Monday, January 31, 2011

Table Abuse and the Terrible Two's

            The table was handed down to me from my grandfather. It’s a beautiful Teak table that expands to banquet lengths if needed. A good family friend took the time to refinish it, and when we moved into our new home it was beautiful, immaculate, and a pleasure to look at.
            The first thing Michelle did was protect it with a permanent tablecloth. Two weeks of constantly replacing soiled cloths that never did look anywhere near as nice as the table finally made me put my foot down.
            “This is a beautiful table. I want to see it.”
            Michelle looked me in the eye and didn’t argue.
            After that, we were able to see the table in all its glory. It proved to hold up well to playdough, watercolors, and regular dining. I was proud of my decision, and happy to see it every day.
            Until last week.
            I was washing dishes when I heard a terrible “scratching” sound coming from the table where Celia was eating. I looked over to see her gouging the table with her fork.
            “Celia! Stop!”
            I rushed over and pulled the fork out of her hand. But the damage had been done. Yes, we communicated our sadness and switched her to plastic utensils, but the question remains:
            What exactly are the “Terrible Two’s”?
            Part of me wishes I had more time to read the technical parenting books so that I could understand and catch the fiascos before they occur. But then I think that’s not really going to help. Nobody can prevent a two-year-old from exploring. They’re not only figuring out the world around them, they’re figuring out the world within. And although they have an idea of what’s acceptable behavior and what’s not, sometimes they just want to give a new idea a try and see for themselves.
            Celia is an unbelievably good child. She’s well behaved, listens to us 95% of the time, and generally communicates what she needs. But she’s two. And like every two-year-old, as her personality develops, so do her flaws. Every step of her development seems to be giving me a positive and a negative reaction.
            She is starting to show strong preferences.
            I smile every time I see her strip down and put on her Christmas tutu so she can twirl and bob in front of the mirror. But then, it gets frustrating when she won’t eat the dinner we made her and ends up either eating nothing or a piece of toast.
            She is starting to figure out how something she’s heard integrates with real life.
            I was thrilled when she said to me, “I’m going to wash my hands because I don’t want the germs to get me sick.” Yay! Personal hygiene is every parents’ dream. But then last night I was surprised when I was putting her to bed. She suddenly bunched up into a ball underneath the covers and said, “Daddy, I’m hiding from the monsters.”
            Where on earth did she hear about monsters at night?! I’ve tried my darndest to keep that from her – but I suppose our pop culture at large will eventually do its work to penetrate her two-year-old brain.
            I quickly said to her, “There are no monsters in your room. I always make sure of that. And monsters don’t exist, so you don’t have to worry.”
            Celia continued to stay in her ball, so I went on, “And that night light over there is a magic night light. If monsters did exist, it would scare them off. So you’ll never have to worry about monsters ever again.”
            Why do I have a feeling that this was just the first time I’ll be hearing about monsters at bedtime, and not the last?
            Because she’s two. And things like monsters, picky eating, and gouging at the table with a fork are all standard accoutrements in the two-year-old palate.
            So what do we do about the table?
            I showed my sister-in-law a couple of days ago, and she said, “Ten years from now, you’ll look at those scratches and think, ‘Ah, remember when Celia was two and used to scratch the table? Those were the days.’”
            I’m not sure it’ll happen exactly that way, but I do think she’s right. I’m going to let it go. This is why people don’t buy expensive furniture till the kids have moved out. What’s the point.
            It’s going to get well-used, so we’d better get well-used to it.

Friday, January 21, 2011

The Lonely Factor

            Having kids can be a lonely affair.
            All free time becomes inundated with diapered clamor leaving so little precious time to get out with other people. Especially when the kids are sick and puking.
            In my case, the loneliness is intensified because we moved to a new town, but I think there’s something to be said for any family with little ones running around – it’s harder to keep up a social life than it used to be.
            Every time I’ve moved somewhere new I’ve made good friends within a few months. Usually those friends are ones I’ve kept to this day. But this time, it’s different. I moved here almost half a year ago and I still have no friends.
            I’m talking about the kind of person I’d think to call on a Friday night and say, “Hey, stop on by. We’re not doing anything.” Doing nothing with someone is truly the sign of great friendship. The most profound, funny, and memorable moments seem to come when you can simply be yourself around someone and not worry about all the other stuff.
            It’s hard being lonely, especially when I was living in a place with such a tight community. Leaving was one of the hardest decisions of my life.
            The biggest encouragement I feel is knowing that this won’t last forever. One day in the not-too-distant future our kids will mature enough so that I’ll be able to get out and get involved in things, and eventually I’ll meet people who will become friends.
            Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to perk me up much today.
            Stuck at home again on a Friday night.
            Two sick kids and a quiet house.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Book Lover

            Celia started ripping books.
            The first time she ripped a book, I made a big deal about how it ruins the book and I made her sit down with me to tape it back up.
            I patted myself on the back. That should be the end of that, I figured.
            The second time she ripped a book, I made a big deal about how it ruins the book, and told her she wouldn’t be able to read it until we fixed it, which might be awhile since I was busy. She watched me put it up on a high shelf where she couldn’t reach it anymore.
            The third time, I discovered the book next to her bed when I checked on her at night. It was a “Noah’s Ark” book where you lift the flaps to find all the animals throughout. Every single flap had been ripped out, probably close to a hundred in all. I stared at the mess quietly as my daughter nestled her head into the pillow, and silently picked up the book with all the stray pieces of paper and put it into her closet to postpone deciding what to do with it.
            The fourth time, she was sitting on her potty reading, which I’ve always thought to be a delightful habit of hers that makes her seem more grown up, and she started ripping, for the second time, her favorite book.
            “Celia! What are you doing?!” I asked, rushing in to take the book from her.
            “I’m ripping it.” Celia looked at me straight-faced. A simple answer for a simple question.
            “But why?” I asked, trying to piece together the stray thoughts of a two-year-old.
            “It’s my favorite,” Celia said seriously. “I want to eat it.”
            I shook my head. “Celia,” I crouched down and showed her the ripped book, “When you rip it, it’s broken. Sometimes it’ll stay broken forever. Do you understand?”
            “Yes,” Celia said.
            “I’m taking this book away from you. Do you understand why?”
            I put the book on a high shelf and wondered when it would stop.
            The fifth time Celia ripped one of Michelle’s favorite books. It was at least thirty years old, and had been in pristine condition, a delightful little book about the games kids play.
            Michelle’s face changed color, “That’s it! No more books for you! We’re taking them away until you grow out of this.”
            I stared at her with wide eyes. It wasn’t what I expected, but as I thought about it, it made sense. Celia watched as Michelle cleared seven different shelves of all the books, and put them into plastic bins. She left the bin that was most difficult to open next to the story-time chair, where I could still read her stories at night, but the rest disappeared into the closet.
            Who knows how long we’ll have to wait. A few weeks? A few months? But one thing’s for sure, Celia has stopped ripping books.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Road Trips and Resolutions

            The week before Christmas no single day has enough hours for all the shopping, errands, social events, and taking care of basic human needs of any one individual. My family participates in numerous feasts, caroling door-to-door, and gift exchanges which every year we promise to keep minimal but always end up huge anyway (a brand new dishwasher for my parents is definitely not keeping it “minimal”!).
            This year was particularly jam-packed, since we woke up early the day after Christmas and packed the van to the ceiling for a twelve hour road trip to a Vancouver wedding. I was semi-curious and mostly apprehensive about how the squeezed hours crammed together in one small confinement would pan out.
            The long stretches of wailing required constant problem-solving, a simpler task with Celia, who could be consoled with an iPod playing the Wiggles, compared to Joshua, who didn’t seem like happiness was within his grasp for hours at a time.
            “My mother had it so much easier,” I said to Michelle as the baby shrieked and she looked at me with weary eyes.
            “What do you mean?” she asked.
            “They didn’t even use seatbelts then, let alone car seats. When we were babies she even breastfed us while driving!”
            Michelle shook her head. We both agree that our knowledge of how car seats save lives prevents us from doing that, but in all honesty, I did feel tremendously jealous of my mother’s generation in that moment. Ignorance is bliss. More deadly, but definitely more blissful.
            We tried quiet. We tried loud. We tried vibrating him. We tried leaving him alone. We tried feeding him (with Michelle craned over the car seat awkwardly for the most ridiculous nursing posture I’ve seen to date). We tried entertaining him. In the end, the only thing that made him stop crying was to stop the van and take him out. Not a great way to make up lost time on a road trip.
            The ten-hour trip turned into twelve-and-a-half going there, and even more coming back. Joshua cried so much he lost his voice. Celia and I took it better than Michelle. Celia had her headphones and her Wiggles. As for me, I do this guy-thing where I just shut off the part of my brain where the crying sits, and my mind wanders to other things.
            Poor Michelle.
            I was daydreaming about a recent movie I’d seen when Michelle said, “I think I’m going to cry.”
            I looked at her startled. My mind snapped out of it’s holiday and I heard the screaming of our son again. “Um… why?” I asked foolishly.
            “He’s so upset. I wish I could do something to help him.”
            I instantly felt like a big jerk. How easily I seem to not care about people, even my closest loved ones! I nodded my head and took the next exit for an overdue break.
            The trip wasn’t all bad, mind you. We had delightful moments of peace where both kids slept and we gazed into each other’s eyes (albeit briefly) and said, “We have it so good.” We reflected on our favorite moments from Christmas – mine was realizing how my daughter’s favorite gift was a tutu while my nephew’s favorite gift was pirate swords – the gender differences are already emerging!
            Michelle was grateful for living in Montana and being able to sleep in our own bed but still spend Christmas morning with the whole family. We reflected on our blessed lives as we made our way slowly up to Canada.
            Attending a wedding with children is not so much about enjoying the ceremony but showing support by simply being there. Because let’s face it, neither Michelle nor I were able to sit through half the ceremony with our squirmy kids. Even so, I was glad we made it, not just for the wedding, but all the countless friends we spent time with over the next twelve days.
            I enjoy living in Montana, but I admit that moving to a new place has been lonely. In Vancouver, where there are literally dozens of close friends who did their best to spend time with us, I was reminded that I am loved and supported.
            In some ways it makes living away from all those friends all that more painful. But it also helps me back here in Montana, because I know I’m actually not on my own. Sure, I can’t hang out with them or give them big hugs from seven-hundred miles away, but I do feel reassured.
            Already the reality of life is setting in again. Bills are arriving, and the Christmas hangover has begun – “We spent how much money!?! On what!?” I’m starting to feel stressed, and it’s helpful to pause and remember highlights from the trip.
            The most memorable moment for me was sitting out on the front porch on our last night smoking a Cuban cigar with a few core friends. Not because the cigar was so amazing (although it was), but because we took that moment of quiet to listen to each other. My friend Joyce asked everyone what their New Year’s Resolutions were.
            Not surprisingly, none of us had any to start with, but as people started to share, we all came up with good ones. I don’t usually make “resolutions,” because I believe that we need to be discerning about positive direction in life every day, but it was good to put words to where my heart was leaning for growth this coming year, and to hear my friends do the same.
            I think resolutions are intended not so much to make us feel guilty if we don’t accomplish them, but to get us thinking about what it is we really want in life. If we don’t put words to what our heart has been telling us, how will we be reminded what direction we should be heading in when things get messy?
            Raising kids is like that a lot of the time. Sometimes I find myself coasting in my role as a dad. And it’s so easy to do. We develop our routines and our systems for doing things, and as long as nobody complains, we keep at it. In these moments I find I need to shake my head, turn to my kids, and pour renewed love and energy into them.
            At the end of a long day I may be tired and they may be perfectly content to let me be, but if I smother them with attention, not only does it bring light to their faces, it cheers me up considerably too. I hope I can set aside my worries and stresses long enough to dive fully into fatherhood. What’s the point of being a dad if you don’t do it well?