children

Coronavirus Lockdown Part 1

I’m writing from beyond the pale. I don’t know how long it’s been since society collapsed. After all, what is time but a communal construct?It all flows together once they closed all the schools and restaurants and bars and Disneyland. Since the rationing of bottled water and toilet paper. Has it been a month? A season? Would it still be the year of our Lord 2020, if we were still using those old calendars one might find on a dusty Google drive buried in the corner ‘neath Doordash coupons?

It’s only been a day? What the ever-loving fuck?

A lot’s changed since I finally decided to stop editing my last Coronavirus post to keep up. Back then I said we were overreacting. I still think we are. It seems like every day, they push the envelope. Not because there’s been a massive uptick showing the previous measures were unsuccessful, but more in a, “Wow, the people accepted the last infringement on civil liberties with nary a peep? Well how about if we call it shelter-in-place instead of martial law?”

But whatever. It’s not about us healthy people. It’s about the Baby Boomers next to us in the Target who can’t be bothered to wash their hands, because they’re God’s chosen generation and they’ve never given two shits about what society tells them to do, so why should they start now? I might get the shits, but they’ll die. Everyone under the age of sixty is a Typhoid Mary.

(We had a fix for social security right in front of us and we just couldn’t grab it…)

What was that? Did somebody say something? Never mind.

My family was supposed to go to Disneyland this week. Oops. After they closed, we managed to cancel Daughter’s independent study and her absences from day care and softball and dance. Oops.

On Friday afternoon, they canceled her school for the next month. Then my school canceled, as well. Then her dance class and her softball practices on Tuesday and softball games on Saturday and my curling canceled. Day care is still open (for now), but she only goes to day care two days a week. And let’s be honest, by the time this Friday rolls around, they’ll have joined the End of Days, too.

Which means I’m stuck with her for the next three weeks, at least. So I might as well blog about this shit, because if society isn’t ending, my sanity just might be. I don’t know how often I’ll post. Guessing it’ll get redundant pretty fast. And it’s not like my only-child is going to let me pick up my laptop. So I’ll have to plop her in front of the TV and then I start feeling guilty about my lack of parenting skills. At least until the electricity company tells all their workers to stay home.

Oh, and to add to the fun and frivolity, Mother Nature decided to get involved. We just had eight of the driest winter weeks on record, the trees in full bloom with daily temperatures in the seventies. Then, within twelve hours of schools being canceled, the rain came in. I think that’s what the Adult Entertainment Industry calls a “double-team.”

Still, I need to get some catharsis out. And if, in three weeks, they find me wandering the Nevada desert looking to drown my fears in some radiated dirt from all those nuclear tests seventy years ago, these blog posts will serve as evidence to chalk it up as another Coronavirus fatality.

This past Friday, I decided to go to the grocery store. It didn’t seem a momentous decision at the time. In fact, I decided to pick Daughter up from daycare first. She likes the grocery store, and it usually gives us a transition time before we get home. But clearly I missed the memo that this was the last time to stock up on important groceries before the impending Armageddon.

Holy shit! I expected the canned goods to be gone, maybe the long-term non-perishables. So when the pasta aisle looked like the toilet paper aisles that everyone’s been posting, I wasn’t shocked. Pasta lasts forever and you can do lots of different things with it. And even though I was annoyed that every single Kraft Macaroni n’ Cheese was gone, I shrugged and moved on. I mean, come on people, some of us have young kids and have to go through multiple blue boxes per day. What the hell are YOU using it for? Fortunately I managed to snag the last few Annie’s mac n’ cheeses. It sucks that I have to give my child something less processed. The organic ingredients might be a shock to her system. But at least I made sure some other fucker doesn’t get shit. It’s hoarding season, mother fucker!

I was a little more surprised at the carts full of chips. Really? You’re gonna hunker down with those things? How long do you expect them to last once you’ve opened each bag? I don’t know about you, but I’ve never thought of a bag of chips as something that’s going to last me through a nuclear winter.

There was also allegedly a run on girl scout cookies. Usually the last weekend of booth sales are abysmal, as most people are chock full. This past weekend, quite the opposite. It shouldn’t seem to matter, as there aren’t going to be any cookies for sale until next January, Coronavirus or no. It’s like the hoarding instinct, once triggered, applies to anything and everything.

What I didn’t expect was the ground beef to be gone. Sure, you can throw it in with your first batch of pasta, but isn’t there some canned tuna or spam that you can throw in there instead? I mean shit, I was just looking for Friday night dinner and with the rain coming in, this would be the last grilling I could do for a while. What the hell is everyone else doing with it? At least nobody was getting fresh veggies. Maybe because they’re afraid of having to throw it away when it goes bad, which would mean they’d have to leave their house to roll it to the curb.

I’m now convinced that all those post-apocalyptic shows are bullshit. They always go on “supply runs,” which consist of ransacking grocery stores for all the canned goods still on the shelves. If this is what happens when the CDC tells us to wash our hands, there isn’t going to be jack shit on the shelves after the real end of the world hits.

More annoying than what was and was not on the aisles, though, was my lack of ability to get through said aisles. Holy crap! Despite having nothing to buy, I’d estimate that half the population of Sacramento California was in that one Safeway. You couldn’t even get from one aisle to the next if you were at the end near the registers. You’d get to the coffee and have to do a 180, go all the way back to the empty meat section, then head down the cereal aisle. But good luck making it all the way to the Kashi bars, because you’d end up running into the checkout line. And that fucker’s going to box you out like nobody’s business, because he’s been holding that spot since, like, six o’clock this morning and there’s no way he’s letting you cut in line. If you really need some Cheerios, he’s willing to set up a bucket brigade to get it to you, but that’s as much as you’re getting. Now just turn around and go on the Snipe Hunt that is the dairy refrigerator.

When I finally finished and made my way to the promised land of cash registers, the mass of humanity almost made me give up the ghost. All of the lanes were open and none of them were moving. There was a lady next to me who had enough things in her cart to qualify for the express lane. The only problem was that the express lane was number eight and she was in line for number one. She maneuvered past me (in line for register two), made it a couple more feet, then withdrew back to lane one. It was too daunting. Fortunately the person behind her let her back in. Asshole in the cereal aisle would’ve made her go back to the end. I suggested she circle around through the back of the store, but if she failed in that endeavor, she’d lose her spot for sure. After another five or ten minutes (what’s time when you’re stuck in line), she tried the direct route one more time. I wished her luck as she disappeared through lane three. As of the time of this writing, I don’t know if she made it clear to the other side. She might be wandering the Nevada desert looking for the sweet release of an atomic crater.

It wasn’t just the number of people that slowed the progress of the lines, it was what they had in their carts. To say overflowing would be a misstatement. After all, if you have two carts, each filled to the brim, that’s more than overflowing. And if both of those carts are overflowing, then I’m at loss for a descriptor. I wanted to ask each of these hoarders how disappointed they would be if they WEREN’T self-quarantined (sorry, “sheltered in place” sound so much more chic). How shitty would that feel to have a pantry full of garbanzo beans with a perfectly open grocery store a block away that you’re totally capable of going to. Come Monday, the stocks should be re-shelved and nary a customer in sight.

“Dammit,” I hear those people saying, “I’m healthy. Who wants some hummus?”

And what’s the deal with all the bottled water? We still have water flowing to our homes, right? If the Governor shuts down “all non-essential” services, we’re still going to have electricity and water and garbage, right? I consider those “essential.” He can maybe shut down the state-run brothels, though.

What’s that? Whorehouses aren’t run by the state? Was that hooker lying to me when she said it was my patriotic duty to procure her services? I knew I should’ve asked to see her federal worker badge.

Now I know I’m prone to hyperbole for entertainment value, but I’m not at all exaggerating when I say it took us forty minutes to check out once we were in line. The entire shopping process took about an hour and fifteen minutes to get maybe twenty items. Not a good bang for the buck there. Either I need to change my shopping pattern or they do. And we all know it ain’t gonna be they. So maybe I’ll come back next week and buy ten of everything.

It’ll be fun! Ten mac n’ cheeses. Ten spinach. Ten suppositories! Ten bars of soap.

Soap, you say? Yes, there’s still tons of soap. The hand sanitizer has been gone for weeks, but nobody seems to care about the stuff that works better than hand sanitizer.

After returning from the grocery store, I ventured out one more time Friday night. This time to Target for the most important purchase a family facing weeks at home with a small child can make: Frozen II. We had already attempted to buy it earlier in the week. Wife thought she found a really good deal on it, only to bring it home and find out it was the original Frozen, which I’m pretty sure we already have twenty copies of that we’ve watched or listened to ten-thousand times. Well, now we have twenty-one copies that we’ve watch ten thousand and one times. Because when we realized we’d bought the wrong one, it was already in the Blu-Ray player.

But with Quaran-geddon approaching, we opted for the real thing. We tried to be good. Wife ordered it on her Target app to pick up in-store, so we wouldn’t have to interact with the public. Then we waited for it to be ready. And we waited. And we waited. How the hell long does it take an employee to go to the back of the store and grab a fucking DVD?

Finally, Wife sent me to go pick up a copy. She could then return the app purchase as soon as she picked it up.

On my way back from the store, minutes after I’d made the purchase, Wife called to tell me the one she ordered was ready.

When I got home, I got the alert that Disney-Plus was going to be releasing Frozen II  three months early, starting the following day. So, at least in this household, Frozen II is following in the footsteps of its predecessor. Three versions purchased in twenty-four hours. And want to guess how many times we’ve watched it since then?

Oh, and while I was at Target, I also grabbed Knives Out. And some cereal. And an ice cream or two.

Gotta be prepared, after all. I may have been late to this hoarding party, but dammit, I’ve learned from the best.

So I finally made it through Friday. The self-quarantine hadn’t even started yet. Only three weeks (at least) to go.

And the rain was coming.

One Tooth Down

Daughter just lost her first tooth, which means it’s time for the Tooth Fairy to come and visit. Another round of parenting fun.

Sorry, did I say fun? That’s not the word I was looking for. Is there an adjective that means anything you do is going to be a monumental fuck-up and make you the laughing stock of the parenting community and a cautionary tale spread throughout all of suburbia until the end of time, alongside razor blades in apples? What is that, if not fun? I’m sure the German have a word for it.

First of all, when they hell did kids start losing their teeth so early? 

I had Daughter late in life – just shy of my fortieth birthday. I was marginally aware of some parenting things in my twenties on account of two nieces I was close to. And I have some oddly prescient memories of my own upbringing in the 1970s, nut-hugger shorts and all! Bowl cuts before they were white supremacist!

I’m pretty sure I lost my first tooth around the end of first grade. I know this because when I lost my first tooth, well, I lost my first tooth. I was trying to chew through a helium balloon string on my hand when my tooth went flying into the grass. I was freaked out that I wouldn’t get my money from the Tooth Fairy. So I went home and wrote a note, an action I wouldn’t have been able to do in Kindergarten.

I was young for my grade. I was born in October, so the memory in question would’ve made me about six-and-a-half for me. They’ve changed the laws since then, so now I wouldn’t be in the grade I was in. I’d be one of the older kids in my class instead of the younger. I would’ve lost my first tooth at the end of my Kindergarten year instead of my First Grade year. But I still would’ve been six-and-a-half.

My daughter is five-and-a-half. Granted, she’s somehow always been physically advanced. Each of her teeth came in on the early end of the range. She’s regularly in the 90th percentile for height, which I don’t understand because I’m 5’8″ on a good day, Wife tops out at 5’5″, and we’re both taller than our parents. Never did I think I’d be trying to gear a progeny toward volleyball and basketball to take advantage of her height.

Although it’s going to be volleyball, cause the kid’s inherited my (lack of) running stamina.

But the crazy thing is that Daughter isn’t the first in her Kindergarten class to lose a tooth. Far from it. She’s a May baby, so she’s somewhere in the middle of the age range, maybe a little on the younger side. There are a fair number of six-year-olds in her class. But most of them are losing their teeth before they turn six. Heck, the September and October babies are already down three or four teeth. That was second-grade shit back in my day!

I know this isn’t the only indication of kids developing physically more quickly these days. Puberty is hitting two to three years earlier than a century ago. Middle school used to be the puberty years. Sequester the seventh and eighth graders to protect them from the olders and to avoid traumatizing the youngers. But puberty usually hits around fourth or fifth grade these days. And then I end up teaching 16 and 17 year-olds who are well beyond their “learn by” dates. 

Diet gets a good deal of the credit or the blame. After all, a century ago everybody ate dirt or, even worse, vegetables! I don’t think beef was even invented until after Sputnik launched. And if Junior’s on a regiment of pizza and Ding-Dongs, he’s going to growing tits and pubes. 

Except it’s not like we were withering away in the Carter years. We might have waited in lines to get gas, but there was no delay at the McDonald’s!

But now we put probiotics into our food. Or maybe it’s the soy in our milk. Or chickens genetically altered to resemble Pamela Anderson. Seriously? A half-beast is a full pound? Put a bra on that hen!

Maybe it’s the rBST in our milk. I have no idea what rBST is, I only know that I have to pay extra to get milk without it. And then I’m supposed to ignore the fact that this organic milk has an expiration date months later than milk should naturally last. I think the non-rBST organic milk in my fridge is going to last longer than Daughter’s other 27 teeth. 

So yeah, I don’t have the foggiest idea why kids are losing teeth the first week of kindergarten. All I know is that, as a parent, five years old is way too early to be losing teeth. We’re still adjusting to schooling. I mean, shit. I’m still trying to figure out how to explain what a sight word is. Now I’ve got to play Tooth Fairy, too? 

Oops. Spoiler. Hopefully there isn’t some random 6-year old that found this on her very first Google search. At least I won’t spill that other big secret. You know, the old dude in the red suit. 

Hey kids, Iron Man is TOTALLY still alive at the end of Avengers: Endgame.

Although, if my prescience about my own mindset forty years ago is legit, it seems that I gave up on the Tooth Fairy long before than I stopped believing in San… uh, “Iron Man.” It didn’t take long for this nascent free marketer to question how the fairy economy worked. After all, if Mr. Fairy ain’t using these teeth as a natural resource for some larger picture, then why the hell is he sneaking into my room in the middle of the night to take my Chiclets? Perv!

I held out my belief in the other guy much longer. I mean, the dude runs a sweatshop, and ain’t nothing more ‘Murican than making a bunch of cheap shit in a foreign land with near-slave labor. Plus, using Pascal’s wager, if I stop believing in Santa and it turns out he’s real, I’m losing out on a ton of shit. The Tooth Fairy? Meh. If he holds out on me because I no longer believe, I can find a quarter lying on the street and come out even.

Not that it’s a quarter anymore. But back in my day… 

Which leads to the worst part of any tooth loss and subsequent visitation from the smallfolk. Anyone know what the going rate on a pearly white is?

I know for damn sure that it’s going up much faster than inflation. The Fed better not be adjusting the interest rates based on lost teeth. Or maybe they should, then I can get a better COLA.

And I know from when my nieces were in this age range that the Tooth Fairy pays more for the first tooth than for subsequent teeth. Not sure why. He clearly knows nothing about the Law of Supply. If he wants us to keep producing his resources, he’s got to up the price, not lower it. What is he, some sort of drug dealer, giving us a sweet deal on the first go-around so that he can milk us for years to come? 

Seriously, Tooth Fairy, what the hell are you doing with these things? Because you’re acting shady as fuck.

We opted to give Daughter five dollars for the first tooth with the intention of lowering the payout to one dollar in the future. Wife’s been asking around and we’re “in the range.” Daughter told me that her best friend got three bucks for the first one. Unfortunately she told me this after she lost her tooth, and I’d been carrying around a crisp 5-note for two week by then. And it would be awkward to go buy a pack of gum to get change and complain that the singles are as dirty as a stripper’s g-string.

Hey, how do you tip strippers in countries that don’t have paper for their basic currency? I don’t think the g-string will keep the Loonie in place, and there’s no fucking way I’m tipping a fiver every time. Shit, a five-pound note is worth almost ten dollars. That’s one expensive thong! Well, a five-pound note was worth ten dollars before Brexit. Now it’s worth substantially less. Probably about the value of a baby tooth.

But the problem with giving Daughter a five-dollar bill, or three one-dollar bills, or really any sort of monetary denomination, is how little impact it will have for her. I’m not saying she doesn’t understand the value of money. She does, to a certain extent. Maybe not as much she will at seven, when God and nature decreed children to lose their teeth, but she understands that money is exchanged for goods and services, and that when one has a finite amount of money, one must assess the opportunity cost of a purchase versus holding onto said money for a potential later use. 

It’s not the concept of MONEY that she’s missing. It’s the concept of cash.

Seriously, how much cash does one use these days? We take Daughter grocery shopping with us. She hits Home Depot and Target with us on a weekly basis. We go out to eat, we talk about online orders with her, we donate to SPCA. She’s used gift cards at Baskin-Robbins and Starbucks. 

What we don’t do in front of her is take out paper currency and hand it over to a cashier. We don’t get change. I often give her whatever change accumulates in my pocket at the end of the day and she stores it in a Moon Jar. But if her primary notion of cash is that it is to be put away and never exchanged for goods or services, then she’s not going to get too excited when the Tooth Fairy leaves her some pointless green piece of paper. If he really wants kids to be happy about turning over their teeth, he should be leaving a Target gift card. Or maybe some Bitcoin.

We just started Daughter doing chores. Only we don’t pay her cash. We place a dollar amount for each item, and when she gets up to a certain amount, we get her a gift card. She gets to choose where. Unfortunately, her last choice was IHOP. Is it too much to have her get a BevMo card? Then I can tax it just like I do her Halloween candy.

We must not be alone in this regard. Because as the excitement of cash has diminished the Tooth Fairy experience has been replaced by a shit-ton of pomp, circumstance, and fluff. We used to put the tooth underneath the pillow and voila!, a quarter replaced it the next morning. 

Now there’s a booklet (basically an oversized wallet) and an envelope and a tooth “pillow” that’s really just another stuffed animal, as if Daughter doesn’t have enough of those. We put the tooth inside the booklet, along with a note welcoming an odd man inside my baby daughter’s bedroom, tied a bow around it and put it under her pillow. Then beside the bed, we put the tooth stuffed animal, under which we placed the empty envelope.

Then we learned the secret handshake of the Freemasons and Illuminati and she was off to la-la land.

Then we (children, look away!) took the tooth, put the fiver in the envelope, wrote a note FROM the Tooth Fairy thanking Daughter for her note TO the Tooth Fairy and for the very nice tooth and how we/he can’t wait for her to lose more teeth so we/he can return to her bedroom while she sleeps and give her more money. But not in a pervy way.

Wife even found a special Tooth Fairy card

(Now you’ll note I knew I lost my tooth in first grade because I could read and write, but then I said my kindergartner wrote a letter to the Tooth Fairy. The difference is that I wrote my letter by myself, whereas Daughter’s letter was about 90% letters provided by us. The joys of half-way through Kindergarten. “Mommy, Daddy, how do you spell Thank? How do you spell You? How do you spell Tooth?”)

After all the notes and pillows and incisor sleight-of-hand, we have to figure out what to do with the damn tooth. Do we flush it down the toilet like a dead fish? Is there a spot for it in her baby book? Not that we’ve kept up on her baby book since she was, like, a week old. Plus if we put it there and she someday decides to peruse said book, she’s going to wonder why we, instead of the Purveyor of Fine Bones store in Fairytown, are the ones in possession of it. 

Seriously, whoever came up with this whole thing didn’t really think it all the way through.

Wife put the tooth and the note in an envelope. Not sure if future teeth will go in there as well, but I assume that someday, when Daughter’s older and the gig is up, we’ll look back on it and laugh. She’ll read the note she wrote as a sweet, innocent, 5-year-old and be saved from her teenage cynicism for an evening. Then she’ll see the tooth and think her parents are freakazoid hoarder sickos. 

And then we’ll tell her that, congratulations, she gets to start paying her own health insurance the following month.

When Daughter woke up, it was pretty much as imagined. She was super jazzed to see that the tooth was gone. And ooo, there’s a note from the Tooth Fairy. Can we read it to her? And let’s snuggle with the tooth pillow and can we read the note again?

Oh, and what’s this in the envelope?

“It’s five dollars.”

She promptly puts it on the floor next to her and goes right back to the note. I should’ve just given her a fucking quarter like the good old days.

Oh well. Now it’s on to bunnies fucking chickens to celebrate our risen Lord. 

Who wants therapy

Who Knew Bruin Coo

The English language is stupid.

I know I’m not the first person to make this groundbreaking observation. Every rule in the English language is broken at least ten times. I before e except after c, or in pretty much every other word where you stop yourself, sure you’re about to spell it wrong, and then you repeat that adage and end up writing, “the horse nieghed.”

We’ve got some words pronounced in a Germanic fashion, others in the Latin manner, and probably some Scandinavian. England’s been invaded so often that they can’t even make their mind up on the correct words for various objects. Theater is a German word, cinema is French, so English uses them interchangeably.

Quick, what’s the difference between purple and violet? Nothing, aside from their language of origin.

And then there are the silent letters. I assume those are coming from French, because those bastards put an eaux at the end of every damn word. And really? Hors d’ouevres? It should be spelled ordurves. But I don’t think there are any gh’s in French, so WTF?

But we all just sit here and accept it all, as silently as half the fucking letters in our language, like victims of Stockholm Syndrome. Come to think of it, the vikings came from Stockholm, and they’re just one group that conquered England and fucked up the way they speak. So much for an island being easy to defend. The Danes were doing island hopping long before Douglas MacArthur made it hip and fashionable.

My current agitation with the only language I can read more than a sentence of is because I’m trying to teach it to my daughter. Not the spoken part. She’s got that part nailed down. Mostly. I mean, she still can’t seem to distinguish between hearing directions and following directions, but I teach high schoolers, and I know that subtle distinction is still a long way coming.

But she’s ready to learn how to read. And we’re ready for her to learn how to read. Because I swear, if I have to read about giving a mouse a fucking muffin one more goddamned time, I’m going to shove that muffin right up his rodent ass.

She’s been doing phonics at daycare for the better part of two years, so she knows all the sounds. She’s been taking swimming lessons for the same amount of time, and her swimming ability is about the same as her reading skills. She knows the motions, but if she were try to put them all together on her own, she’d end up at the bottom of the picture book, struggling to breathe.

So instead of throwing her into the deep end, we’ve been trying to sound things out together. And right off the bat, I’m questioning how much money we’ve wasted on phonics. She’s very lazy at reading beyond the first letter. After two years of “B is for bird,” she now sees box and goes, “buh, buh, big?” I’ll then have her sound it out. And she can do it.

“Buh, ah, ks.”

“Okay, put them all together.”

“Buh, buh, bamboozle.”

Where the fuck did you get boozle out of an x, kid?

But we’re trying, and she’s getting closer when she actually focuses. So we started out with everyone’s first reading adventure: Dr. Seuss. More specifically, “Hop on Pop.”

And it starts out great. Pup. Cup. Pup in Cup. Cup. Pup. Cup on Pup. All words she can sound out. Rhyming words. Once she’s figured out the ending sound, she can substitute the beginning sound, which she’s great at from phonics.

Then it gets a little tougher. Day. Play. We play all day.

At this point, I question whether or not I should explain to her why she’s not pronouncing a “yuh” at the end of play and day. That the vowel following the other vowel turns the former into a long sound, even if Y is a little bitch that can’t decide if it’s a vowel or not. Or do I just tell her that this is one of those cases where A says it’s name and hope she’ll just ignore the extra letter there? And all of a sudden, I’m the phonics teacher telling her the end of the word doesn’t matter and she should just sound out the beginning of the word and then make a wild stab at what form the vowel is taking in this particular word.

Then comes the next page. Night. Fight. We fight all night.

What the fuck? I give up.

First of all, Dr. Seuss, what the hell are silent “gh”es doing on page five of a book that is listed as “Easy reading. For the beginning readers”?

Secondly, what the hell am I supposed to do now? It’s one thing to tell her to ignore the y in day, when the y is silent but is in fact serving a purpose there, and if you were to pronounce “da-yuh,” you wouldn’t be kicked out of polite society. People would probably just think you’re singing a Harry Belafonte song.

But now I’m faced with a silent gh. If you pronounce it “niguhut,” people will have you committed. And now that I look at it in the “liguhut” of day, what the hell are those letters doing there in the first place? Are they acting as vowels to lengthen the i? So now I have to tell my daughter that the vowels are a, e, i, o, u, and sometimes y, and sometimes w, and sometimes gh. But the last three sets of “vowels” only act as vowels when they completely give up their will to live, don’t say their name and just sit there, aiding and abetting their “more important” brethren like a goddamned politician’s spouse?
Just sit there and look pretty, dears, and if anyone asks you what you really think about guhu-gate, stay quiet.

So with these words, I didn’t tell Daughter to do anything with the middle portion of the word. I just told her, “That word is night. That word is fight.”

And just like that, I’ve crossed over the great debate line in the world of reading. Because if you’re not on the side of phonics, then you must be with those rat bastards in the whole language camp. Whole languagers say, “Fuck sounding it out. Just memorize what each word is and use context clues.”

And really, isn’t that how we read? Even those of us who read via internal vocalization (and yes, I know that every goddamn speed reading course tells me to knock that shit off and I totally know I don’t need to do it and it’s frustrating as shit that it’s slowing me down, but gaddammit, I just can’t stop), don’t sound out the words. I know what “fucking goddammit” says, so I just say “fucking goddammit,” instead of “fuh, uh, sss, kuh, ih, nuh, guh” in my mind. Whole Language!

Whole Language basically tells us to learn all of the words and voila! you’re reading. Seems rather daunting for a language that has hundreds of thousands of words. But that’s probably also the number of different ways you can pronounce the letter c. So maybe instead of telling her the difference between the sss sound and the ck sound and the ch sound, I can just tell her the cisgendered cock has a chub. By the time I’m done explaining all of the rules of the language, those words will be totally appropriate for her.

And if Whole Language is just memorizing, then my five year-old should be a pro. She can recite the whole goddamned “Hop on Pop” without even looking at the page. Which is annoying when I’m trying to figure out if she’s actually learning how to read.

“Dad had a bad day. What a day dad had.”

“Wow, good job, Love… Wait, why are you staring out the window?”

But if we’re going to go the Whole Language route, then why the fuck have we spent the last two years teaching her the sounds of all the letters? And I don’t just mean that as a parent who has wasted time and money and brain cells listening to “A is for Apple, Apple, Apple” fifteen thousand times.

Why do we spend time telling out kids that e is for elephant when ninety percent of the time you encounter the letter e, it isn’t going to sound like that? We should instead say “e is for evil and elephant, but most of the time it’s silent just to fuck with the other vowel, vowel, vowel.”

And even when all that is done, can anyone, anywhere tell me what the fuck is with the whole silent gh thing?

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?