, but at the same time. Again, how the hell do kindergarten teachers do it? A mixture of kids with no emotional, and only partial physical, control, some of which take their development way too seriously and others who are barely aware that there is a world around them.

And holy crap, there’s going to be, like twenty-five of them in the room. More power to you, kindergarten teacher. I’ve supervised my daughter playing with neighbors, and I max out at about three children. And all I’m in charge of is keeping them from impaling themselves, not teaching them anything about letters or numbers or, I don’t know, potty training. What are the kindergarten standards these days? Pretty sure it’s way more than it was forty years ago, when a successful day in the classroom meant a little bit more paste went onto the paper than into the stomach.

And of course, there was the kid that didn’t make it to the bathroom in time. He was still hearing about that in sixth grade. Kids remember the darndest things, don’t they?

Sure, the same could be said for the high schoolers I teach. But at least mine have bowel control. Sort of. Now that I think of it, I notice how many times I have the following conversation with one of my students:

“Can I go to the bathroom?”

“Student X is there. You can go when he/she comes back.”

“But I really, really, really need to go. Like, I’m about to pee my pants.”

“Student X only left two minutes ago.”

Blink. Blink.

“You didn’t have to go at all two minutes ago, yet you’re going to pee yourself now?”

Blink. Blink.

“Invest in some diapers.”

But whether she’s overprepared or underprepared, socially or physically or educationally, the tallyman is coming to capture all of the little kids to indoctrinate all the free-thinking children into good little automatons for the state. Winter is coming. Or maybe it’s autumn. Actually, these days school starts in the middle of summer.

Maybe it’ll be a good thing. There are weekends where I really, really, really wish she had some fucking homework or the ability to read, so that she wasn’t constantly hanging on Mommy and Daddy. On the typical weekend day, she spends the day pushing buttons and pushing buttons and pushing buttons, giggling and giggling and giggling, while we say stop, stop, stop in an escalating matter until one of the three of us has had enough. Then she goes into the corner to prepare for self immolation. Then, ten minutes later, the process begins again.

“Scoop me.”

“I’m busy making you lunch.”

“Scoop me.”

“You weigh forty pounds.”

“Scoop me.”

“I have gout. I can barely hold up my own weight.”

“Scoop me.”

“Here’s your wakizashi sword.”

They assign term papers in kindergarten, right?

Actually, the school she’s going to doesn’t assign homework. I’m not sure how I feel about that. While I understand that many schools go too far, giving hours and hours of homework to kids still in the early developmental stages. However, I think it’s important to send a message early on that education does not stop when you leave the classroom.Some sort of carry-over or throughline from the school to the home probably goes a long way to encourage growth. You can read at home, too, kids.

And no, I’m not saying this just because I teach high schoolers who are completely incapable of turning in a single homework assignment.

“Why do I have a D? I did all the work.”

“Yes. You have a ninety percent in classwork, a sixty-eight percent in tests, and a zero percent in homework.”

“What can I do to improve my grade?”

Blink. Blink.

And let’s be honest. Most of those horror stories of fourth-graders paining their way through three hours of homework every night probably only had one hour of homework plus the two hours’ worth of classwork that they didn’t do in class because they were too busy talking to their friends or generally being as unaware that they are in a classroom for the purpose of education as the three-year olds in “The Littlest Nutcracker” were that they were on a stage for the purpose of dancing. And, another honesty check here, that three hours of homework was probably an hour of work interspersed with two hours of whining, complaining, texting friends, video games, and the other sorts of distractions that the child faced in the classroom, which is the reason he has “three hours” of make-up classwork in the first place.

And yeah, that second observation DOES come from my fifteen years of teaching students who will do anything in their power to avoid doing the task at hand.

So yeah, I’m a little bit worried about a no homework policy. I understand it in theory, but if the child hasn’t figured out that home is a vital part of the educational process by the time she’s in sixth grade, I worry that something is amiss. And when seventh grade hits, that’s going to be a learning curve from hell. Thirty minutes of tracing letters in second grade might be an easier gateway drug than quadratic equations.

Then again, the principal at Daughter’s future school was just shit-canned. And all indications are that it wasn’t an amicable split. Maybe the teachers were finally fed up with actually having to teach their students at school and not pawning their job off on beleaguered parents at home and demanded a change.

Did I just successfully malign both sides of the homework argument? Yes, I did. It takes a special talent to play the cantankerous asshole on both sides of an argument, huh? Good thing I don’t take on politics in this blog or else everyone would hate me.

So who knows. Maybe homework will be part of the curriculum by the time my baby gets there. Maybe the new principal will help stem the tide of desperate housewives in my neighborhood who are trying to get special dispensation to have their students go to a different school than the one we are mapped for. IN FUCKING KINDERGARTEN!

And no, it’s not because of the homework policy. It’s because our current school funnels into the above-average high school in the area, and not the uber-rich high school. Because your child should definitely have to go across town for the first nine years of his education in order to raise his chance of going to a four-year college from sixty-eight percent to seventy-one percent. I mean, I guess if you’re a stay-at-home, then you don’t have to worry about transportation. And I suppose if you’re a stay-at-home, you’ll be five martinis into the day by the time your child gets home, making it too difficult to engage him in his education or his future prospects.

But here’s the truth: it doesn’t matter where you go to school. If you apply yourself, and ideally are helped out a bit by a parent that’s more interested in your well-being than in keeping up with the joneses, you should be able to get into most colleges. I teach at an inner-city school, and we’ve sent students to ivy league schools regularly. Our valedictorian two years ago had three to choose from, and was a little bummed he didn’t get into Yale and had to settle for Columbia. If only his parents had gotten him into the right kindergarten.

So now the only question is where my daughter will fit into the grand scheme of things. Will she be the mopey perfectionist, the teacher’s pet with only-child syndrome, or will she follow the popular kids, the nascent cheerleaders and woo-girls, around in an attempt to Single White Female them? In her first four-and-a-half years, she’s shown aspects of every clique. But as we all know, the time for equivocation will shortly pass. School ain’t for numbers and letters. School’s for pigeon-holing and rounding out square pegs to fit into the grand round hole that is American society.

So put down the unicorn pictures and prepare to be whacked down with a mallet, kid. Now once again from the top. Twelve times twelve equals…?

Sleep Training, Part Infinity

I couldn’t turn off my alarm when it went off this morning. Because I wasn’t in my bed.

I was in someone else’s bed, snuggled up next to a cute little lady. Only hours before, she had been calling out my name before we both drifted back to sleep, exhausted.

Now, if this was a blog post from my twenties or thirties, I’d be about to delve into some NSFW kiss-and-telling to rank up there with the other Tony Kelly on Amazon.

But I’m in my forties now. And the adorable female I was sharing a tiny twin-size bed with was my four-year-old daughter. And as such, the only thing unsuitable for work on this particular day is my tired ass, drinking my fourth cup of coffee, hoping desperately that my contorted back remembers how to get out of this rolly chair, if and when the time comes that I have to, I don’t know, teach. Or move.

Because here we are in Sleep Training, Part IV. Although to divide it into parts is a bit of a misnomer. It implies we’ve only gone through four rounds of this shit, as opposed to a continuous on-again, off-again cycle of disappointment and failure. It’s definitely not Episode IV, because there is no New Hope in sight. Maybe we should use the Harry Potter nomenclature and call it Year IV. Because there’s a Goblet of Fire in my lower back right now. And if this is still going on in three more years, there will be a Deathly Hollow.

There was a point in time that my daughter could fall asleep on a dime and sleep through the night without a peep. Gosh, I miss opium. When she was six-months old, all I had to do was put on Joe Cocker’s “You are so Beautiful,” and she was out before the two minutes, forty-one seconds was up. Wife and I thought we were hot shit. Parents who had older children were shocked and amazed at how fast and simple our whole process was.

Pride cometh, and all of that.

In the ensuing three-and-a-half years, we’ve been through it all. Child sleeping in her own crib, child sleeping in her own bed, child sleeping in our bed, parent sleeping on the floor, parent sleeping on the couch, child sleeping out on curb. Okay, maybe not that last one, but I’m sure every parent whose gone through this whole process has wished that was an option. Maybe not the front curb. We don’t want to throw our kids away. But is the backyard out of the question? We can call it camping! Grown-up camping! Without Mommy and Daddy!

But no, our kid is relentless. The Only Child Syndrome is strong with this one, but never moreso than between bed time and the next morning. She’s starting to be able to occupy herself during the daytime. Wife and I can occasionally walk away long enough to take one dish out of the dishwasher before being summoned back to look at how good she’s coloring in the lines this time!

Even the bedtime routine’s gotten more autonomous. Everything up until the actual sleeping part is totally in her wheelhouse. She doesn’t fight the nightly process of bathroom, teeth, and pajamas. .There are even some nights she can accomplish these Herculean tasks in less than a half-hour. Usually it’s closer to an hour. Some nights it’s two hour and, holy crap, I guess I should’ve set the coffee maker before coming upstairs, because it’s now past MY bedtime and trudging back downstairs is going to take just about every ounce of adulthood I can muster.

Is putting cocaine in the coffee maker a good idea or a bad idea?

It doesn’t matter if it’s coffee or cocaine or sewer swill, cause the coffee-maker is only getting set if I can get out of my daughter’s bed in the first place. Because bedtime requires both parents’ participation. One of us must read a certain number of books to her. Usually there’s one or two “awake books,” and then however many “asleep books” it takes to finally accomplish said objective. All the while, the non-reading parent must snuggle her. We must get into her bed and lie next to her, tuck her under her blanket (approximately seventy times, as she will need to adjust herself continuously), maybe rub her back.

Or at the very least just lie there and try to outlast her. It’s tough. She still enjoys hearing “Hit the Ball, Duck” for the fifteen-hundredth time. Me, I’ve heard it so many times that I’m rooting for the Duck instead of the Frog now.

Oh, and now she wants water. The over/under for the number of water stops is also set at three-point-five per night. I bet the MGM Grand is just rolling in the dough from all the fools who thought the parents’ defense would hold strong.

And now the process starts over. Oh, we might SAY the next book is still an asleep book, but nobody actually believes that. It’s like those old read-along books: You will know it is time to turn the page, when you hear your parents say, “Close your eyes, Miss.”

But this bedtime routine isn’t what gives my back palpitations. Even if it’s 9:30 by the time she’s down, and even if I go directly from her bed to my bed, I can still get seven hours of sleep and deal with the coffee in the morning.

What really fucks with my life is the middle of the night. “Mommy, mommy,” or “Daddy, daddy” is not really what you want to hear at two o’clock in the morning, or three o’clock, or hell, 10:30 PM. It doesn’t really matter who she’s calling for. Whoever hears her first desperately tries to make it to her bedroom before the other one hears and wakes up. No use having TWO sleep-deprived adults in the morning. And we even manage to split the duties somewhat fairly, in that the one who didn’t sleep last night is dead to the world tonight, so the other one is the one likely to be awoken this time.

That was one of the wedding vows, right?

Once we get to our daughter’s room, we’re faced with a dilemma. A choose-your-own-adventure, if you will. There are a few options we do with our daughter.

Option A: Patiently sit or stand next to daughter’s bed, or scoop her up and walk her thirty-plus pounds of dead weight around her room, patting her back and shushing her back to sleep.

Option B: Bring her back to our bed or crawl into bed with her.

I know, with one-hundred percent certainty, which option is the correct option. Whether from a proper parenting standpoint or a psychological development standpoint or a behavioral economics perspective, choosing Option B makes child more likely to repeat her action in the future. Especially if I repeat the positive reinforcement tomorrow and the next night.

And yet… It’s two o’fucking clock in the morning and I’m fucking tired. So move over, junior.

Sometimes I can outlast her. I can put a calming hand on her back while standing or sitting next to her bed. She’s got a little stool I can sit on. But if I fall asleep while on the stool, my back will be even worse than if I’m lying next to her. And sometimes I can lie down next to her for a few minutes until she nods back to sleep, and then extricate myself back to my own bed. But most of the time I’m passed out before my head hits the mattress. The tiny, rock hard mattress designed for a thirty-plus pound four-year old.

In the previous incarnations of this particular struggle, we started bring her back to our bed. She was smaller then, so plopping her down on the queen mattress in between the two of us was more feasible. Sure, she would do the Exorcist-style spin around like a fucking whirling dervish, but again, she was small, so wife and I could still sleep clinging to our respective edges of the bed and be none the worse for the wear. I mean except for the whole bruised kidney thing from where the demon child sweet blessing of my life had practiced her soccer skills all night long.

But then we get the creep. What’s the creep? Well, one night the whole rigmarole starts at 3:00 am, then the next night she’s calling for us at 2:00, then 1:00. Before we’ve really had a chance to put the kibosh on it, she wants a quick snuggle on our bed before she goes to her bed. Then she wants to fall asleep on our bed before we take her over to her bed. The next thing you know, we’re in for three months of what the helicopter set call co-sleeping before we start the whole process over again with another week’s worth of sleepless nights, followed by maybe three weeks of solid sleep, and then the 3:00 AM wake-up calls start anew.

That’s why we’re trying to sleep in her bed these days. It might make for one cranky parent in the morning, but hey, there’s a fifty-fifty chance that you’ll wake up without bruised kidneys on any particular morning. But man, it’s a grind.

Our child has also figured out a neat little trick. She knows how to sneak in our bed without our knowledge. When she wakes up in the middle of the night and DOESN’T call for one of us, or if (let’s be honest, more likely), she calls for us and we don’t hear her because it’s in the middle-of-the-fucking-night and we’re a-fucking-sleep, then she just comes into our room and climbs into our bed. At certain points, she’s come to my wife’s side or my side and nudges us softly. We do that half wake-up thing, say “yeah, yeah” to some unasked question, then do a scoop-roll and plop her in the middle. But sometimes we have enough presence of mind to get out of bed and escort her back to her own room, followed by one of the various routines, and we’re back to square one.

But my child, like any evolving organism, adapts. So now, when she toddles over to our bedroom in the middle of the night, and faced with maybe a thirty-percent chance that she’ll be rebuffed, she has decided to circumvent the obstacle. To go around. Or rather, over. She climbs over the endboard of our bed, right there in the middle, and then, stealthy as a thief, she sneaks in between us and goes right to sleep. Hell, half the time she’s able to bring her blanket with her.

“I don’t remember hearing her calling us,” I remark in the morning.

“Neither do I, ” my wife responds.

“Wait, you didn’t get her?”

We both look at our daughter, exhibiting a look that is somewhere between shame and pride. The cat who ate the canary, but holy shit, guys, you shoulda fucking seen the size of that canary.

One time I caught her doing the climb-over maneuver. A subtle disturbance in the force, my bleary eyes open just a slit to see a forty-inch night terror hovering, momentarily on the precipice of the bed beyond my feet. I rub my eyes, like I’m William Shatner in a Twilight Zone episode. But the gremlin is still there. She pauses, knowing she’s been caught red-handed. I just shrug and go back to sleep, completely un-surprised when I find my precious little treasure between me and my wife, kicking me in the kidney, come morning.

Which brings us to Episode IV. Year IV. Our latest round of stalemated trench warfare against the night. Just like the generals in World War I, we look at what hasn’t worked in the past and make some subtle adjustments before starting our new offensive. And just like the generals in World War I, we know with alarming certainty that, when it’s all said and done, the result will be the same as every failed offensive before. The best laid plans of mice and men. Our iron youth facing the maw of the enemy. Waves of soldiers falling across no-man’s land.

We changed our tactics from the crib to the toddler bed. Nope. When we upgraded the next time, we spent weeks getting her super excited about her beg girl bed. Ownership! Growing! Big Girl Stuff! Nope, nada, not having it. So happy we spent the day getting all that shit up the stairs and put together.

And then, all of a sudden, one night she wanted to try it. What was the magic change? Mermaid sheets! Who knew? Fuck your autonomy and ownership bullshit. Give me some magical fucking creatures, right the fuck now.

Mom and I were elated, but suspicious as to how much this would last. So we assured her that one of us would sleep with her each night. The books and the websites say this is an effective transition and should only last for a few weeks. Either that, or they’re trying to come with a sales pitch for the sequel. “Hey, Parents, now that you’ve transitioned your kids into their own bed, find out how to get yourself out of there!” Release date: 2025.

And honestly, it’s not as bad as it was at the beginning. For the first week or two, one of us would lie down beside her and be trapped there for the night. You even think about sit up and that sleeping child senses the disturbance in the force, and whines out in the night. “No, Mommy/Daddy, don’t go.”

Then we started being able to lie there for about ten minutes after she lost consciousness and then remove ourselves from the situation. Assuming the parent in question managed to outlast the child by ten minutes. Wife almost always fails in that regard, but I make it at least sixty to seventy percent of the time. And on the off-chance this whole process is finished with enough time for me to make my lunch and set coffee for the next day, then who knows, I might even be able to have some adult time to watch some adult television or listen to some adult music or update my adult blog. Who knows?

Seriously, who knows? Because I sure don’t.

Most nights, I barely have enough energy to get myself over to my bed. The bed I can now enjoy without Mike Tyson’s Knock-Out playing “body blow, body blow, body blow,” all night long. I mean, I can set the coffee in the morning, right? And do we have any leftovers I can nuke at work? Because I’ve got to get me some sleep.

Gotta sleep when we can. After all, we’re on borrowed time. Now that child is asleep, the countdown is on until that desperate cry comes wailing through the midnight darkness…

“MOMMY! DADDY! CAN SOMEONE COME SNUGGLE ME PLEASE?!?”

Ugh. How soon till college?

Bouncing Birthday Bacchanal

Just went to my first children’s birthday party, and… Holy schnikey, y’all!

This wasn’t the first birthday party my daughter, nor my wife, had gone to. This was the first one, however, when I couldn’t find something more important and painless, like a root canal, to skip it for. I’ve already had my vasectomy, so either I show up to this one or I admit I’m a horrible father. I’ll have plenty of other chances to do the latter as the years go by, so I might as well go to this party.

Also, my daughter is approaching the big four-oh. Not forty, but four. Oh! I’m going to have to be present for that one, too, so I figured this was a good chance to do some advance scouting. It turns out that a middle-aged man randomly showing up to watch a bunch of little kids frolic and play is frowned upon.

The first few birthdays my daughter went to were at other kids’ houses. The kids in question put invitations in her cubby at daycare, so I guess we’re counting them as “school friends.” I don’t know whether my daughter was specifically targeted or whether it was a “Just put an invitation in everybody’s cubby.” Again, this is key intelligence we need before our own child’s birthday.

My daughter’s other recent birthday party was for the child of my wife’s friend. Not sure if it’s an upgrade or a downgrade to go from “school friend” to “forced friend.” I’ve seen pictures from my fourth birthday party, and it was attended by a whopping three other kids, all of whom were children of my mom’s friends and who I had virtually nothing in common with by the time second grade rolled around.

Still had to play with them through sixth grade, though. What is the magic age when you finally get to invite only the people you want to your party? Five? Ten? Sweet Sixteen?

Hold on, I’ve planned a wedding before – the answer is you NEVER get to only invite the people you want.

The party I went to last weekend was that of a girl from our neighborhood. My daughter plays with her at the local park. My wife and her mother coordinate via Facebook Messenger. How did my mother accomplish these things in the 1970s? They must have just shot signal flares up into the air when en route to the park. It’s either that or, GASP!, plan in advance, and who the hell has the wherewithal to do that? What happened if my mom had pre-booked a park visit and I wanted to binge-watch an extra episode of “Sesame Street?” Oh yeah, we only had three channels and they all showed soap operas during the days. Never mind.

The first thing I noticed about this particular party was the number of children present. My rough estimate was the high forties. How does a five-year old know fifty people? My wife and I were in our late-thirties when we got married, and we only managed to get close to a hundred guests. And again, most of those people we didn’t really want to invite.

Except for you. If you’re reading this and were at my wedding, you were TOTALLY on the good list.

Allegedly this girl got fifty people at her birthday party by inviting all of the kids in her daycare class. So maybe I was right about the invitations we’ve got. It’s like Valentine’s Day, when even the freak in the class gets the generic Flintstones Yabba-Dabba-Heart card.

But this fact, by itself, doesn’t equate to the cacophony of children that were there. We’ve had some birthday “invites” stuck in my kid’s cubby that we didn’t feel inclined to attend. Usually we ask our daughter if she gives a shit about the kid in question. At other times, she never even needs to know that the freaky kid that still watches “The Flintstones” is having a party this weekend. If she has a problem, she can fucking learn to read.

So maybe this kid with the fifty friends has some secret draw. Maybe she’s the candy pusher in the club. Maybe she has a future in wedding-list design. Or maybe the norms at her particular daycare are more stringent than at ours. Her party was at 10:00 in the morning, and she was scheduled to be at another kid’s birthday party at 4:00 that afternoon. Maybe the whole Stepford-lot of them were going to follow the same path throughout the ‘burbs like some goddamned Hale-Bopp Comet.

Let’s do the math. If the contingent is fifty kids, there’s only fifty-two weeks in the year. Take out some of the major holidays and they probably have to schedule two kids each Saturday. Hell, our neighbor-kid’s real birthday might not even be until mid-July, but this was the weekend she pulled in the birthday party lottery.

What kind of daycare has fifty kids in a class, anyway? State law says there shouldn’t be more than sixteen kids per adult, so unless they’re in some multi-purpose room with five adults casing the perimeter, there shouldn’t be that many kids.

So maybe what was really bringing fifty kids together was the location. This particular party was held at a place called Bounce U. Like its name implies, this business is a giant warehouse with a shit-ton of inflatable bounce houses inside. The warehouse was divided into two rooms, each with four or five inflatable bounce houses. Our party just under thirty minutes in the first room, then moved onto the second room while, presumably, another group of hopped-up ought-somethings piled into room number one behind us. Twenty to thirty minutes later, the well-oiled machine deposited us into a party room for pizza and cake. Three groups in the business at a time, one more congregating in the lobby area, and never the twain shall meet. I guess it’s more than a twain, put quadrain ain’t as poetic.

Seriously, it was flawless. Disneyland could probably learn a thing or two from this company about each group thinking they have the run of the place.

Our particular group had two “Party Pros” assigned to us. Their shirts say “Party Pro” on the back. They’re, like, fifteen years old. I was skeptical at precisely how much partying they had on their professional resume. Talk to me when you’ve graduated from bounce houses to keg stands.

When we finished the cycle and were preparing to leave, I saw three or four more “Party Pros” in the front lobby, waiting for the parties that they were about to go all pro on. None of them cracked eighteen. In fact, I don’t think I saw an employee of legal voting age the entire day. The logical part of me knows there must be an adult supervisor somewhere, some shadowy silhouette behind a one-way mirror like the creepy banker in “Deal or No Deal,” but I never saw any definitive evidence.

When the children were in the rooms with the giant inflatables, it was a study in groupthink and societal interaction standards. All of the children would swarm toward one bounce house. Five minutes later, they would all go on to the next one, leaving the previous Mecca looking more like Chernobyl. At any given time, there would be thirty-plus kids on one inflatable, while at least one other one was not being used at all.

I kept looking for the one kid to buck the trend, but he or she never arrived. No future real estate mogul who would lay claim to the dessert oasis inflatable, knowing that it would soon blossom into the next Las Vegas.

Can anything really blossom into Vegas? Is there a word for growing into degradation? MardiGras’ing?

Remember that scene in “A Beautiful Mind,” where he analogized some scientific theory to hitting on women at the bar? That all the molecules swarm toward the hot chick? I think that was the point. And the kid never grew up. That was the whole movie, right?

Anyway, instead of a bar at happy hour, the schizo scientist could’ve just gone to a kid’s birthday party at Bounce U. The untapped potential of perfectly viable viaducts was on regular display. Only at the birthday party, it wasn’t even the hot chick that all the molecules were going toward. It was whatever bounce house the hive-mind deigned worthy at that particular moment.

“Seriously, kid. The slide RIGHT NEXT DOOR, with three kids on it, works the exact same as the one you’re waiting in a line with thirty other kids for right now. Don’t believe me? Check back with me in four minutes.

The worst case scenario was in the second room. If they make “A Beautifuller Mind,” the whole damn movie could take place in this five hundred square feet. One inflatable in this room had an Ultimate-Ninja/Most-Extreme-Championship-style “jump across the giant balls without falling off” course. It was the only inflatable with a rule, which was “only one person on a ball at a time.” There were three balls, so the most you could have on the “course” at any time was three. More often it was one or two, as somebody would have fallen off or some kid was standing petrified on the second ball, contemplating a two-foot leap like he’s Indiana Jones about to pull the skull idol off the pressure plate.

Meanwhile, there would be ten kids lined up on the ledge, ready to take the first leap. Okay, maybe not “lined up,” but “clumped up.” You’ve seen youth soccer, right? Regardless, at any moment there were four times more kids waiting to jump than actually jumping. Nothing like waiting in line for five minutes in order to have ten seconds of fun. I guess we’re preparing them for Disneyland, huh?

And while these kids spent eighty percent of their time waiting for the ball jump, three other bounce houses went virtually unused. There was a pretty cool mountain-shaped bouncer, getting steeper as it rose, no handles. Like going up a slide, but a slide in the form of a very malleable bounce house, where you’re guaranteed to not reach the top and will instead slide back down in an orgiastic bouncefest. Or at least that’s how I assume it would have worked, because I never actually saw a kid use it. All the kids were too busy standing not-so-patiently on the ledge next to the ball jump. Maybe it’s reserved for the single adult employee.

As for my kid? She just followed the birthday girl around. Painfully so. At one point, they were supposed to make a “silly face” for a group picture. She turned to look at what face the birthday girl was making, then made the same face. Sigh. She’s a bit of a follower.

In her defense, the birthday girl was the only person she knew there. But my wife claims she followed the same M.O. at  the other birthday parties she went to. At her last one, there were five kids from her daycare class, but she still followed the birthday girl around.  Hell, her “bestie” only has that designation because she was the first one to invite my daughter to one of these shindigs. Daughter followed her around the whole party, decided they were best friends, and only now, a year later, is she starting to realize that their personalities aren’t all too compatible.

Wife’s not happy about this particular aspect of daughter’s personality. Not too happy about it myself, but for different reasons. Wife can’t stand it because it’s so opposite of how she engaged with others as a child. I, on the other hand, see a mirror upon my own upbringing.

And by “upbringing,” I mean everything up through last week or so. Never been the social butterfly. Put me in a large group of people where I only know one person, and I’m probably only talking to that one person.

It kinda sucks seeing the worst parts of your personality manifested in a three-year old who doesn’t even know she’s supposed to bury that shit. At least I’ve grown enough so, if said person is the person of honor, I won’t incessantly follow them around. I’ll probably just sit in the corner, check the scores of the game, and nurse my beer.

My daughter doesn’t really have those options, and someone sitting in the corner without beer and sports on the TV is probably just a freak.

Maybe I need to load her some “Flintstones” cartoons.

Losing My Marbles

I just had a phone call that was either the most hilarious or cringe-inspiring in my life. In less than a five-minute conversation, I think I got whiplash from the number of times I oscillated between the extremes. Tennis match spectators had nothing on me. It should have come with one of those Hollywood preview voice-overs: “You’ll laugh. You’ll cry. You’ll curl up into a fetal position.”

As much as my wife and I love our little peanut, we’ve decided she will be an only child. The complications my wife had with the delivery, combined with a desire to attend my child’s high school graduation sans a walker, made it more or less a foregone conclusion.  So, yay us, doing our part against global overpopulation. Or speeding up the arrival of Idiocracy.

Of course, the route to this particular outcome was still in debate until a few months ago when my wife was told she could never go back on the pill.  Something about blood clotting or blood thinners or whatever. So our choices were reduced to using condoms for the next ten years (gosh, how fun) or else I go in to lose my manhood. The snip-snip. The unkindest cut.

Hold on, let me go back and think about that condom option. I’ve also heard pulling out is fun.

Alright, fine. Vasectomy it is. But wait, there’s more. I can’t just walk into the hospital, find the closest scalpel, then drop trou. No, for this procedure, I need to officially don my serious hat. And sign papers with this serious hat. And do interviews to make sure I’ve thought this thing through. Because there seems to be a large contingent of guys who get vasectomies on a whim. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve woken up in the morning and thought, “Nothing on the agenda today? Maybe I should go get my nads chopped off.”

So a month ago I had to schedule a phone interview, and last week was the first time they were available to call me. Now that I’ve done that phone interview, I have to watch a video and sign a waiver. Then they will allow me to schedule an appointment at least two weeks out. To buy a gun only requires a 72-hour waiting period, but to shoot blanks, you’ve got to REALLY want it.

“Hi, I’m calling about your upcoming vasectomy,” came the way-to-chipper voice when I answered the phone.  “Do you have time to talk about the voluntary sterilization process?”

Look lady, I don’t mean to critique your bedside manner, but I hope you’ve never used that as a pick-up line.

“Okay, first question: Have you ever had surgery or any other medical procedure on or around your scrotum?”

I guess we’re done with the small talk.

Wait, is this a trick question? Are you trying to get me to admit that, yeah, I’ve already had multiple vasectomies because I get a rush off of sharp objects near my nether regions?  Yes, I know that testicular cancer is a thing, but is it so common a thing that the first question is about history of scrotal surgery?

I don’t know how many questions or comments went by while I think of all the different types of scrotal surgery. By the time I had recovered from that first doozy, we were already discussing how the day of the procedure would go.

“Okay, you’re going to need to shave your pubic hair that morning. The entire scrotum and base of the penis need to be completely bare.”

Don’t black out. Don’t go catatonic. There might be something in this conversation that will be important or useful. Or, failing that, might at least provide for a funny blog post.

                But I’ve met myself. I’ve seen myself handle sharp objects. I don’t care if it’s a safety razor, if I try for the upside-down shave of that particular body part, I might as well save my money and your time. Because the surgery will already be completed, in a less than sanitary manner, by the time I show up. And I know that hair might make it difficult to get through, but do you think a freshly scabbed-over coinpurse with gauze attached is going to be easier?

Maybe I can just find and olde-tyme barber with a straight-edge razor and give him an extra couple dollar tip. Okay, nurse practitioner, you were saying?

“Make sure you don’t take any blood thinners, including aspirin, for two weeks before the procedure, because we don’t want you to bleed excessively from your scrotum or testicles.”

Cringe. At this point, I’m guessing any male readers have given up on this article. Except for the ones who have had a vasectomy and are now nodding to themselves like the fraternity sophomore that finally gets to see someone else getting hazed.

“Eat normally the day of the surgery. Some people come in with an empty stomach, but that’s unnecessary.”

“Well, I didn’t assume you’d go in through my stomach,” I joked. The rest of my comments up to this point had been internal, accompanied by an “uh-huh” or “okay” out loud. But this one I said back to her.

Her response immediately made me decide to keep the rest of my comments internal.

“If we were going to put you under, you’d need an empty stomach, so I guess that’s what most patients are thinking. But you’ll be awake for the entire procedure.”

Oh, joy. At least when I had my wisdom teeth taken out, they had the decency to knock me out. I’m sure this procedure isn’t nearly as complicated, but isn’t there some sort of professional curtesy? Failing that, can I have some popcorn and a mirror, maybe? I mean, to quote Dr. Evil, there is nothing more breathtaking than a freshly-shorn scrotum.

Then it was time to discuss the post-procedure.

“Bring a jockstrap or biker shorts or some other garment to keep your scrotum close to your body and continue wearing it for a number of days.”

Nope, sorry. I’m a Gottfried Leibniz guy, therefore I hate Isaac Newton and refuse to believe in gravity. Much like the people who deny the moon landing and dinosaurs and vaccines. My boys’ll be fine in my boxers. Or maybe I’ll just walk around nude, because I also don’t believe in your silly decency laws.

Or maybe I need to go invest in a jockstrap.

“They will be enlarged. You will want to cool them with a pack of frozen vegetables.”

Rumor confirmed. Not sure how that works through the supporter cup, but I’ll figure it out. As an added bonus, I’ll have some thawed veggies. Hey Honey, guess what we’re having for dinner tonight?

“You’ll want to limit your movement for a few days.”

With the stitches and the enlarged testicles, to say nothing of the chafing from the re-growing hair, that shouldn’t be a problem.

“In two or three days you should be able to return to work and resume non-strenuous activity.”

Okay, reports back from those who have gone before me say that, while this is technically correct, the stitches will still snag on my underwear at inopportune times.  My daughter also likes to kick in that region, right after she’s done giving a tittie twister to momma, so that should be fun.

“It is important that you not engage in sexual activity or ejaculate until the stitches have dissolved, which is about seven to ten days.”

Is this really a problem? I know my libido is not what it was when I was eighteen, but I think even then, the whole “stitches and icepack” thing would have dampened the hormones. I can wait a week, I would have thought, that Cindy Crawford poster isn’t going anywhere.

“Sometimes the procedure doesn’t work, so you’re going to have to continue using some other form of birth control until we can test you.”

Can I get one of the procedures that works, please? Fine, fine. When will I have to jerk off into a cup?

“You’re going to have to wait until two months have passed and you’ve ejaculated at least twenty times.”

Whoa, whoa, whoa. Two months AND twenty ejaculations? Not or? I did mention that I was married, right? That I have a nine-month old at home? Seriously, who the hell has the time to ejaculate ten times a month? And that’s not even the correct ratio, because the first 7-10 days are a no-no. Let’s be conservative and give myself two full weeks before my wife wants to jump on what will look like Franken-wienie. That’s twenty ejaculations in six weeks, or once every two days.  Even when we were trying to conceive, that sort of schedule could only be maintained for a week or so at a time.

And did I mention all of this sex would be with a condom? Even the twenty-year old me would have found this to be a chore.

Now, sure, these ejaculations can be, um, “self-inflicted.” But even that takes five minutes of alone time. Hell, I can’t even post a blog entry in the same week that grades are due. How am I going to find the time to make a withdrawal from the spank bank?

“Oh, I forgot to mention,” she says as I’m processing the last bit of information. “When you’re icing it down, make sure you use those vegetables, not an ice pack. With an ice pack, your penis might catch frostbite.”

Um, yeah. That sounds important. You might want to write that little note into the permanent script. Because when you mentioned it, my brain had equated frozen vegetables with anything cold. And Frostbitten Penis, while a great name for a punk-rock band, would definitely put another wrinkle on that whole twenty times thing.

And just think, if the test comes back positive after the two months emulating Ron Jeremy, I get to do the whole thing again.

Is it too late to look into a decade of coitus interruptus?