Monday, December 16, 2013

Year One, Month Ten Musings

Velociraptors. From the perspective of the parents’ ability to contain and restrain their child, there are a few game-changing moments that happen over the first few years. The first is once they start crawling. Hello baby-proofing the house, needing to clean your floors daily to prevent your child from turning all their clothes black (or in our case, not – and just buying dark colored clothes), and needing to worry about having barriers at the steps. This one is fairly easy to accomplish, as the parents maintain a pretty significant height advantage, and can cover ground a lot faster walking than a baby can crawling. The second change comes once they start walking. Suddenly you REALLY need to baby-proof the house (not just 12 inches up from the floor), move breakables to top shelves, and put locks on your cabinets to prevent them from drinking cleaning supplies – or even worse, your booze. It’s a little more annoying – I can’t tell you how many times I still go to throw open a drawer only to be foiled by its baby-proofing -  but you once you establish a safe perimeter, you can feel okay in leaving your child alone there for short periods of time.

The third game changer? When your child gains the ability to open doors.

Remember that scene in Jurassic Park where the characters think they are safe, hiding behind a closed door? Then they discover that velociraptors have discovered a way to open doors and it was total chaos? It’s the same thing with kids.

Suddenly, simply closing doors isn’t enough. You have to lock them. Easier said than done.

For some kids, I’m sure this isn’t a big deal. But in the case of Jackson, he might as well be the president of the Jim Morrison fan club. Ever since he has been able to walk, one of his favorite pastimes is opening the front door, then trying to shut himself in between the main door and the glass screen door. He would hang out in there, completely silent for a few minutes, then throw the door open with a big smile. Over the years, this has developed into a much more elaborate ritual. He’ll now grab a set of keys (toy, or real – if he can snag them from me or KB), tell us “bye”, blow us a kiss, and then go into the door. He’s basically telling us “guys, I don’t like you and can’t wait to leave you”. Adorable.

However, now we have to be uber-vigilant to make sure that front screen door is locked all the time. Otherwise, we might think he’s playing hide-and-seek for a few minutes only to find that he’s busted free and taken the car for a joy ride down the street. This sounds pretty easy – but the screen door can only be locked and unlocked from the inside. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve left the house via the garage, then tried to re-enter a few hours later via the front door only to be stymied. Then there’s all the times when someone visits our house, and gets motioned by me to come inside – only to find that they can’t… and then I have to throw two cats off me and get up from the couch to let them in. It sounds like I’m being super lazy here, it’s enough of an annoyance that we don’t lock the screen door by default 100% of the time.

Currently, Jackson is able to open and close bar handled doors, but can only close knobbed doors. That means we’ve only got to worry about approximately 10% of the doors in our house. However, school is a much different story.

Apparently there is some real or imaginary law about not locking doors at Jackson’s school. I get it – it’s an “open door” policy that allows parents to bust in at any time and ensure that their child isn’t in a cage or being forced into sweatshop labor. However, they also have a bar handled door that leads from his classroom into the hallway... and if my kid can open doors, I’m pretty sure that the majority of the kids in his class can do the same. You want to talk about being attacked by velociraptors? Step foot into a classroom full of 1-2 year olds. Maybe they’re starved for grown-up attention. Maybe you’re just something shiny and new that they don’t see all day. Maybe they can sense that my pockets are laden with keys, iPhones, and other things they’d love to play with. But whatever it is, they’re ON YOU as soon as you set foot in the room. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – I have no idea how those teachers do it.

Upon a recent visit, I found my child using a foam block to create a step to reach the paper towel dispenser. He’d grab one, then go and pretend to clean off the table. Then he’d throw the paper towel away and repeat. When I went to stop Jackson from doing it, his friend Cooper (“Coop Coop”), used the same foam block to play with the water in the sink. When the teacher pulled Coop Coop off the block, another child went and started hanging from the sink, swinging back and forth. The teachers are outnumbered like 10-2! How in the world can they prevent the inmates from overtaking the asylum!? Even worse, how do they prevent the inmates from escaping the asylum? How often do kids escape out the door while the teachers are busy keeping other kids out of trouble? Twice a day? Twice an hour? There’s a water fountain directly across the hall. I have a hard time believing that Jackson doesn’t spend the majority of his time at school plotting how to get out there and press the button to turn it on and off repeatedly. Is it like prison, where he trades the chicken nuggets from his lunch to bribe some other kid to distract the teachers? Or have the teachers somehow succeeded in teaching the kids to stay away from the door?

I’m skeptical. If Jurassic Park taught me anything, it’s that you can’t keep dinosaurs or toddlers locked up for long. Somehow “life finds a way”…

Mr. Popular. Speaking of school, it’s been a pretty interesting month. There were numerous occasions where I had the honor of dropping Jackson off, picking him up, and even attending a Thanksgiving lunch (which was a great opportunity to torture the kids – but more on that later). When Jackson approaches the classroom, the kids who see him shout out “Jackson!” (ironically, most of them saying his name much better than he can say his own name, which is more like “Da Dack”) – it’s like Norm walking into Cheers. At first, I thought nothing of it, assuming that every child who came to school got the same treatment. But then I noticed that this wasn’t the case. The teachers would make comments like “Oh yeah, Madeline was wondering when Jackson was going to get here”. At Thanksgiving lunch, grandparents of some of the other kids said things like “Oh, this is the Jackson that we hear so much about!” followed by the teachers confirming “Yeah, everyone knows Max and Jackson.” Hell, before Madeline’s mom left at Thanksgiving lunch she told her daughter “Go give Jackson a hug”.

What’s going on here? No offense to my lovely wife or myself, but why is Jackson Mr. Popular at school?

Is it because he’s a trouble maker? I’ve confirmed with his teachers that he has his “crew” at work – consisting of Jackson, Max, and Cooper. I’ve seen the work of Jackson and Coop Coop. It looks like the work of criminal masterminds. Are they the rebels that all the other kids look up to?

Is it because he’s got an easy name? According to the Internet, Jackson was the #1 boy name in 2013. That drove KB crazy (to which I assured her that he’s a boy and will spend his entire life going by his last name, like me), but it increases the odds that the kids in his class have a Jackson in their family or neighborhood – and it’s a name they’re already familiar with.

Is it because he’s hot stuff? The ladies obviously like him, which makes sense. He dresses quite stylish thanks to 90% of his wardrobe coming from our friends’ kids, who have much better taste than I do. He could just be reaping the benefits of them being trendy and buying their kids something more than solid colored T-shirts and sweatpants.

Is it because he could care less about anyone else in school and just does his own thing all day? Could it be that adage about not caring about what other people think really does make you cool? I’ve seen glimpses of my child playing at school – I can’t recall him ever truly interacting with another kid while he’s playing. He’s usually off doing his own thing, or playing with toys while other kids hang out nearby and attempt to hug him. Is he Mr. Independent that all the other kids like because he’s already too cool for school?

I have absolutely no idea, but do find it ironic that my son will probably be the most popular that he’ll ever be in life at an age where he has no concept of it and could care less. On second thought, maybe that’s a good thing!

Full Assing It. Finally this month, a topic that made much more sense when I started this blog post back in November (I know, I know – I’m a slacker!). Jackson has always been somewhat of a perfectionist. You might find this difficult to believe, given that he usually has half of any given meal on his shirt and caked into his hair, but this kid has a very strong sense of right, wrong, and order – and when something is out of order, it’s unacceptable. Take the aforementioned doors for example. At some point over the past month, Jackson has decided that the natural state of doors is to be closed. If he sees an open door, he shuts it. This is great for times that we forget to shut the door to our downstairs basement – but somewhat annoying when we’re trying to run out the door to school and work, but have to stop and wait for him to shut every door upstairs before heading down the steps. He’ll shout “uh oh!” and point to the open door, then leap from my arms and run over to shut it before proudly walking back, thinking he just prevented catastrophe. Good work, bud.

However, the fall season has proved to be a little bit traumatic for the Monk – because in his mind, the natural state of leaves is in trees – and if they’re on the ground, that’s an “uh oh!” Over the past few weeks, I’ve slowly gotten him to accept that there is nothing “uh oh!” about leaves on the ground. Showing him that we can just brush them off the driveway, rake them into a pile in the grass, or throw them in the air for entertainment. When he’s climbing up the steps of our deck, he’ll stop on each step, shout “uh oh!” and then swipe all of the leaves off of the step before moving on to the next step and repeating the process. Similarly, when picking up sticks in the yard, I’ll casually toss them over towards the pile of debris in the corner of our yard. Jackson needs to walk it over to the pile and make sure it lands in just the right place on top – otherwise, it’s another “uh oh!” with him running to make sure that stick ends up in the right place.

A popular kid that does things right and doesn’t take the easy way out? I’m questioning more and more if he’s my child with every passing day.

Now that it’s December and snowy, there’s a whole new problem – snow. Jackson loves seeing it on the ground, likes saying “sno!”, and was seemingly very excited to go out and play in it for the first time… until he touched it, and realized that it stayed on his gloves after he removed them from the snow. That was NOT the natural state of his gloves and he freaked out, wanting that snow OFF his gloves as soon as possible. As you can imagine, this makes playing in the snow quite difficult. We attempted a little sled riding, with him on top of me to prevent any part of him from touching the snow, but that got old pretty fast. So at least for this year, it doesn’t look likely that Jackson’s going to be spending a whole lot of time frolicking in the snow. I guess it’s a good thing we’ve yet to invest in “boots” for him, and instead are using his shoes, wrapped in a plastic bag, held in place with a rubber band, with some of Kate’s thick socks wrapped over the top. Classy.

On second thought, maybe this “afraid of snow” thing is just a ruse to avoid being seen outside with these contraptions on his feet. After all, he has a cool kid reputation to keep up…

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Year One, Month Eight Musings

Let’s be honest, the surprising thing about last month wasn’t that there was no blog post. It was that I actually made it a year and a half keeping up with my monthly updates. Given how busy life can be, carving out an hour or so every month to sit down and write a witty, insightful, heart-touching, grammatically correct blog can be tough – but even tougher can be finding worthwhile topics to discuss. I feel like the blog has gone through some very clearly defined phases over the past year and a half. There were the initial posts pre-Jackson about the whole “process” of having a baby, and all the craziness that went along with it. Then there were the first post-Jackson posts that basically were about the changes to life that a baby brings, along with all the “first time” topics. But recently, we’re into the “gradual update” stage. There are still some “firsts” here and there – but once you’ve got a kid who can walk, semi-talk, and has some personality, there are much fewer distinguishable items that stand out on a monthly basis worthy of writing about. The days start to bleed together into a relative sense of normalcy – and it just becomes “life”, which has its fair share of highlights and lowlights, but they’re generally much more subtle.

So having said all that, the primary reason there was no Blog last month was more due to a lack of material than a lack of time. One of the things I’ve found over the years is that if I don’t have good source material to work with – if I’m not inspired to the point where my fingers just rapidly rattle of thousands of words without much effort – the Blog posts tend to suck. They’re forced, they lack the normal witty spark, and I finish them by posting them and saying “well, that was garbage. I hate it.” Rather than doing that last month, I just skipped a month – it seemed like as good a time as any to take a breather, given that we just hit the year and a half mark with the Monk. Now I’m refreshed and have some new things to write about – at least for this month. There’s always the chance that I run dry again next month, so the Blog may be a little more sporadic from time to time – but rest assured that I’m doing this for your benefit, to ensure that the quality remains high and that there aren’t any months where I’m just mailing it in.

Mailing It In. On the other hand, I’m totally fine with mailing it in every once in a while when it comes to parenting. Take this past weekend for example. KB and I were in the running for the elusive (and imaginary) “Parent of the Year” award that we always joke about winning when we do things like forget to change Jackson’s diaper for 6 hours. But we had an action packed weekend, taking him to visit a fire station and sit inside fire trucks, getting pictures of him taken at the mall, visiting his Grandma and Grandpa’s house to play with all their fun toys, and then going on a Pumpkin Patch train ride, which combined two of his favorite things – trains and pumpkin throwing (no matter how much we try to teach him that pumpkins aren’t for throwing). Needless to say, when Sunday afternoon rolled around, I had pretty much maxed out my parenting juice and was ready for beer, football, and couch. I was perfectly content to mail it in and let Jackson play with his trucks on the couch while learning how to scream at the TV during a Bengals game.

This was a foreign concept to my overachieving wife.

But let’s be honest here, how much parenting to kids really need? Isn’t there the risk that spending all day every day doing engaging activities with a child is going to turn them into someone with ADD, who constantly needs new and exciting things to keep them happy? Isn’t there something to be said for kids learning to be happy entertaining themselves with simple objects. You call it lazy parenting, I call it “teaching kids to use their imagination”.

(Side note: It must be paying off, because this month I saw Jackson use his imagination for the first time. Playing in his crib, he would walk to the one side, pick up something and carry it in his outstretched hands and then set it down on the other side of the crib. He repeated this a few times before going back to playing with real toys. It was pretty cool to see – and either a sign that he’s got an active, functioning brain, or that he’s stolen some invisible toys from rich kids school… you know, the kind who can afford invisible toys.)

Granted, I’m not advocating for plopping the kid down in front of the TV and walking away for two hours (only for like a half hour when you REALLY need to get dinner cooking) – but if I’m nearby, occasionally making comments and ensuring that Jackson isn’t jumping head-first off the couch (which he is prone to do), it seems perfectly reasonable to spread out a few toys and see how he can entertain himself during an afternoon of football. It also led to some pretty hilarious moments. At one point, I jumped off the couch and yelled “GO, GO, GO!” Jackson looked at me and then said “go go go” while shaking his fist. I’ve never been so proud. Then, since it was a Bengals game, there were numerous occasions where I screamed “NO!” at the TV and fell to the ground in despair. Jackson mimicked me on this one as well, which was easy to do since that’s somewhat his favorite word… even though he doesn’t know what it means.

No. Jackson has a number of “go to” words – words that he says all the time, even when they don’t apply to the situation. Phrases like “a bus” and “dig dig dig”. Given that some of his favorite things in the world are buses and construction equipment (or really, any vehicles), it’s not surprising that he loves saying these words. He’s a hawk when it comes to spotting things that he likes. When driving in a car, a bus can be right next to him or a hundred yards in front of him and he’ll see it in his mirror and scream “A BUS!” When we wake up in the morning and open the blinds on our windows, you can faintly see the tops of buses at a school a mile away. He sees them and screams “A BUS!” As we fly past roadside construction equipment at 80 miles per hour (if Kate is driving) or 67 miles per hour (if I’m driving), he’ll shout “DIG DIG DIG!” It’s really quite impressive. Given his uncanny ability to spot these things, we’ll often give him the benefit of the doubt, assuming that he really did see a bus but we didn’t – or saw something that looked like a bus, but was really a mini-van or Jerome Bettis.

But then there’s the times when we’re doing something like sitting on our bed reading a book about dogs and he’ll point to one and say “A BUS!” Although his vocabulary is increasing with each passing day, it’s almost as if since he doesn’t know any other words to exclaim happiness, he just uses things that make him happy – like buses. When he gets all fired up about something, you can bet there’s going to be a “DIG DIG DIG” coming your way, accompanied by him pretending to dig furiously with his hand. We’ve grown to accept (and love) these Jackson catch phrases.

The word “no” is something altogether.

Jackson understands what “no” means. He uses it correctly a lot of the time.

“Jackson, do you want me to change your diaper?”

“Jackson, do you want to go inside and eat dinner?”

“Jackson, do you want to do a fashion show for your mommy with the new clothes she just bought?”

But it’s almost as though he’s come to expect that anything we ask of him is going to be something that we want him to do, but he isn’t going to like. As spoiled as this kid is, it’s somewhat shocking that at least part of him doesn’t think “wait a minute, maybe Dada and AmMa are trying to give me something I want” (yep, somehow Kate has gone from MaMa to AmMa over the past month. It’s weird, but now I’ve come to accept it and call her that almost exclusively). Does he really think we are plotting against him in everything we say and do? Are we that much of a buzz-kill already? I guess all we can do is mess with him, knowing that the answer is going to be “no” regardless, to try and create funny moments that we can capture on video to mock him with at some point in the future:

 “Jackson, do you want to eat an avocado?”

 “Jackson, do you have a nose?”

 “Jackson, do you want to go to the Construction Equipment and Bus Expo, hosted by Elmo?”

Diggers. Speaking of construction equipment, I’ve recently come to realize how quickly kids make you feel dumb. Admittedly, I’m not the most handy guy in the world (understatement). I’ve never worked construction, which is why I don’t wear jeans to work. But when you have a kid, you feel obligated to tell them what everything is, as a way of educating them about the world around them… including all the various trucks and equipment building the new school and playground near our house. Some are easy – dump trucks, tractors, cement mixers. But then you start getting into the gray area of things like Bobcats. You know Bobcats, the small bulldozer-y things that are pretty common at most construction sites:

Thinking that they were similar to Kleenex, where everyone calls them by a brand name rather than some generic term, I was taken aback when Kate started explaining to Jackson that it was a “digger”.

Excuse me? That’s racist.

So imagine my surprise when I then found that there are entire books devoted to – and titled – “Diggers”. You mean this isn’t something that my wife made up to name something she wasn’t familiar with (like how she calls football helmets “hats”)? Over the past few months, due to my son’s love of “diggers”, I’ve come to learn a lot about them. There are thousands of videos on the internet of diggers just doing construction work. Three months ago, I’d be asking myself who in the world would put something up on the internet, let alone who would watch it. Now I’ve seen all of them. I know the various parts of the diggers (or “excavators”, as they are called if you’re being fancy). I know all the various uses for them and have seen them come in all sizes, big and small. Heck, I’ve technically broken the law to let my son play on them. It’s a whole new world that I knew exactly zero about pre-Jackson. Look at him, expanding my boundaries already.

If only you knew what your kid was going to like before they were born, you’d have time to prep on learning all about it in advance (when you still have free time to do things like read books and surf the internet without having to split the screen and have YouTube up on half of it with videos of dump trucks).

Sounds. There is one area that probably should be a mandatory part of all child birth classes – learning the sounds that every single creature in the animal kingdom makes. This seems like the common thread among all kids – regardless of what they are going to be interested in as they grow up, they all know how to make animal noises when they’re young. Jackson can say the name of one, maybe two types of animals. But he can make the sound of any animal you can throw at him. Actually, even beyond animals, Jackson specializes in making the sounds of everything from police cars to motorcycles. But with animals, they really should have parents practice in advance, because if you don’t know how to make the right sound, you’re setting your child up for a lifetime of mockery in school and around his friends.

Listening to someone else make animal noises is a very telling activity. If someone just says the words like “meow”, it means they’re not really much fun. If someone actually meows like a cat (which is more of a “re-ow” sound, it means they’re getting into it and probably are going to be pretty fun if they get a few beers in them. The tricky thing is when you get to animal sounds that aren’t obvious. Cats, dogs, sheep, cow – no problem.

What about a fish? Jackson dominates fish sounds, basically making bubble sounds with his mouth. Genius. I would have never thought of that and probably would have just said “swim swim swim”.

What about animals even harder than a fish? Jackson has a book of animal sounds where there is a caterpillar in it. Really? I’m fairly certain they are 100% quiet. When you push the button, it makes this crazy “woop woop woop” sound, so now Jackson assumes that’s the sound they make. Lies!

There needs to be a cheat sheet. There needs to be some international standard on what sounds things like – or at least the makers of children’s books and toys need to stop including things like guinea pigs (no idea), giraffes (neck neck neck?), and foxes (what does the fox say?). As it exists today, it’s just setting me up for feeling like a failure and making me a disappointment in my son’s eyes, who assumes I know the answers to everything in the world. Thankfully, he doesn’t know any better – yet. But at some point, he’s going to come storming home from school yelling “why didn’t you tell me that caterpillars don’t make noises?! I was the laughing stock of school!”

Monday, August 19, 2013

Year One, Month Six Musings

The Mamas and the Dadas. One of the things that I find hugely ironic is that Jackson’s daily report card often features some note about a Spanish word that he allegedly learned at school that day. Really? Given that he knows a total of about ten one-syllable words, it seems like they should maybe focus on teaching him some more English words first, right? Or at least teaching him that words can extend beyond a one consonant, one vowel sound? As it is, he’s learning how to say “purple” in Spanish rather than learning how to say “hello” in English.

I think one of the unintended side effects of this Spanish influence is that Jackson has begun to associate everything with either Mama or Dada. Given that every noun in Spanish is either masculine (El) or feminine (La), I can only assume this is a byproduct of this Spanish education. Initially, KB and I thought this was simply Jackson being an idiot. “No, son – that’s not Dada. That’s a car. Say CAR.” To which he would stare with a puzzled look at me, followed by pointing to the car again and saying “dada”. But over time, we realized that he’s using “mama” and “dada” to identify objects that he can’t say – but associating them with whoever is more closely tied to that object.

For example, the shower is “dada”. Although my wife takes as many – if not more – showers that I do, she showers while Jackson is still sleeping in the morning. I’m the one who is always in the shower while he’s playing, and the one that he always sees when he pulls back the curtain and tosses toys under my feet while showering.

On the other hand, cans of pop are “mama”. Again, although I enjoy a whiskey and Coke as much as the next guy, I’m always drinking them while Jackson is asleep – whereas his mother drinks her LaCroix all throughout the day.

At this point, it’s become a fun game to see what he associates with each of us. Cars that look like my car are “dada”. Cars that look like Kate’s car are “mama”. Nalgene bottles are “mama”. The TV is “dada”. The greatest moment of Kate’s year thus far occurred when Jackson pointed to the Victoria’s Secret catalogue and identified it as “mama”, even though I probably spent far more time reading the articles inside. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that he’ll eventually point to a Miller Lite or giant plate of nachos and call them “dada”.

Or, you know, keeping my fingers crossed that he’ll eventually learn the real words for things.

Anger. Speaking of learning new things, this month marked the first new emotion that Jackson has learned since his first laughs when he was only a few months old. Ever since the Monk was born, whenever he would be crying a ton (or NOT laughing at things which I thought were hilarious – stupid kids not getting my sharp sense of humor), I would always ask him “why so serious?” (like the Joker in The Dark Knight, which drives my wife absolutely crazy). But up until this month, that serious face was the low end of his emotional spectrum. While he’s still the happiest kid ever, Jackson now has developed a new emotional expression – his angry face.

Furrowing his brown and looking at you with a harsh look of distrust, his angry face usually accompanies someone telling him he can’t do something… or suggesting that he should do something that he doesn’t want to do. Forcing him to leave his favorite play spot (the front seat of the car) will often earn you an angry face. Telling him that he has to take a bath instead of play will get you anywhere from an angry face to flat out crying. Asking him if he wants a diaper change? Guaranteed angry face followed by him running away as quickly as possible.

I can only assume this angry face is one of the non-Spanish things that he learned at school. Given that it’s not yet football season, and the Dayton Flyers haven’t played basketball for months, I don’t think I’ve had an angry face since March. Likewise, it’s not as though Kate is ever walking around with an angry face. After all, what’s she got to be upset about? She’s got a hunky husband, the happiest toddler on the block, and a live-in cook (also me). Have you ever looked at kids toys or watched any kids TV shows? Every character has a permanent smile on them! So it’s not like he’s learning it from Sesame Street or the Fisher Price Puppy. No, it must be something that those no-good-punk kids at school have taught him.

The good news is, it’s pretty hilarious. In fact, every time he does it I just start busting out laughing at him until he returns to a happy face… or crying face. Still, coupled with the fact that he seems to intentionally misbehave now from time to time –– it’s another sign of him becoming one of the moody two year olds that you hear so much about. Oh, you don’t want me to hit you in the face with my shovel? Okay, I’m going to do it anyways – and then when you take my shovel away, it’s going to be angry face time! Even though he seems to understand everything, given his lack of verbal acknowledgement for most things, I still struggle with reasoning with him through discipline. I can’t wait for the day when I can logically explain to him why hitting is bad, why he can’t run in the street, or why taking one bite out of every piece of fruit in our fruit bowl is a bad thing. But for now, I struggle with keeping a straight face when he starts flashing the angry face.

Poop. Finally this month, the gross-out portion of the blog. Those without kids, you probably will want to go ahead and skip past this topic. For those with kids, it’s time to talk poop.

In the past, I’ve always wondered how the teachers at Jackson’s school do it – putting up with not one, but a whole room full of kids all day every day. Again, given their inability to logically reason at this age, it’s dealing with a room full of illogical balls of energy doing everything they can to accidentally hurt themselves all day long… and you are all that stands between them and utter chaos. But recently, I’ve discovered they have a trick up their sleeves when the going gets tough and they need to thin the herd of toddlers roaming their classroom. The key is poop.

Any time a teacher wants to send a kid home from school, they can simply play the “poop card”. Unlike all other forms of illness, which are easy to confirm by things like taking a child’s temperature or checking for a running nose / cough, diarrhea (or “runny poop”) is impossible to prove. The evidence is thrown away long before the parents are even notified that their child had the runs – and somehow that makes them so “sick” that they not only have to go home from school, but stay away for 24 hours! Are you kidding me? When did this become a law?

Sure, before I had a child, I assumed that their poop would look like my poop – which is to say, be in log form. But now that I’ve had Jackson for a year and a half, I can tell you that 95% of the time it’s just a mash of filth in his diaper. Even if it comes out in a semi-solid state, that quickly changes into mush after a few minutes of him running around / falling down / boxing out other kids on the basketball court. Plus, if there really is some type of health code violation involving liquid poop, how does anyone go to school or work the day after some late night White Castle?  It’s insane. Jackson has one “apple spinach quinoa” Plum snack that doesn’t agree with him (and who can blame him? Those combinations are insane!) and he’s banned from all the fun and games at school for a day.

Well played teachers, well played. You win this round.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Year One, Month Five Musings

Travel. Ah, the joys of travel with a one year old. Actually, let me clarify – traveling is pretty brutal these days regardless of having a child with you or not. When you board a plane, sit down, and hear the pilot say “we’re experiencing technical issues – sit back and relax and we’ll try to have us in the air in about 45 minutes” it crushes the spirits of everyone on the airplane. However, when traveling alone your biggest concerns are missing connection flights or wondering how long your iPhone battery is going to last to entertain you for the extended period of time. When you sit down with a busy one year old and hear the same announcement, it’s a feeling of panic and dread that I can only compare to being stuck in traffic while running late to a DMB concert. This was the situation we found ourselves in last month while traveling with Jackson to Pennsylvania.

But it gets better. Shortly after the dreaded announcement, KB and I started to smell something… and realized that our second biggest fear was coming true. Here we were, trapped on a sold out, delayed airplane, with a very busy child with a dump in his trunk. We did what any responsible parents would do – ignore it and hope that the smell wouldn’t bother the people around us. This strategy worked for a while… until I started to feel something wet on my leg, underneath where Jackson was sitting on my lap. It makes me feel better to pretend that this was simply “pee” that was leaking out onto my shorts, but the color would probably indicate otherwise. Forced with no other option, we somehow performed the dreaded mid-air, on the lap diaper change without creating any additional spills, and emptied the contents of a Zip-Lock bag from our carry on to contain the smell.

Even though we brought one carry-on bag full of nothing but entertainment options for Jackson, the last twenty minutes of the flight and de-boarding process featured a screaming child that we were responsible for. Needless to say, upon arriving at our destination, I was frazzled, fray, poop-stained, and broken. There’s a reason why airlines (who charge for EVERYTHING) don’t charge you for bringing a child under the age of two on a flight – no one in their right mind should do it.

Sunny Days. Leading up to the flight, there was one discovery that went a long way in keeping our sanity on that fateful day – our child LOVES Sesame Street. It really speaks to the marketing genius behind the creators of these characters over forty years ago. It’s not as though Jackson watches this show every day – in fact, he’s probably seen bits and pieces of the show less than 10 times in his life. He’s got roughly 100 books strewn about our house – including exactly three that involve Sesame Street characters. Yet somehow he suddenly knows and LOVES the Sesame Street characters. Those books are now his favorites. Out of the huge pile of stuffed animals we have from KB’s childhood, he’s discovered both a Grover and Big Bird that he plays with every day. But most importantly, Jackson will now watch the show for an extended period of time, sitting in a trance and trying to understand the educational antics of those weird furry creatures.

After finding this out, those $2.99 episodes of Sesame Street on iTunes became a steal, and were quickly loaded on the iPad prior to leaving for the trip. Full disclosure - they did buy us about 45 minutes of glorious peace and quiet on the plane ride, where I sat completely still – holding the iPad in one hand and bracing myself at an awkward angle with the other, terrified that any change would break the copasetic state that Sesame Street had created.

But this really does bring up something interesting - WHY does Jackson love Sesame Street so much? Are all kids born with some innate connection to bright colors, high-pitch voices, and furry objects with large eyes? Or is it just coincidence that Jackson is drawn to it the same way that both KB and I were when we were kids? If the love for TV shows is genetic, my son is going to be in heaven when he realizes that I already own all of his favorite shows on DVD someday. But taken to the next level, isn’t it weird that Jackson likes things like balls, sports, and cars – but shows absolutely zero interest in dolls or even non-Sesame Street stuffed animals? Since we didn’t know the sex of Jackson before he was born, everything in his room was neutral colors, and there’s a pretty even distribution of boy-centric and girl-centric hand-me-down toys in our house. So why does Jackson naturally gravitate to the boy ones? Is that genetic? Or just a coincidence that I shouldn’t read too much into given that I am using a sample size of 1 out of the billions of people in the world?

Terrible Ones. Finally this month, Jackson is in the middle of what I’ve termed “the terrible ones”. I know that people talk about their kids becoming disasters when they turn two, but right now there are a lot of situations that are pretty frustrating. First and foremost is probably that my child is the most opinionated person I’ve ever met. He wants what he wants, and he wants it NOW. Coupled with the fact that his current vocabulary primarily consists of “more”, “please”, and “help”, it results in a lot of him asking for things and a lot of us either misinterpreting or denying him of what he wants… which leads to a sad Monk. I keep waiting for the point where I can have conversations with him and explain the logic behind the decisions I make on his behalf (“sorry Jackson, if we go outside in 95 degree weather, Daddy will physically die – do you want me to die, or can we play inside?”) and have him understand and respond with real words (“I understand your concerns, father – what if we get out the pool instead of playing in the street? Would that be an acceptable compromise?”) rather than him frantically signing “please” repeatedly and not understanding why I’m being a jerk about denying him what he wants.

Sure, if we were better parents, we probably should have taught Jackson more baby sign language – but if you’ve ever looked up some of the signs for things, the majority of them are pretty ridiculous. I’ll give you “more” and “please” as being acceptable – but the sign for “thank you”? It’s basically the Italian sign for “F you”. The sign for “avocado”? I watched a YouTube video of it about ten times and still couldn’t mimic it – and it has nothing to do with avocados! Where’s the symbol of slicing and opening an avocado? Or dipping a chip into something and eating it? Because of this, I’ve taken it upon myself to create more logical sign language with Jackson where I can.

First example – the sign for “help”. Kids are supposed to pound one fist into an open hand and then raise it with a thumbs up sign. That seems unnecessary complicated, so I’ve just taught my son to raise his hand when he needs “help” – and now he does it. It drives the wife crazy, but it’s absolutely hilarious to see Jackson run into a problem, then turn around, throw both hands in the air, and give this panicked look like “I can’t solve this situation! I need a person bigger than me to assist!”

So at this point, we either need Jackson to start talking (which I almost think he’s just being difficult or lazy about not talking – he clearly understands everything) or I need to start coming up with logical sign language movements for the expressions I feel like he would use most frequently. Currently, they would probably be the following:

  • I want to play with water, but not actually touch the water with any part of my body.
  • I want to carry around and ruin food, but not actually eat any of it.
  • I want to trade all of my toys for your kitchen appliances. You play with the plastic helicopter, I’ll play with the oven.
  • I want to turn the TV on and off repeatedly. I don’t actually want to watch anything. Stop trying to change the channel to things you’d think I would like.
  • Even though I want to play independently, I want both mom and dad within two feet of me to ensure I’m not missing out on them doing something more fun without me. If they are not here, I will call their name incessantly until they return.
  • I don’t actually want to go outside or inside – I want to play in the space between the screen door and the front door, opening and closing them repeatedly until all the air conditioning is gone from the house.

If we could just get all of those established (along with making him understand the ridiculousness of each of these requests), we would be all set… at least for now.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Year One, Month Four Musings

Words. Sixteen months after being born, we can finally confirm my child can comprehend the English language. For those keeping track at home, although Jackson has babbled a lot of words over the past few months (mostly in the “Dada” and “Mama” range), this month we’re marking his first official word as “ball”. Unlike his former words, this is a word that he began saying unprovoked, in relation to seeing or wanting a ball. It’s the first time we have identified his brain recognizing something and verbally identifying it, rather than just pointing and grunting. Exciting stuff.

I’ve read that once kids start talking, it quickly escalates into a LOT of talking – and since the first “ball”, Jackson has added “Dada”, “Mama” (officially this time), “buh bye”, “baball” (baseball… and sometimes basketball), and “more” (accompanied with the baby sign language for “more”, which is two hands coming together).

From Jackson’s perspective, he looks for any possible opportunity to use these words. He sees a ball on TV, he says “ball!” He sees a picture of me on the wall, he says “Dada”. His toy helicopter says “bye bye” when turning off, he replies “buh bye” in return. When you think about it, this makes sense. He’s effectively spent the past year and a half as a mute, but now he’s learned this fun new trick of putting noises together into sounds just like people around him use all the time.

From our perspective, we are also looking for any possible opportunity for him to use these words. I think I’ve probably said “who am I?” or “what’s that?” about a thousand times over the past month in order to elicit a response out of him that is an actual word rather than his typical gibberish. Like all greedy parents, now that we’ve got a taste for our child speaking, we want Jackson to be able to say everything. Our walks down the street have basically become a nonstop quiz for our child where we ask him “Jackson, where’s the …” with … representing every single object that we see. I have no idea who taught my child what everything in the world is called – because neither Kate nor I did – but he knows everything. Street, grass, sky, clouds, sign, car, tree, truck, fire hydrant… you name it, he knows it.

Although we’re anxiously awaiting him to start saying more words, I have to imagine that once he does,  these walks might start getting a little annoying as he points out every tree we pass, and reminds us that there is grass in every yard on our street – but still, I can’t wait. I’m one step closer to teaching him hilarious phrases that will embarrass his mother in public and make everyone else bust out laughing.

Out of all the things he can say, the only one that is more than a party favor is “more”. It serves a real function. While it pads my ego and makes me feel awesome for my child to point at me and say “Dada”, that doesn’t help me determine if he wants food / drink / entertainment / sleep. However, when he eats something that he likes, then turns to me and says “more”, I clearly understand what he’s after. I know realize how nice it’ll be when he’s able to verbalize more things. We’ll be able to take our communication to a whole new level! Beyond that, it’ll be super nice to know what’s going on when he’s not within eyesight. Right now, a scream from the other room could either mean “I just broke my arm” or “I’m pushing my lawnmower and this wall is in my way! Move it!”

Danger. Speaking of lawnmowers, KB and I have realized that our child’s favorite toys and activities are those that put his life in some type of danger – also known as those activities that when I tell my parents about it, they respond with “you’re not letting him do that, are you!? That’s not a good idea!” This started at an early age when on one fateful Saturday morning, while trying to find new things to play with, I let Jackson walk along the kitchen counter. He discovered our jar of wooden spoons, quickly followed by our toaster oven… and his favorite pastime was born. He’ll take a spoon out of the jar, open the toaster oven, put the spoon in the toaster oven, slam the door shut, play with the toaster oven nobs, and repeat until there are roughly 20 wooden cooking utensils jammed into it. Given that the only way he can play this game is when an adult is standing next to him (since it’s on the kitchen counter), I saw little danger in it – but apparently there’s some risk of breaking a heating element or starting a fire. Who knew?

If I had to pick his second favorite pastime, it would be playing in my car while parked in the driveway. Ironically, although he hates riding in the car seat more than most anything, playing in the front seat of the car is better anything this side of a toaster oven. There are countless nobs, buttons, and compartments full of fun things to play with like cell phone chargers and CDs. In my mind, the car is parked, so where’s the danger? But apparently this is going to teach him to steal my keys and go joyriding some day when my back is turned.

Which brings us back to the lawnmower. In general, Jackson’s favorite toys involve pushing things around. He’s got a toy lawnmower and toy grocery cart – but in a pinch, he’ll also push a wastebasket around our house or our recycling BIN up and down the street. One day, after I finished cutting the grass, the real lawnmower was sitting outside – so we spent the better part of the next hour pushing it around the yard. In my mind, the lawnmower was off, and this is a great way to start him down the path to eventually cutting the grass instead of me. But apparently the lawnmower is full of sharp blades and dangerous chemicals that he’s going to touch and ingest when we’re not looking (probably right before he steals my car – but after he starts a fire with my toaster).

The bad thing is that we never thought twice about any of these things being dangerous. They actually seemed like some of the safer activities he does on a daily basis (compared to wanting to jump off beds and couches head first, playing games on the steps, and running on concrete). The morale of the story? Probably a good idea we opted for a health care plan with a low deductible. As my mom said after spending a week with my child “you’re going to be spending a lot of time in the Emergency Room with him.”


Glutton for Punishment. Speaking of awesome, we’re just weeks away from taking our second long trip with Jackson to visit the in-laws. You would think that we would have learned our lessons from our cruise last year – but at some point, you have to get back on the horse and test if we have any chance of ever leaving the greater Cincinnati area with our child. Heading to rural Pennsylvania, there were numerous debates about the best way to travel with Jackson… or maybe I should say “least worst”. Given his hatred for the car seat, we pretty quickly ruled out the 8 hour car ride (also, this would break my own personal rule about being in a car for more than 5 hours – which is, unless it’s for a DMB concert or Bengals game, I’m not doing it). We then debated taking a flight with a layover that would get us closer to our final destination vs. taking a single flight and then driving a little while longer. In the end, we’re hoping against hope that by taking a late afternoon flight, we minimize the risks associated with airplane travel, and hope that by the time we start the 2 hour drive upon landing, it’ll be close enough to bed time that he might fall asleep in the car.

There’s a lot of hope in our plan.

There is some good news – unlike when he was a baby, if he’s screaming, we’re probably going to know why. He’s older now, more able to be entertained by things like food, and doesn’t need to be taking naps every three hours to prevent meltdowns. We know him pretty well, what he likes, and what he doesn’t like, which should arm us to make the trip as enjoyable as possible for him.

But then there’s the bad news – this trip is going to combine a lot of things he really really doesn’t like – being confined, not being able to walk around, and riding around in a car seat. Unlike most kids, something like an iPad only entertains him for about 30 seconds, at which point he loses interest and walks away to find something else to play with. I think that even if we brought every toy he owns, he’s going to lose interest on the hour and a half flight and we’re going to be wrestling him to keep him from running down the aisles and opening and closing the bathroom door for the duration of the flight.

Either way, it’ll be a fun adventure and give me plenty of good stuff for next month’s blog. Stay tuned!

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Year One, Month Three Musings

Vacation. Having survived (again, I think this is absolutely the most appropriate term) our first vacation with Jackson, KB and I ventured off this past month for our first vacation WITHOUT Jackson. Going into it, there were a number of things to be concerned about. Would Jackson be okay without us? Would we be okay without Jackson? What if we both died in a horrible plane crash? Having dealt with the last item before we left by coming up with a list of life lessons for the Monk on the Blog (which totally seems like a waste of time now that I survived those flights!), we crossed that item off the list – leaving only two remaining. Here’s how it all worked out:

Would Jackson be okay without us? In a word, absolutely. Over the past few months, he’s become quite the independent kid. As long as someone is around to feed him, open the door to let him outside, and Baby Segway him around, I don’t really think he cares who it is. He got quality time with his grandparents, they got quality time with him, and we got the peace of mind of knowing that our son doesn’t only get injured on our watch – as both sets of grandparents were responsible for varying degrees of bumps and scratches while we were gone. In fact, the only real sign of any distress from leaving our child for a week came at the airport when we arrived home. After initially smiling when he saw us coming, Jackson freaked out and was terrified of both of us. This probably would have crushed parents with more fragile psyches, but I found it absolutely hilarious. He would sit on his Grandma’s lap, happily smiling at every stranger that walked by – then the moment KB would walk towards him he would start crying and trying to jump out of her arms to escape. Thankfully, this act only lasted a few hours and then he was back to thinking we were the coolest things since sticks and rocks – but I can’t help but wonder if that was his way of punishing us for leaving him for a week. Or if it turns out he actually just likes hanging out with his grandparents waaaaaaaay better than us, and realized that if we took him back, he would be returning to a life of school, vegetables, and reasonable bedtimes.

On the flip side, would we be okay without Jackson? In two words, pretty much. After the plane safely landed in Mexico, it was like stepping into a time machine. All the sudden I was mid-20s Brian whose only goal was to keep himself alive and have as much fun as possible, as opposed to worrying about another human being. Once the drinks started flowing and I had sand beneath my feet, worrying about my son was the last thing on my mind. Kate, on the other hand, wasn’t quite as care-free. I partially blame this on the fact that our resort had free-wifi that stretched all the way to the ocean – but she was never far from her iPhone, checking for updates about Jackson, begging for pictures from family members, and requesting hour-by-hour write-ups about exactly how he spent his day. To me, these weren’t all that exciting (1:00 – played with rocks, 2:00 – played with mulch, 3:00 – opened and closed the fence gate repeatedly), but Kate ate them up. Having said that, I think that did help her relax knowing that he was fine. I’m proud to say that although his name did come up in a few conversations here or there, we weren’t the annoying parents talking nonstop about their child back home over every dinner conversation or picturing what he would be doing if he was there with us.

All in all, I’d say the trip was a tremendous success, and really opened my eyes about the best way to do vacations with a small child. Separate family vs. grown-up vacations seem like a tremendous idea – at least until the kids are old enough to appreciate a real vacation. We had been talking about doing another “family vacation” this year – but after initially throwing out ideas about going somewhere more fun (like a beach), it seems like Jackson would be just as happy going to a sand volleyball court and playing in the sand, followed by an afternoon in a kiddie pool in our backyard. Why pay all the money to see the real thing? I haven’t quite perfected the details yet, but I think the maximum distance traveled for a vacation with a child should adhere to a formula of the child’s age multiplied by 2 hours. For a one-year old, that gives you a two hour radius of home – but by the time they’re three or four (old enough to appreciate things), it opens the door to get 6-8 hours away from home. I’m sure at some point, we’ll seem like bad parents if we continue to take adult vacations – but for now, they seem like a great idea all around – a win/win/win for parents, kids, and grandparents.

Parrot. Before we left on vacation, my mother was fairly certain that given a few full days with Jackson, she’d be able to teach him to talk, actually go down stairs backwards, and do basic math. Apparently she was spoiled by having a genius baby like me back in the day – or thought that she had some secret parenting tricks that were going to provide a miraculous breakthrough in Jackson’s mental development. When we returned, we found that the Monk was pretty much the same as we left him – with verbal capacities somewhat similar to a parrot, and still unable to comprehend or predict dangers that come with things like blindly stepping off a flight of stairs.

However, over the past two weeks, his ability to mimic me (like a parrot) came pretty close to being “baby-book worthy” for generating his first words and his first song. I don’t know what inspires him to suddenly start imitating me – but it’s sporadic, and usually occurs in the evening, after dinner, when it’s just the two of us hanging out. First I got him to keep saying “Dada”, and then got out the video camera and said “Jackson, what’s my name?” to which he replied “Dada”. Somewhat cheating – but I think I might be able to take credit for being his first word.

Shortly thereafter, I found myself singing a song (surprise, surprise) to him to the tune of "Frère Jacques" that I call “Where is Jackson”. After I stopped singing it and went back to doing dishes, he immediately started humming the tune – so that might be his first song – but if it is, I totally regret not singing something more hilarious to him that evening so that I could tell people when he grows up, “Yep, the first song my son ever sung was ‘Riding Dirty’”.

Although I think Kate is getting slightly worried about Jackson’s lack of verbal communication skills (note: I’ll remember this when Jackson won’t shut up two months from now and she longingly looks back to the days when he just pointed and grunted at things), I’m fine with it. Honestly, he understands pretty much everything. This basic knowledge of commands is really giving me my first glimpse into how awesome it’s going to be to make him do work around the house someday. Today he can put dirty clothes in a hamper, put away his toys, and take out the garbage can. Tomorrow he’s going to be cutting grass, doing the dishes, and getting me beers from the fridge. Can’t wait.

The Great Outdoors. I remember when some of my friends first became home owners (suckers, all of us!) – suddenly we’d be complaining about the weather over beers because it was preventing us from cutting the grass – something that we went the first 20+ years of our lives without ever caring about. But now, suddenly it was a huge pain and made us all feel like cranky old men. Flash forward a few years now that I have a child. Once again, rain is my worst enemy.

I don’t think you really comprehend how important it is to be able to go outside until you have a child. Pre-Jackson, I’d gladly spend a rainy Saturday afternoon on the couch watching reality TV marathons and taking naps. Post-Jackson, we’re stir crazy and realizing that we’ve already played with every toy in the house and used up all my tricks by 8:30 am, frantically realizing that I need to find something to entertain my child for another 11 hours before bedtime.

It’s not as though the answer is “you need to buy more toys” or “you need to come up with more games to play with your child” – I think regardless of what we were doing, my child would want to be outside. We could be standing inside a toy store full of puppies and clowns, and he would stand at the window pointing to go outside and play in an empty parking lot. As part of dealing with our ever-paranoid fears that we are raising our child incorrectly, I recently started reading “The Happiest Toddler on the Block” (which of course, is a follow-up to “The Happiest Baby on the Block: The Story of Jackson” – because we read that book, and I have yet to find a child happier than mine… unless he’s cooped up inside). But in the book, the author talks about how boring the indoors is to kids – even if it’s full of video games and brightly colored toys, they want the sensory experience of the outdoors more. I totally buy into this theory.

Most of the time, it’s not a problem to feed this desire. Since my child’s favorite outside toys are sticks and rocks, there is plenty for him to interact with around our house when it’s nice outside. However, when it’s rainy outside, you need to find creative ways to keep him entertained. Note: even though Jackson would gladly just play in the rain, since he only owns one pair of shoes, doing so basically prevents him from leaving the house for the next 24 hours as his shoes dry off, so it’s less than ideal.

There are a few options out there to deal with this. Although I always say “let’s just go walk around the mall” or “let’s just go to McDonald’s and toss him in the ball pit” (read: both free activities!), apparently Kate is more concerned about doing more enriching activities – which all cost money. There are dedicated indoor kids activity centers, museums, and aquariums. Needless to say, the last time it was a gross Saturday, we found ourselves determining that even though we had both only been there once in our lives before, we needed to buy a season pass to the local aquarium to have a place to go whenever it rained. That’s right, we are now card-carrying members of both the zoo and the aquarium (along with what appears to be 90% of the local population who have kids. On any given nice day, the zoo is PACKED with parents and kids. On any given crappy day, the aquarium is PACKED with parents and kids.) I suppose that is one good thing about having kids – it really does help support the local cultural activities.

The funny thing is what Jackson likes most at each place. His favorite things to do at the zoo are play in the mulch of the flower beds that surround the entrance, play in the jungle gym inside the zoo, or watch the waterfalls… none of which involve animals. His favorite things to do at the aquarium are to run up and down the tunnels of the exhibits and splash his hands in the water of the area where you can pet aquatic life… neither of which involve him actually looking at or caring about fish. Someday, when he is old and owns his own house, Jackson is totally going to have a small pond with a waterfall in his backyard, surrounded by rocks and flowerbeds, and he’s going to love it more than anything in the world – and it’s going to make perfect sense to me.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Year One, Month Two Musings

Food. There have been a number of dramatic changes in relation to the food consumed in our household over the first year and change of Jackson’s life. In the beginning, things were pretty simple – he drank boob whiskey, Kate and I ate our normal food in relative peace and quiet as he slept in a bassinet on the floor next to our kitchen table. Grocery shopping was simple, there was a clear divide between Jackson Food and People Food, and everyone was happy (except maybe Jackson – there’s a good chance he longingly watched us eat, eagerly waiting for the day when he could eat real food – which may explain why he periodically throws food on the floor to this day as a way to punish us).

Even after he first started eating baby “food”, it was pretty far from actually being food. I remember when Jackson was first born and baby books referenced that the first food that he would eat would be “rice cereal”. In my mind, that was going to be Rice Krispies. So imagine my surprise when I saw the dry powder flakes mixed with milk concoction that was actually “rice cereal”. I affectionately named it “gruel”, a name which has stuck to this day.

As for traditional baby food? I know that it’s nothing but real fruits and vegetables pureed and canned – but it always grossed me out. You know those crazy parents who have to personally try any food before they give it to their child? I was the opposite of that. Kate would warm up food for him in the microwave and ask me to test it before feeding it to him. I would touch it with the back side of one of my fingers for temperature, then immediately wash that finger off in the sink before proceeding with my meal.

Fast forward to a few more months and Jackson starts eating food – for real. Not only does he start eating real food, but he starts eating good stuff. Avocados. Fresh fruits. Cheese. Skyline Chili.

You know how the experts always blame obesity in America on the how expensive fresh, healthy food is compared to cheap fake processed food? They are right. Given the quantity of food he consumes, you would never think that Jackson represented a full third of our grocery bill, but he totally does. If he (or my wife) had their way, the kid would eat about a pound of blueberries a week – but unfortunately for them, I do the grocery shopping. I love blueberries as much as the next guy, but there is no way I’m paying $3.99 for a small container of them. But don’t worry, I’m not replacing them with junk – but different types of fresh fruit. Cheap things like kiwis, strawberries, or pears.

I know what you’re thinking. Why don’t you just buy canned or frozen fruits to feed to Jackson? Well, apparently he only likes the finer things in life. Somehow he knows the difference between canned pears and fresh pears… and even with fresh pears, he’ll only eat them if he watches you cut it up in front of you – lest you try to trick him and sneak some canned fruit past him. It’s ridiculous – I swear he got this trait from his mother, who refuses to believe that something can be nice unless it’s expensive (such as her romantic Valentine’s Day gift of a vacuum cleaner).

Still, I do my best to spoil The Monk with good food that he likes, which means that all the sudden, I find myself eating his scraps of food instead of vice versa. The same guy who would have thrown up in his mouth over the thought of licking a finger that touched pureed baby food is now picking up scraps off his high chair tray, justifying it by saying “eh, he only had part of this pineapple in his mouth”. My how times have changed.

The Little Things. A person can learn a lot from a small child. They focus on the important things in life – eating, sleeping, and playing. As he’s grown from baby to toddler, Jackson has become infinitely more entertaining to play with. He’s almost like you’re crazy drunk friend from college – he’s a ton of fun to be around, always a little crazy… but if you don’t keep your eyes on him, there’s a good chance he’ll walk off a ledge and hurt himself. But one of the biggest things I’ve noticed about Jackson playing is how much he pays attention to the smallest details of his surroundings. Jackson can be playing in a playground full of other little kids, swings, slides, branches, leaves, and millions upon millions of pieces of mulch – and then all the sudden, he’ll see a single piece of mulch that he wants. He walks straight over to it with a purpose, picks it up, and proceeds to carry it around with him for the next hour or so. Granted, he’s just a young toddler – so he’ll periodically drop it while traversing the world around him – but even when he does, he realizes it, stops, goes back, and picks it back up... even if it’s laying among a pile of mulch that looks identical to me. Somehow he keeps track of it. For that afternoon, it’s his most prized possession, something that he’s responsible for, something that is critical he keeps with him. You know the expression “you can’t see the forest for the trees”? Well, Jackson can’t even see the trees because he’s so focused on the smallest piece of bark that’s on the ground in front of the trees – and there’s something very sweet and appropriate about that.

When walking around in the big outside world with your child, you really gain perspective on how little they really are. To see a two foot tall person walking down the street makes the cars look giant, the street look absurdly wide, and the world a place that’s too big to possibly ever explore. Jackson spent the better part of his first year of life inside our living room, kitchen, and his bedroom – so even to expand it to our yard has increased the world he knows ten-fold. Yet even though he’s out exploring the world, I don’t think he really understands how far it stretches and how much is left to explore – because even though he knows our street, he knows a few parks, and he knows a few islands in the Caribbean (spoiled!), when he’s there he spends his time focused on one piece of mulch, or one bird, or one swing set to climb up and down for two hours. He appreciates the little things in life – the simple things – and is just as happy playing with dirt as he would be seeing exotic animals at the zoo. It’s the little things in life that are important, and that can make you the happiest.

Freedom! Finally this month, I look forward to my first vacation since the birth of Jackson. What about the aforementioned Caribbean cruise that I took in the fall? Apparently you missed the Blog post about that adventure – but there was very little about traveling with a nine month old that I consider relaxing. That trip was all about survival. This one is going to be all about hanging out with my hot wife, along with a relaxing beach, gorging myself with ridiculous amounts of guacamole, and drinking all the booze served in coconuts that I can get my hands on.

Will I miss The Monk? I assume so - but I think it’s important for me to deliver on the threats I’ve been making for the past few weeks when he has misbehaved “if you throw that food on the floor, I’m going to go to Mexico without you!” Still, although I’m looking forward to some uninterrupted rest and relaxation, there is that nagging fear in the back of my mind about “what if something terrible happens to us while we’re gone?” After all, there’s still so much I have left to teach him about life. But just in case the worst case scenario happens, here is a listing of important life lessons I would like to pass along to my son. Someone else, please ensure that he eventually learns how to read and direct him to this Blog post at an appropriate time.

  1. Most of life’s most important lessons can be found in the lyrics of songs, themes of movies, and scripts of television shows. Pay attention to them.
  2. Do whatever makes you happy in life… as long as you can pay the bills. It’s cool to like reading, do it as much as you want in your free time... but most English majors end up living in their parents’ basements until they are 35.
  3. Turns out not where, but who you’re with that really matters. There’s a reason why most University of Dayton students, who have the ability to study abroad at their sister school in Hawaii, don’t do it. It’s because their friends aren’t there.
  4. When you’re young, get emotionally invested in sporting events. It’s better to have loved and lost than to be a lame fair weather fan.
  5. When you’re old, get emotionally invested in meals. A delicious plate of nachos will never break your heart.
  6. When it’s super nice outside, find every possible excuse to get outside. Living in Cincinnati, you’ll have plenty of time to study / clean / work when it’s really hot or really cold (the other 340 days of the year).
  7. Words of Wisdom from your Great Grandpa R: “You only have one goal in life – to save your soul.” Live a good life and root for Notre Dame football and you’ll have nothing to worry about.
  8. Words of Wisdom from your Grandpa R: “Keep smiling.” Don’t worry about little things and find ways to have fun wherever you go and you’ll have nothing to worry about (tip: bring the bathing suit along on business trips!)
  9.  The key to living a comfortable life is to always live within your means and wear as many mesh shorts as possible.
  10. Live life with a relaxed purpose. Don’t be that guy who slowly walks everywhere. You’ve got important things to do – even if they are things like sitting on a porch, drinking a beer, and watching the world go by. Don't burn the day away.

With that, I think I’m covered for my trip. Here’s hoping I survive for next month’s post!