parenting

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

Everything I Needed to Know (I Learned in the Parking Lot)

The school I work at has a Fall Break after the first quarter. It’s great. I get a random week off that nobody else  gets off. Including my daughter, who is now in kindergarten.

So this week, I’ve actually still been in the house when she wakes up. I’ve let Wife go into work early since she’s usually on “get the kid ready” duty.

And I’ve now entered the very strange world of “child drop off and pick up” at elementary school.

Seriously people, how the fuck hard can this be?

I had dropped off once before, when I took her first day of kindergarten off work. She’s Late Start, so only half of the kindergartners were showing up at that time, about thirty kids total. The othergrades, as well as the other forty kindergartners, were already inside their respective classrooms, so I didn’t get to see too much of the crazy. My lasting impression was that there was WAY too much athleisure wear amongst the mothers. But whatever, I live in suburbia hell, so it shouldn’t be surprising to see all the stay-at-homers jonesing to get rid of the anchor that’s been weighing down their social lives for the last five years.  Now they can finally get back to the  Pilates that allowed them to entice their hedge-fund husbands in the first place.

Pick up on the first day of school was also a bit subdued, so it wasn’t until this past week that I truly saw the insanity that is drop-off and pick-up at a suburban elementary school.

And really, let me just say before I get too much further, that Late Start Kindergarten is a fucking weird-ass time warp. Three days a week, Daughter starts school at 10:05 am. On Mondays and Fridays, she starts at the regular school time of 8:50 am. What a great introduction to her next thirteen years of institutional indoctrination.

“Hey kids, don’t get too used to any one way of doing things! Routines are for suckers! And, oh hey, did we mention there’s a rally this Friday? What’s that? You’re having a test this Friday. Just put it off till Monday. I’m sure the students will do fine.”

Sorry, that might’ve been a little more teacher bitching than student.

Of course, the early starts don’t show up late twice a week to be equal opportunity annoying. Because early start equals early release, and then they get to have a margarita meeting. Uh huh. I’m sure you’re doing a ton of cooperative planning after school on Friday, kindergarten teacher. Wink, wink.

But that late start, on the days that she has to do it, are fucking brutal. What the heck kind of school starts at 10:05? That’s just early enough to not be able to do something substantive or make plans beforehand. We can’t go to a movie or mini golf. We can’t start an art project or teach the kiddo how to write a blog post.

But it’s late enough where I can’t just let her get ready for school at a leisurely pace. Seriously, I can have the kid ready to go by 8:00. 7:30 if she’s going to daycare in time to ride the bus. But even if I let the kid dawdle and get distracted, even without gentle nudging or voice-of-God “How freaking hard is it for you to brush your freaking teeth?”, she’s still going to be ready to go by 9:00. Then what the fuck am I supposed to do for an hour?

Naturally, I just plop her in front of the TV. What better way to get that brain geared up for a focused day of learning than two episodes of “Vampirina”?

Then it’s into the car for delivery time.

It occurs to me that, when I was Daughter’s age, I walked to school. I lived about as far from my elementary school as we currently live from Daughter’s. Given the rules I grew up under, she’d be a walker. Hell, everybody would be a walker, because elementary schools don’t do buses anymore.

Don’t worry, I’m not about to go all old man on you. No hiking my pants up to my nipples and saying that back in my day we hiked a hundred miles up a mountain just to find some snow to walk through. Uphill in both directions.

Quite the opposite. Like, holy shit, I have a five-year old now. Who in the fuck would think she can be responsible for getting herself to school? She can barely remember to go to the bathroom before heading to her state-mandated, hermetically-sealed, black-box-constructed car seat. Hell, I get worried when she wants to go to the mailbox by herself. What if some Formula 1 driver is driving two hundred miles per hour down the sidewalk of our six-house cul-de-sac? No fucking way I’d let her walk to school unless it was right next door. And even then, I’d put a GPS tracker on her.

Shoot, I wouldn’t even feel safe with her walking to the corner to get on a school bus to take her the rest of the way. Maybe that’s why schools stopped putting fifty kids in a huge death contraption driven by a loadie.

But back in 1979, my mom said, “See ya later,” and I hoofed it five blocks down one hill, then took a left and went up over another hill. Or sometimes I took the short-cut, a trail that went near bee hives and shit. And that was before California changed the birthday cutoff, so I was still four when kindergarten started. I was six months younger than my daughter was on her first day of school. What the fuck were you thinking, Baby Boomers?

Look, I know y’all were (and still are) the Me generation, and my generation became the Latchkey Kids and y’all are the reason we now have strict laws about when and where children must be supervised and that they need to be in a car seat when they get dropped off at high school graduation. I know all your hippie asses just needed to get back to smoking your weed after your five-year sabbatical, but really? You thought a bunch of four-year-olds should be responsible for getting their own asses to school? Put down the bong.

In my own mother’s defense, she said she freaked out and watched me walk to school from the back porch for the majority of my kindergarten year. She knew that I was a little spaz that was prone to simple distraction. One time in preschool, we were walking to the beach and I walked into a parked car. Oops.

Good thing I’m older now and am not likely to distraction and/or tangents, right?

Sorry, what was I writing about?

Oh, right. Student drop-off.

Morning drop-off is pretty simple. Kindergarten parents are supposed to stay with our children outside the gates until the teacher comes to pick them up. The rest of the students can go through the gates to wander around the school. Supervised, of course. What do you think this is, 1979?

So the drop-off line of cars moves pretty quickly. A car (or daycare bus) drives up to the curb, the back door opens, the student unbuckles himself from the seventeen-point harness car seat, and walks toward the school. Then the parent drives off for some Pilates and weed.

And truthfully, I don’t know all the nuances and protocols of the drop-off line since it’s only for non-kindergartners. For now, we have to park a half-block away and stand there with my kid until the teacher deigns to finish her morning constitutional.

Then there’s that really awkward moment after the teacher’s taken our children from us. Do I leave as soon as my child’s made it past the gate? Should I watch her make it all the way into the classroom? What happens when my kid’s first in line but the parent next to me’s kid is last? Do I shout out, “Peace out, motherfucker! You snooze, you lose!” and then run for my car? Technically, he’s handed his kid off, too. Are we both free to leave?

Am I supposed to talk to those other parents? I’ve come to know some of them because our kids have gone to birthday parties together and such. But it’s not like we have much to talk about. Should I ask the athleisure-wear lady where I can get some dank yoga? Or should I inquire if the unemployed father has found a job in the last 24 hours? Or would it be more appropriate to ask him about the best porn sites are these days?

Evidently none of us know how to act. Because we just put hands in pockets and shuffle away, trying not to make eye contact with each other. Like that awkward “both people leaving from the two sides of the glory hole at the same time” moment. Because now we’re just a bunch of grown-ups standing around outside an elementary school. And I didn’t even bring my trenchcoat!

So I just shield my face from prying eyes and high-tail it back to my car, past the long line of cars still dropping their kids off at the curb. Tardy much?

Then comes pick-up time. And this is where I’m fortunate that I have to pick up my kid at the gate. Because that long line of cars is now stretching to infinity. That whole “slow down long enough to kick the kid out” of drop-off is no longer present. Now they have to sit and wait for school to end. And wait. And wait. And wait.

The curb fits maybe ten cars at a time. So the first ten cars to get there can just chill and wait for school to get out. Presumably, they can turn off their car, because I can only assume they got there a half-hour after school started. Maybe they just dropped their kid off and never moved. Squatter’s rights.

Again, I don’t know what the protocol is for the non-kindergartners. I assume the kids get out and have to walk up and down the curb to see if their parent happened to get one of the sweet spots today. And if not, do they just hang out? And I assume that once one car leaves, it is immediately snatched up. Kinda like pick-up at the airport. And we all know how much of a shitshow that is. Now replace all the exhausted travelers with squirrely five- to eleven-year olds and, I’m sure you’ll agree, NOTHING bad could happen.

The rest of the cars are behind those go-getters stretching far into the street in both directions. Fortunately for both the children’s safety and the merging cars, this well-oiled machine is moving along at a glacial rate. And of course, all the cars remain turned on and idling. Huzzah for the environment!

One time at pick-up, I unintentionally tracked it. I pulled up and parked my car on the main street, about fifty yards from the intersection with the chock-full-in-both-directions street that Daughter’s school is on the corner of. As I was getting out of my car, Daughter’s daycare bus rolled up.

Wife and I have been curious about how the bus pickup process worked. So I figured this was a good chance to see how the daycare bus picks up the other kids. How they line up, how they board, what kind of Quaaludes the driver is on to have to sit through this idle hell each day. You know, the stuff that’ll make me feel better on the days I can’t be there.

I crossed the street right behind the bus, which had come to a stop six or seven cars away from the merge. I walked into the school, headed to the kindergarten pick-up space outside the gate, double-checked back on the process of the bus. It hadn’t moved. Of course it hadn’t moved! No students had been released from school yet. None of these cars would be moving for another ten minutes. It’s like the old “Camping out at Ticketmaster” days. .Not sure why all the cars are still running, but whatever. Maybe they are hoping that this is the day all the kids get out early.

The only thing that had changed was the line behind the daycare bus, which now stretched past where my car was parked. Seriously, how long have those first few cars been here?

After checking a few times, I got distracted. I don’t remember why. Maybe I ran into the glory hole parent from earlier. We shuffled our feet and looked at the ground and asked how lunch was and if either of us got anything done after the entire morning was screwed up by a 10:05 drop-off.

Kid was let out. Huzzah!

As I’m walking her away from the school I look at the curb. No sign of the bus yet. Bus is still out in the street. Cool, cool. Maybe I can still see how this whole thing works.

“What are you looking at, Daddy?”

“Oh, I was just curious where you get picked up by they day care bus.”

“Want me to show you?”

Absolutely!

Daughter walks me all the way down to the far end of the curb. There’s a little awning there with some students gathering underneath. Daughter says hi to a couple of kids.

The curb is still filled with idling cars, but not very many children are getting into them. Most of the children are tromping up and down the byway like we are. There seems to be a logjam. The earliest parents seem to be correlated with the latest children. Do go-getters beget lollygaggers?

We head back toward Daughter’s classroom. Still no bus. I can’t really delay her much longer without an explanation, and she’s way too young to comprehend glory holes, so we just head back to my car.

We pass the bus. Daughter waves to the driver. We cross the street just behind the bus. It’s idling, maybe six or seven cars away from the merge point.

Yep, you got it. It hasn’t fucking moved at all. I want to ask Daughter how fucking late the bus usually picks her up. Unfortunately she little concept of time.

But I should be able to extrapolate it or l out on my own. Let’s see, it’s been fifteen minutes and the bus has moved about five feet. By my calculation, they should be picking her up about a half-hour past next June.

But I’ll never know for sure, because after a super illegal u-turn to teach Daughter to respect the power of moving automobiles, I was off like Donkey Kong. At least, to help foster Daughter’s respect for the dangers of driving, I waited until I was at LEAST a quarter of the way through the illegal u-turn amongst children and parents before checking my phone for the latest porn site. Also, I had to wait until I had popped the bus driver’s qualuudes.

In all seriousness, I’m pretty sure I was home before the bus made it to the curb. Which means that all those other cars of all those other parents were still sitting in that line, too.

And the daycare bus has an excuse. It’s their fucking job. What the hell are all of those parents doing? Many of them were there before me, presumably because they don’t want to waste time. Except they don’t really care about the wasted time once they’re there. Or else they’d park and walk their athleisure-wear asses the half-block to and from school. It’s kinda like pilates. Then they’d be home by now, smoking their weed.

Then maybe the daycare bus could pick my kid up before midnight.

New math, indeed.

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?

Pre-school Graduation

My daughter graduated earlier this week.

Okay, maybe graduation isn’t the bet word for it. Promotion? Transition from expensive babysitting to free education?

Tell you what, let’s just call it “Tuesday.”

Because on Wednesday, she went right back to the exact same school, exact same classroom, exact same situation. It seems kind of odd to have a daycare graduation in early June, considering they’re still going to daycare for another two months. First week of August, the week before the local school districts starts, would seem a more logical time to celebrate the kids taking the next big step. But I guess it would be tough to buy graduation cards in August. Shit, it was already difficult to find kid-friendly graduation cards. To say nothing of “Class of 2032.”

But she had a little ceremony, so I guess we’ll call it a graduation. What it really served as was a thank you from the day care to the parents for spending… let’s see, carry the one, and…

Holy shit, have we really spent fifty grand there over the last five years? And all they could muster up for the ceremony was some goddamn Oreos?

But relax. This isn’t a blog whining about giving trophies to every goddamn participant or whatever. I might do that next year when she “graduates” from kindergarten and stays at the same school.

But this one is actually a meaningful transition in her life. Or at least it will be in August. She’ll be leaving behind the daycare that she’s been attending since she was eight weeks old. The next time she leaves a place where they wiped her ass after she shit her pantswill be college.

Seriously though, there were three kids at this ceremony who have been there since her first day there, over four and a half years ago. That’s longer than high school. Sure, she doesn’t remember them being there, but how many high school seniors really remember who sat next to them in ninth grade?

Plus, this might be the last time she’ll be happy to graduate next to the types of friends she has now. By sixth grade, the judgments will be rolling in.

It’s kinda sad. I look at her two best friends now and know, deep down, that they would have nothing to do with each other if they met in third grade instead of near birth.

One of them is on the way to being a total tomboy. She’s either halfway to Birkenstocks or halfway to Doc Martens. She showed up to my daughter’s gymnastics birthday party wearing jean shorts.

I love this kid, though, because she gives absolutely zero fucks. Whereas my daughter is always worried about who is playing with her or who is not responding the way she wants, this girl will do whatever the hell she has the hankering to do at any given point. At the gymnastics party, almost all of the girls clumped together, following each other to whatever ball pit was in vogue for the moment. I think I wrote about a similar chaos theory at her bounce-house birthday party last year.

Tomboy, though, just goes and plays with whatever she wants. So while the line for the slide is seven deep, she’s doing whatever she wants on the trampoline. Then everyone sees she’s having fun, they all head to the trampoline and she’s off to the balance beam. Not saying she’s a trendsetter. She just marches to the beat of her own drum.

Meanwhile, Friend #2 will be a Woo Girl just as soon as it’s appropriate to use that designation. She’s a bit shorter than most of the others. She jumps a lot. It wouldn’t surprise me if she’ll be the kid with the alcohol hookup in eighth grade. She’ll definitely know her way around a kegstand, and have a closet full of straw hats, by junior year.

At the birthday party, Woo Girl showed up in full gymnastics regalia. She usually followed the crowd, but only if the crowd was doing something requiring adrenaline. Swings, slides, trampolines. You wouldn’t find her concentrating the balance beam.

So we’ve got Tomboy and Woo Girl who are absolute besties with my daughter, the prissy teacher’s pet.

I know, I know. Every parent thinks their kid is the well-behaved little angel. And I’ve already posted before that my kid knows a substantial number of Jimmy Buffett songs. She tries to get the Piano Man at her school to play Piano Man, which doesn’t have the most appropriate lyrics for four-year-olds.

But you’ll note I didn’t say she was the good kid. I said she was the prissy teacher’s pet. That moniker comes with substantial baggage. If there’s going to be a kid thrown in the trash can for tattling in fourth grade, it’s probably going to be my daughter. And the ones who will be throwing her in the trashcan are probably Tomboy and Woo Girl, who she can’t get enough of these days.

Okay, you still want proof as to which lane my daughter’s merging on to?

At the “graduation” ceremony, the teachers read out what each child wants to be when he or she grows up. See if you can spot which of the first six students was my daughter based on their responses: 1. Superhero, 2. Veterinarian, 3. Ice Cream Shop Worker, 4. Racecar driver, 5. Mom, 6. Wizard.

No, she’s not the mom. That’s Tomboy, oddly enough. Guessing she’ll change her tune later.

Of course, my daughter was the veterinarian. In her defense, it’s really hard to get into wizarding school these days unless you live under stairs.

There ended up being three other future veterinarians in the crowd and I call bullshit on all three of them. One of them was my daughter’s first friend, who she still thinks of as her bestie despite having very little in common with. Daughter’s exhausted and grumpy on the days she’s played primarily with this girl instead of the newer friends, but it’s hard to explain to her what’s going on.

The first friend became her first friend because she wouldn’t ever talk. Not to the main teacher, not to the secondary teachers, not to the phonics teacher. But she would occasionally talk to my daughter, or at least my daughter would speak for her, so all of the teachers put them together. My daughter got a month of free phonics because they would send her alongside the quiet one to act as whisperer. We asked my daughter if she was actually saying what the girl was saying or if she was just answering the questions on her own. It was usually the latter.

Quiet Girl talks more now. She’s glommed onto the mean girl and is well on her way to being the punk rock girl in middle school. She already looks daggers at people whenever they turn their backs. The only thing she needs to learn is to do that when they’re looking at you, too, and she can wear a Cure T-shirt.

In typical back-of-the-class style, Quiet Girl still doesn’t like answering teachers’ questions. So it’s little shock that she “wants to be a veterinarian.” I don’t know if she actually copied my daughter or if she just remained silent and they asked my daughter what Quiet Girl wanted to be.

The other two “veterinarians” were similarly suspicious. Just copy the answer of the kid that the teachers are always praising the answer of. I can already tell how most of my daughter’s group projects will go for the next thirteen years.

As for the ceremony, it was very cute. The kids sang four songs. They turned “I’m a Little Teapot” into “I’m a Little Graduate.” And the second line of “Zip a Dee Doo Dah” changed “wonderful day” into “graduation day.” They also sang a song called “The World is a Rainbow,” and for the weeks leading up to it, when my daughter was (probably the only one) practicing at home, I kept thinking she was about to sing “The world is a vampire.” Unfortunately, it was some lame 1970s hippie song, not Smashing Pumpkins.

And my favorite song was “This Land is your Land.” If you think about it, it’s not an easy song to teach to a group of people with no concept of geography. Most of the kids could nail the “from California” part, but after that, it got a little dicey.

To the New York Island? Aren’t they a hockey team? The only sport my daughter knows is baseball and she is under explicit instructions that she may not root for any team from New York or Boston. Oh, maybe we’d allow the Mets, because we’re an AL household, so who gives a fuck about the senior circuit.

So instead of New York Island, my daughter started out singing “From California to the Land of China.”

Wow. Those are some lyrics I didn’t know about. Is that what we’re teaching the kids after Trump’s tariffs? That we own China now?

Let’s see, according to Wikipedia, it was written in 1940. So a sizable chunk of China had been conquered by Japan at that point. Maybe Woody Guthrie just figured we’d enter the war and “liberate” China into our possession. We did it with the Philippines after the Spanish-American War, after all.

Hell, we effectively did that in Korea after the war. Damn, that Woody Guthrie was prescient! It’s a good thing our daycare is teaching my daughter the hidden verses.

The next time my daughter practiced the lyrics, she changed them to “From California to the Land of Thailand.”

Wow, holy crap. What kind of imperialist jingoism is this? Last I checked, we never had Thailand. Not in Teddy Roosevelt’s wildest wet dreams. Hell, if you count all the Thai restaurants popping up in California, I think they might own more of our country than we ever owned of theirs.

Seriously, I think Thai restaurants are the new FroYo. Not that I’m complaining, but it makes it really hard to know which Thai place to go to. I can sample each of the FroYo places for $5 a pop. Thai restaurants cost a little more. Unless it’s lunch time.

But alas, my daughter finally figured out that our Land stretches east, not west. From California to the place with the fucking Yankees.

But now, it’s off to Big Kid School.

Only one of the kids from her daycare is going to her elementary school, and he’s one of the boys that she only discusses in passing. Gone will be the Tomboy and the Woo Girl and the Quiet Girl and the Mean Girl.

Maybe that’s a good thing. It gives her a chance at a fresh start. Except I’m going to miss the crazy dynamic from preschool. Who knows how much longer she’ll hang out with vastly different personalities. Another year or two, maybe.

The girl across the street from us is a cheerleader. Not a future cheerleader. A legitimate five-year-old cheerleader. Her mom was a cheerleader in high school. Has the fake tits to prove it. Never made it to college to lead cheers there. And now mom’s got her daughter well down the path to reliving her life. Including a year-round cheer program.

My wife worries about my daughter being in the same kindergarten class with Cheerleader. She thinks my daughter will glom onto another kid she has nothing in common with and it’ll be Quiet Girl all over again. I’m a little less freaked out. I know there’s no future for them. No way in hell are they friends when middle school hits. One of these days, Daughter will start hanging out with friends she actually has things in common with.

Besides, it might not be a bad idea to have someone she knows in the new class. And for the next few years, it’s not bad to have a girl the same age across the street from us. I don’t relish the day when I have to drive her to another neighborhood to play. Or “hang out,” because it won’t be long before “playing” is gauche.

But for now, she’s still in the sweet spot. A sweet spot where the Mean Girl and the Punk Rock Girl and the Spaz and the Cheerleader and the Priss can all get along.

Society will beat that out of them soon enough.

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?

Children’s TV Review (The Shitty Ones)

Last week, I gave my account of some of the shows dominating children’s television these days. Some of it’s not too shabby. Some of it’s actually a little bit enjoyable. But for the good shows, you need to look at my last post.

This week, it’s the fun post. Here we focus on the abysmal.

There are two shows currently atop this particular mountain of shit.

(Oh yeah, this is an adult blog. If you are underage and got here through the fiftieth page of Google results, go away.)

1. Mickey Mouse Clubhouse. Having grown up in Orange County and rooted for sports teams that Michael Eisner only saw as cross-promotions, I might have a certain anti-Disney predisposition. Yes technically, the Angels won the World Series while a Disney property, but that’s only because Disney was looking to sell and hoping to raise the sale value.

So I rage at the hypocritical message embedded in most Disney shows and movies. Be who you want to be! Except if your hairline is a centimeter too long, because then your ass is fired. Hard work will be rewarded! Hey, work ten-hour shifts five days a week in 100-degree heat and then we’ll fire you at the 5 1/2 month mark because you’d get discounted tickets if we let you work six months. Commercialism is bad! But don’t forget to buy some Minnie Mouse tampons on the way out of the park.

So okay, I might not give Mickey a fair shake. But that doesn’t mean this show doesn’t suck.

I actually like most of the characters on “Mickey Mouse Clubhouse” and, obviously, I am aware that Disney knows what they’re doing when it comes to children’s shows. This has all of the tropes one expects. The songs are repeated at the same time every episode. The characters find themselves in problems that the viewer has to help with by picking the right number or the right color pattern.

One might expect Disney to come up with something a little more original than a “Blue’s Clues” ripoff. But hey, if they’re able to bring Clarabelle Cow into canon and sell some cow dolls, all is good.

The start of the show is a little skeevy. Mickey is walking alone through the woods. He turns to the camera and asks the little kids if they want to come inside his secret, magical clubhouse. He tells them to say the magic words and his pervy little hideout pops out of nowhere. It’s got a giant slide coming out of the roof, a mini golf course, and all the accouterments one might associate with Michael Jackson’s Neverland Ranch.

No, I’m not saying Mickey Mouse is a child molester. However, I might think twice before leaving my child alone with the show runners. Hey kid, Say “Meeska, Mooska, Mickey Mouse” and something’s going to pop out of nowhere.

Then again, Steve from “Blue’s Clues” seemed a little off, too.

But the real problem I have with “Mickey Mouse Clubhouse” is Toodles, an anthropomorphic, mouse-shaped holding tray.

I guess it’s not mouse shaped, it’s Mickey Mouse shaped. Damn you Disney, for raising three generations of humans to refer to a large circle with two smaller circles on top as “mouse-shaped.”

At the beginning of every episode, they load Toodles up with four tools that they will be able to use to get past obstacles. One of them is a mystery tool and the others range from ladders and balloons to, I think there was one episode that utilized a bologna sandwich.

Then every time they encounter a problem, they whine to the heavens, “Oh, Toodles!” and the little shit comes flying from wherever he’s lazing around. Seriously, they’ve called him from Mars and he put on a space helmet to make it there before his three-second synthesizer theme-song was done. Like a drug dealer afraid that his junkie customers will find a new source or, even worse, sober up.

And when I say they call him for every time they have an obstacle, I mean: Every. Fucking. Time. “Hey, there’s some crumbs across the path. Instead of cleaning them up or stepping over them, lets see if Toodles has a fucking dustpan.”

In other shows, the characters talk though problems and multiple solutions. Some shows even encourage kids to try again if the first one fails. But Disney doesn’t want kids to learn perseverance or patience. If the next generation become critical thinkers, Disney might need a new business model. What they want is a generation of crybabies who think they are incapable of solving life.

It’s called learned helplessness and it’s rampant in the students I teach. “I can’t do it.” Encounter one setback and you might as well give up. “Why haven’t you done the last three homework assignments?” “Well, once I missed one, I figured I couldn’t pass so why try?”

Call for help. Google it. There is no possible way a human being can work their way through anything.

Some say they “just can’t do” history. They’re not good at it, like it’s shooting a three-pointer. How the hell is someone not good at history? Not enough jump? Wrong arc? Poor arm strength? Those are the reasons I am “not good” at three-pointers, although I’m sure I could get better if I tried.

But I don’t see how someone can be “bad at history.”  History is not a particular skill that one does or doesn’t have. You might not be good at reading or writing or listening. But if I ask “Who won the Civil War,” even if the answer is “I don’t know,” that still doesn’t mean you’re bad at history.

In other subjects, maybe that works. “I struggle conjugating a verb” or “I always get stuck on the quadratic equation” make sense. But how can you be bad at history? “Man, everybody else can Stalin much better than I can.”

But, of course, the learned helpless statements are never as focused as conjugating verbs or solving equations. It is perfectly acceptable to just say “I can’t do this so I’m not going to try.” As they argue over who won the 1978 Super Bowl…

Maybe they should just call Toodles.

But at least I had to watch fifty episodes of “Mickey Mouse Clubhouse” before I could really pinpoint my problem with it. For the single worst kids’ show on TV these days, it was apparent right from the start.

Peppa Pig. Oh, this shit is horrible. In fact, I hesitate to call this show shit, because Peppa is a pig and pigs like shit. And I don’t want Peppa to enjoy anything about life, as she’s sucked all the enjoyment out of mine.

This show is from England, the same country that, a generation ago, sent us Teletubbies. Have you ever seen Teletubbies? Have you ever watched an episode of Teletubbies and thought, “If only we could understand what the Teletubbies are talking about.” Well, Peppa Pig is that show and, let me tell you, we were better off not knowing.

Peppa is a little girl pig. Her parents, oddly enough, are named Mummy Pig and Daddy Pig. You might think that those are just the names that Peppauses for them. But there are scenes where Daddy Pig is at work and his co-workers refer to him as Daddy Pig. I am called Daddy around my house, but none of the other teachers in my department call me Daddy, or even Mr. Daddy. Four of the other teachers in my department are also fathers. That would be very confusing.

Then again, Daddy Pig works around other animals, so they probably just use their species to distinguish between one father and the next. Maybe he’s in a meeting with Daddy Horse and Bachelor Mouse. Maybe D.I.N.K. Armadillo pays for lunch, while Co-habitating Camel usually shows up late after partying all night.

Maybe I should start referring to all of my co-workers by their ethnicity. I can’t think of any drawback to that.

Oh, and Peppa’s grandparents are Grandma Pig and Grandpa Pig. That must’ve been very awkward when they were growing up.

Come to think of it, Berenstain Bears does the same thing. The first two children are named Brother and Sister. If they were twins, I could maybe see it, but Brother Bear is clearly older by a few years. I know it was the 1970s, when 2.1 children was a foregone conclusion, but it’s pretty ballsy to name an only child, Brother. What if the second child had been another boy? Would his name have been Younger? Or would they just have named him Sister and had a “very special” book about gender identity? And, oh by the way, they had a third child later in the series. They named her Honey. What the hell? Is she not a sister as well? Seriously, Brother, Sister, and Honey are the three Berenstain Bear children. Good thing they’re religious and can pray the counseling away.

Back to Peppa Pig, she has a number of friends who are also alliteratively-named animals. There’s Rebecca Rabbit, Suzy Sheep, and Zoey Zebra, although zebra is pronounced in the (incorrect) British way so that the first syllable rhymes with zed, not zee. One character I feel bad for is Pedro Pony, because he will presumably have to change his first name when he grows into full horse-hood.

Daddy Pig is a fucking trainwreck. He’s not good at anything, but thinks he’s good at everything. He can’t read a map and gets grumpy when they get lost. He’s fat, but whines about being fat. All the while, he’s trying to teach moral lessons to his kids. Great role modeling, Britain! No wonder you lost the empire.

As for the eponymously-named Peppa, she is a whiny little bitch. Or, since she’s English, I guess the proper verbiage would be a whiny little bird. She is mean to people and is constantly complaining about being bored.

In one episode, she’s playing soccer (and errantly calling it football). They do boys versus girls, because of course they do. When the boys score the first goal, she whines that it’s a stupid game and doesn’t want to play anymore. After the girls score the second goal, all of the boys and girls start arguing. Daddy Pig helicopter-parents in to serve as referee. The boys score next, but it’s in their own goal. So now she love soccer, even if she’s still calling it football.

In another episode, she’s riding a bike. Every time she’s on a downhill she brags about what a good bicyclist she is. Then when she goes uphill, she says riding a bike is stupid and wants to quit.

Maybe she should have called Toodles?

I wish I could say there was more meat to that episode, but these synopses pretty much cover the whole thing. The average episode is about six minutes long, so Nick Jr puts five of them in a row to fill a half-hour slot. Every time an episode ends, I wait with baited breath to see if that was the final one, but there’s only a twenty percent chance. I don’t like those odds.

Most episodes end with everybody falling over laughing over something that is very unfunny. The animation for the entire show is very crude, so when I say they fall over laughing, I don’t mean they hunch over and start slapping their thigh and then fall to their knees. No, instead they are all standing upright in one frame and then are completely horizontal on their backs in the next frame. Then they shake, laugh, and snort another second or two until the episode is over.

And again, the thing that caused them all to fall over backward was something hilarious like a whiny child saying she didn’t like biking uphill. Clearly that is enough to cause people to lose their vertical fortitude.

Peppa has a little brother named George. He is one of the few tolerable spots of the show. He can only say a few words, two of which are “Dinosaur, rawr.” Even though he’s barely a toddler, he’s good at all of the things Peppa sucks at, which is pretty much everything. Of course, this just causes her to complain more, which is just what the show needs.

Peppa terrorizes her poor brother. She plays keepaway, she belittles his accomplishments, and I’m pretty sure she’s pushed him a few times. Just the things we want to teach our children.

Nick Jr starts all of its shows with a list of what the kids are learning while they’re watching. “Paw Patrol” says they’re learning about teamwork and community. “Dora the Explorer” highlights problem-solving skills and Spanish language. Most of them are a reach, but at least the intent is there.

According to them, “Peppa Pig” teaches children about emotional development. Bullshit! Peppa never develops emotionally. Peppa is the antithesis of a well-developed child. Unless you want your child to be a rude and entitled quitter.

But I’m here to help. Here ya go, Nick Jr:

When watching “Peppa Pig,” your child is learning about how to bully and not take accountability for their actions. With any luck, they’ll be President of the United States someday.

The Drunken Midget Phase

My daughter just turned one year old.

Woo-Hoo! She made it!

Not sure if that’s more impressive or less impressive than me turning forty. In either case, we seem to be celebrating nature and astronomy more than perseverance. But this poor girl has me as a father, so we’re not taking anything for granted.

We’re at that milestone-a-minute phase right now, and really have been for a good six months or more. First it was rolling over. Then it was sitting up with assistance. Then without. Then the Lieutenant Dan Body drag, followed by crawling. Then it was- well, you get the idea. But I think the current milestone is the last big one.

Of course, I say “current” milestone, not “last” or “next,” because these things tend to evolve slowly over days or weeks, despite what popular culture would have us believe. Movies and TV shows always show babies purposefully doing an action as a result of some cognitive leap, then immediately honing this new skill until perfection. In reality, there’s never that big “this is her first <fill in the blank> moment.”

What was my daughter’s first word? Well, it depends. Do you mean her first purposeful word or the first part of her random enunciation that sounded close to English? She says “yeah, yeah, yeah” a lot, and occasionally it’s even in response to a yes or no question. I’m pretty sure she’s said “ma” and “da” on purpose a number of times, but I still don’t know if we’ve yet reached the 50% plateau of those sounds being a specific reference to my wife or I.

It’s the same thing with standing and walking, which is our current undertaking. Can she stand on her own? Sure. Even done it a couple of times. But if there is something or someone to pull herself up on within, oh say, a square mile, she’s crawling to that object instead. Has she taken her first step? Absolutely. She’s even made it three or four steps, albeit with heavy coaxing. And even though she can both stand and take steps, she’s much more likely to plop herself down and crawl, evolution be damned!

But, whether with support or not, we’ve definitely entered my favorite stage of childhood. Or at least my favorite to observe from afar. Some call it the toddling years, but let’s be honest. My bubbly baby girl is turning into a drunken midget. Think about the last time you saw a toddler. Now think of an intoxicated dwarf. If you’ve never been around an inebriated midget, think of a full-size boozer and then just shrink them down.

The swaying from side to side. The bumping into random stationary objects. The propensity to fall down for no reason, in a manner that would send a sober adult to injury rehab, and then to giggle uncontrollably at it. Am I describing a one year old or a lush? You decide.

Last week, my daughter was “walking” around. To do this, she holds onto my fingers over her head for stabilization like a chimpanzee. At one point, she lost her grip on one of my fingers, and consequently lost her footing. Instead of sitting or re-establishing her grip, she clamped down harder on the remaining “support” (i.e. my right finger). Her feet flew out from under her and the rest of her body entered a spinning pirouette along multiple axes – a centrifuge with my finger as its fulcrum.

Her final resting position had her upper torso on the ground, legs in the air supported by my calves, right hand still grasping that finger as if it mattered. I asked her if that was fun. She locked eyes with me, paused for a moment, then laughed way more than the situation called for.

Now, let’s just replace my finger with a doorknob or a handrail, my lower torso with a wall, and the floor with, well, the floor. I’m pretty sure that I’ve, uh, let’s just say, “seen some people” in that exact same position after Last Call. Probably laughing just as hysterically, too.

And the similarities aren’t just physical. Who, other than a lush or a baby, is likely to swing between happy and sad, pleased and pissed, on a moment’s notice, without being able to recall the previous emotion? My daughter has a noise that is half-laugh, half-cry. And when it appears, one of the two noises is mere seconds away from an onslaught. A quick move by me might influence which direction it goes. Or it might not. Sound like any alkies you know?

Who else, besides a drunk or a child, can fixate on mundane objects for a half-hour? Remember the video of David Hasselhoff eating a hamburger? I could totally see my daughter doing that, and it would probably be just as messy.

She also has been into stacking and sorting lately. She’ll take all of the  items in front of her and move them, one by one, behind her back. Then she’ll look around, astounded at where all of her missing items went. Tell me you’ve never played “hide an item from drunkie” before. Shoot, I’ve had people so drunk that we hide their drink from them. They look around like my daughter, murmuring “I swear I had a drink here,” before finding something else to fixate on. Like a disassembled hamburger.

I mentioned that I felt the drunken midget stage, a.k.a. toddling, is the last major milestone. I could hear the eye-rolling scoff from you parents out there. “Oh, just wait until talking or potty training or losing teeth or, I don’t know, differential calculus,” I hear you saying.  And yes, I know there are many more changes to come. But it seems to me that this is the last major physical hurdle. The rest seem to be more mental or developmental milestones. Baby talk might be just as cute as toddling, but there’s substantially less chance of them ending up with their ass on the ground. At least until they enter the “Drunken Sailor” phase.

The post-walking milestones, potty training and learning how to speak, also seem to be more of parenting milestones than baby milestones. Parents usually force the former, while parents are there to correct and guide the latter. But up through walking, the parent plays little role. “No, no, baby, that’s not the proper usage of the foot while standing.”

And really, should we even bother celebrating parenting milestones? Instead of milestones, they are more like signposts: “This way to good (or bad) parenting,” or “Blind curve ahead.”

And those parenting signposts are constant. I mean, seriously, how many wipes does it take to remove oatmeal from a forehead? Let’s get the Tootsie Pop Owl on that one.

During my first week of summer break, wherein we cut back on some daycare days in favor of Mr. Mom time, I took my baby to story time at the local library. Of course, she wanted to take a nap right before story time. So I put her down thinking no story time this week, maybe next time. But of course she wakes up without a moment to spare, so voila, there we were at the library.

I could not have been more out of place if you dropped me in the Sahara Desert.

First of all, I was the only male above the age of three. Then there’s the fact that the Stepford Wives that were there were all regulars. They knew all the songs, they knew all the dances, and the lady in charge knew all of their children by name.

To add to the “fish out of water” sensation, I walked in about five minutes late. Oh, and I hadn’t showered, because I still haven’t figured out that whole “when to shower when you’re the only adult in the house” trick.

My daughter was the only toddler not wearing shoes. I didn’t want to go all “The pediatric board doesn’t suggest that” on, but hey, I have science on my side.

Plus, for some reason, before I put my daughter down to take her nap, I had only buttoned one button on her onesie. Perhaps I was going to change it because it was also dirty from breakfast? I can’t remember, but sure enough, while we’re sitting there clapping our hands and hokey pokeying (hey, at least I knew the words to that one!), the one snap comes undone. Had she just been wearing the onesie, it probably wouldn’t have been very difficult to re-fasten. But no, I had thrown some cute little cargo pants over them, which her onesie stayed outside of. Oh, and did I mention it was still stained from breakfast?

So, here’s me and my daughter. Both unbathed, in dirty clothing, her onesie open and flapping about. She’s not wearing shoes. And we’re raining on the parade of the regular stay at home moms. They’re looking at the two of us like we’re the Clampetts busting in on their afternoon tea.

“Man, they just let anybody into the library these days. Shouldn’t they, like, require a membership card to get in?”

The other signpost I’ve recently seen is something I probably shouldn’t be proud of, but I totally am. We don’t watch a lot of TV around the baby. We’re not those “no screen time” parents or condescending “Better than you because the TV isn’t on” people. But hey, if wife and I sometimes aren’t home until 6:00 and the baby goes to bed at 8:00, maybe The Walking Dead can wait until 8:15.

As a bonus, when the TV is on, the baby doesn’t pay it much attention. A sport event, with its bright colors and fast movement, might catch her attention briefly, but then she’s back to sorting cups or engaging in thorough tests of the Law of Gravity.

Last weekend, my wife was flipping through channels while we were doing chores in the bedroom, and said “I’m guessing you want to watch this?” She was correct. And I wasn’t the only one. I was holding my daughter and she looked, too. I expected her to look away after a couple seconds, but she didn’t. She was tracking what was happening on the screen. It was bound to happen at some point.

What were we watching? None other than the 1980 classic, Airplane! Yep, she’s my daughter. And I’m sure it was a learning experience for her, too. Now she’ll know she has to choose wisely on which day to stop sniffing glue.

Or to stop being an Oompa Loompa blowing a .15

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?

Survivor: Baby

“Hi, I’m Phiff Preobsghan, and welcome to another week of Survivor: Baby. We’ve placed infants and new toddlers on Day Care Island and faced them with tasks both mundane and absurd. Which obstacles will they bounce off of, and which ones will they succumb to? Find out on tonight’s episode!”

(Cue mixture of infant crying and infant giggling over ominous drumbeat.)

“Oh no,” Baby Aiden says as the camera opens on five babies sitting in a loose circle on a blanket. “Where did Sophia go? She must have mmgidhf ggoihfmn…”

Aiden’s opening monologue becomes garbled as he shoves a neon green plastic sphere with hexagonal openings into his mouth.

“Did we vote her off the island last week?” asks Emma.

“Gargle margle haifdoi pakjn mmmmm,” responds Aiden.

“Give me that ball.”

The bendable hard plastic toy jingles as Emma grabs it out of Aiden’s mouth, causing all five babies to stare, entranced.

“Oh, thanks,” comes out of Aiden’s unimpeded vocal chords. “So now I can enunciate.”

“No,” Emma responds, moving the toy toward her own mouth. “I just wanted the ball.”

“But I want the Buh- BUH- BAAALLLLL!”

Aiden erupts into a screaming rage, followed shortly by Emma as the forgotten bauble rolls between them. The other three babies look over at the two who are crying, then begin crying themselves. The five part harmony causes Americans to suspect an Emergency Bulleting is about to come on the screen before Phiff, the host, walks in to calm the babies down.

“Shh, shh, “says Phiff in a soothing voice as he picks up the first cryer. “It’s okay, Aiden.”

As Aiden begins to calm down, Phiff picks Emily up in his other arm. He puts Aiden down and picks up Lily before repeating the process with Brayden and Caden. By the time the fifth child is gulping in oxygen like a smoker gasping through a tracheotomy, Aiden and Emma are raising the siren again. Five minutes pass before Phiff finally leaves the screen, leaving all five babies sitting in their original circle, breathing through cycles of three quick exhales broken up by a quadruple-inhale-in-a-single-suck.

Jayden puts his WubbaNub in his mouth and sucks three times before resting in a perfect Maggie Simpson impression. The popular pacifier brand attaches the hard blue sucker portion to a plush animal that the child can easily grasp and hold.

“Here,” Jayden says, pulling the hard blue plastic out of his mouth, “ take a hit off this binkie.”

He passes the pacifier to his left, where Maden takes hold of the plush red dragon handle. Three sucks on the plastic, a pause, then three more sucks and he feels safe, the paranoia gone.

“Ahhhh,” he says through a long exhale before passing the WubbaNub to the next child in the circle. ”Chasing the dragon,”

Lily topples over onto her side, either from boredom or lack of coordination. She does not seem to notice.

“Hey, where’s Sophia?” Aiden asks, as if for the first time.

“Did the SIDS Monster get her?” asks Laiden.

“I still think we might have voted her off last week,” responds Emma. “Then again, I can’t really remember any specific item more than a few minutes old. Hey, check out that green ball. I wonder if it will fit in my mouth!”

“I think Sophia just had a urinary tract infection,” offers Lily, lying on her side. “Something about having your girl parts ensconced in your own fecal matter on a regular basis.”

“I remember my first UTI,” says Emma in a dreamy voice. The TV screen flashes back to a previous episode, her parents frantically pacing around a tiny doctor’s office. The pediatrician is explaining that this is very common, that there is no reason to be alarmed, and that the catheter being jammed into their screaming, scorching-hot baby is actually the good news. After all, it could have been a nasty flu or cold. But this will just take a few days of some Keflex to clear up.

“Do you find it odd that we shit and piss ourselves with reckless abandon?” Dayden asks.

“Is there, grrr, any other, ungh, way?” Aiden asks from a reddened face with watering eyes.

“I mean, even cats are born with an instinct to bury their own shit,” Dayden continues. “So predators can’t find them. It’s a basic survivor thing.”

“This use of the word ‘survivor’ is brought to you by Babies Be Wee,” Phiff quickly voices over the conversation.

Dayden rolls his eyes at the interruption before continuing.

“My parents have some friends that have gone primal.”

“Like insane?” Zaden asks.

“I think so,” Dayden responds. “They only eat things that cavemen would eat. No carbs, no processed food. Just meat and plants.”

“I think that’s called paleo.”

“No, they’re primal, trust me.”

A long pause as the two boys stare at each other. Zaden falls over, then begins to roll over to mask his defeat in the war of wills.

“Anyway,” the victorious Dayden continues, “it got me thinking about the things we do in our first years and how we ever surv…” a glance up at the cameras, “uh, persevered as a species. We show up in this world leaving our excrement wherever we are. And our only way of communicating is crying at the top of our lungs. Doesn’t seem hard for the woolly mammoths to find and eat our forebears.”

“We also put everything in our mouth,” Zaden responds thoughtfully, trying to regain his sitting position but wobbling back amongst the toys on the ground. “Hey, a Weeble!”

“Exactly!” Dayden confirms. “I know starvation used to be an issue. But sticking every random thing into your mouth doesn’t seem the best way to make it to the age where you can procreate.”

“My dog eats his own vomit,” Emma offers, “and dogs are still around.”

Dayden shrugs to concede the point, unable to talk through the mouthful of Dr. Seuss book corner.

(Camera fades to Phiff standing in another room built to look like an arena. The walls feature murals of gladiators in the Roman Coliseum.)

“Welcome to this week’s Survival Challenge.

“If you remember, there were many complaints about last week’s challenge. We thought we’d filled the arena with thousands of potentially deadly objects. Sharp corners, rock-hard outcroppings, drops from precarious heights onto tile flooring. Our test subjects, all adults, were in various states of disrepair for weeks. Concussions, lacerations, broken bones. The show almost went out of business based on the Worker’s Comp claims.

“But when the babies went through the gauntlet, there was nary a scratch. These kids are made out of damned rubber.

“This week, we googled the leading causes of damage to babies. To see who can truly surv-”

(Phiff disappears and is replaced by the six babies.)

“-vive. Hey, survive! We’ve got to get the name in!” Phiff’s voice-over concludes.

The children all gasp.

“Blankets!” Emma’s eyes open wide.

“Bubble wrap!” Sophia gasps.

“Pillows!” Yaiden, Xaden, and Quayden all whisper in awe.

“It’s the lair of the SIDS Monster!” Lily screams.

“There is no SIDS Monster,” Sophia says.

“Yes, there is, it got Sophia” Lily turns. “Oh, hi, Sophia!”

“There was no SIDS Monster. I took the morning off for vaccinations.”

Sophia ignores the disapproving glance from Vaughden, who everyone knows is not vaccinated. Vaughden coughs out a giant whoop.

“The SIDS Monster is real,” Lily continues. “He swoops in and takes completely heathy babies just crawling around, minding their own business, right in front of their parents, for no reason. He’s like the counter to Santa Claus.”

“I think that’s Krampus,” says Phaidin. “I think SIDS is just suffocation.”

“If they knew the cause of SIDS,” Lily responds, “they wouldn’t name it something vague and obscure like Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. I mean, think of that. It’s sudden, and it’s a syndrome, meaning what? Like you can catch it or something. Like you catch this syndrome and suddenly, Poof, you’re dead. There’s no preventing it.”

“Except for sleeping on our back,” offers Ray-den. “Boy, I remember the first time I rolled over in my sleep. My parents walked in and freaked out, ‘OMG, OMG, you could’ve DIED!’ Dad ran to the magical contraption that sits on his lap to check an Inter-site-dot-com or something. And guess what it said? Even after we can roll over onto our stomachs, we can still die until the age of one year. So it actually, dig this, tells the parents to watch us as we sleep and not let us roll over. How feasible is that? Stand over me while I sleep? For the next six months? That would cause Sudden Parent Death Syndrome, I’m thinking.”

“I don’t see what the big deal is,” says Taden, lying back onto one of the blankets in the room.

He turns his newly stable neck to the side, then attempts to bring his hand from underneath the blanket to his mouth, but only succeeds in smothering his entire face with the blanket.

A CGI Monster swoops in to remove Taden from the screen as a clean edit causes him to disappear.

“Cause of removal from Survivor: Baby is a blanket,” Phiff walks in from the side doing his best Rod Serling impression. “As Dayden said at the beginning, how the hell did the human race survive? Then again, wait till next week when Dayden himself will have a deadly encounter with a non-child proofed bookshelf.”

“Until next week, keep on breathing and avoid the SIDS!”