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!”

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