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…