Thursday, February 21, 2013

Month Twelve Musings

One. Against all odds, we made it to a year. It’s funny, because on the one hand, time has flown by. If I were a betting man who didn’t own a calendar, I would guess that my son was roughly four months old. He’s been around a full year? I don’t buy it. On the other hand, I can’t remember life without him. Part of this can be attributed to my terrible memory, but part of it is that having a baby so dramatically changes so many components of your life that it grabs you and throws you out of whatever routine you used to have and instead replaces it with a totally new one. Taking time to slowly prepare and eat a dinner? Sitting down and reading the newspaper after eating? Actually going to the gym? Were these things I actually used to do? When I talk them things now, it feels like I’m reminiscing about the “good old days” in college or something – and yet it was only one year ago. Just crazy. Willie Nelson was right. Ain’t it funny how time slips away?

Over the course of this first year my son has gone from a small Asian boy who was pretty much a slacker (all he did was eat, sleep, and lay around all day!) to a slightly larger White boy who doesn’t stop moving and playing for any reason (even sleeping – we’ve got a video monitor, and he does laps around his crib throughout the night). Was he easier as a lazy Asian? Absolutely. But he’s infinitely more fun now – and actually has a personality. I can honestly say that I know my son now. I get him. I know his likes and dislikes. I know what makes him tick. All of this goes a long way in building a relationship with a child. No offense to lazy Asian Jackson, but when he was first born I liked him out of obligation (and fear of being hit by my wife if I didn’t agree with her that he was the greatest thing ever). However, over the course of the first year, as he actually became a person, I feel like I actually have a relationship with him. We’ve bonded over the course of many long nights and early mornings, and as we hit the one year mark, it’s safe to say that we are officially buddies. He likes me, and I like him. Maybe too much…

Baby Segway. My son has always been fond of me. Unlike his mother, who is often times “all business”, I’m pretty much “all play”. Give me twenty seconds alone with my child, and I guarantee I’ll have half his toys spread around his room, I’ll be on the floor crawling after him, and pretty much focusing all my attention on entertaining him… while I’m supposed to be getting him dressed for bed. So it comes as no surprise that Jackson likes me, wants to hang out with me, and wants me to hold him. As I’ve mentioned in the past, this drives Kate crazy. She’s the one that worries about him day and night, plans his meals, clothing, and coordinates doctor visits to ensure he’s healthy. I’m the one tagging along to the doctor visit playing on the iPhone with Jackson. She’s the one reading the baby books, documenting his every developmental task, and attempting to teach him words. I’m the one teaching him how to dive on a loose football. If babies were logical, they would understand that their mothers really should be their favorites – but they’re just babies, and they just want to have fun.

Jackson is no exception to this rule. Since he was born, I’ve always held a slight edge in the popular vote over Kate. I get it – I’ve got a lot going for me. Sharp wit, deceptively good looks, smoking hot wife, large MP3 collection, etc. But sometime over the past month, things have tipped dramatically in my favor – to the point of being a little absurd. I really have no idea what changed – besides the fact that Jackson is getting smarter and smarter with every passing day, and probably beginning to realize the true genius in my humor – but he’s becoming very… clingy. Suddenly, he’s no longer happy just having me in the room with him. Now, he needs me to be carrying him as often as possible.

As active as Jackson is, this introduces an interesting dilemma. How can he be running all over the place getting into trouble if he’s in my arms, as opposed to walking around on the floor on his own? Luckily, he solved for this problem by creating what I’ll term a “Baby Segway”.

For those who have never been on a Segway, they’re basically a two-wheeled transportation device (made famous by Gob Bluth) where the rider controls the movement by simply leaning in one direction or another. It responds to subtle movements so much that it almost seems like it’s reading your thoughts and moving accordingly. While I’m holding Jackson, he does the same thing. If he wants to move forward, he lurches forward in my arms. If he wants me to turn, he’ll swing his head and body in that direction. Sometimes these movements will be accompanied by a pointing motion as well and a verbal command of “da”.

…and I follow his every command.

Suddenly, being the favorite parent isn’t so great. Suddenly, I feel like a crusty old man complaining about my back and knees hurting (and how I used to walk to school uphill in the snow each way). Have you ever tried to bend down and pick something up off the ground while balancing a twenty pound child in one arm and holding a toy in the other? Or taken repeated trips up the stairs, then down the stairs, then up the stairs again for a half hour because it’s suddenly become your child’s favorite thing in the world? Every night when I go to bed my legs feel like I ran a few miles that day. It’s crazy.

The other thing? In the back of my mind, I can’t help but think maybe Jackson doesn’t actually like me the best – it’s just that I’m the only one foolish enough (and strong enough) to willingly act as his Baby Segway, so he keeps coming to me for more. The good news for my legs and back is that this can’t last forever – as strong as I am, based on my gym workouts in a previous life, I seem to recall that I can’t lift more than a 30 pound weight. This kid’s growing closer and closer to reaching that maximum weight for the Baby Segway ride with every passing day. But for now, I guess I’ll continue to assume that my son thinks I’m the greatest thing since Plum baby food pouches… and isn’t already outsmarting me and totally owning me.

Baby Organization. With all the bonding Jackson and I have done over the past year, I’ve learned a lot about the development of the mind of a child – and developed a number of theories to help explain why they do the things they do.

It all started with Baby Chaos Theory – which I originally thought was a way for babies to shake up the boring, orderly ways of the world for something more chaotic and fun. Looking back on it now, I recognize that this is simply the first step in babies having control over something. By taking things off a shelf and throwing them on a ground, they exhibit their control over those objects. “You want to be on the shelf book? Tough! I say you’re going on the floor! Now who’s boss?!”

Then it turned into Baby Purpose Theory – which I originally thought was a way for babies to feel purpose in life by taking control over important tasks like the opening and closing of cabinets, drawers, and doors. It’s a dangerous job for a baby, and one that could give them a sense of accomplishment at the end of a hard day’s work. “Honey, bring me some milk and a Blanks – I had a tough day at the office!”

I didn’t think there was anything more to it than that… but now I recognize that this was simply the next step in a much greater plan. Apparently Jackson has hated where we kept things in our house from the first day he arrived, and has slowly been working towards the point where he would be in a position to change things more to his liking. That day has arrived, which brings us to Baby Organization.

Although it makes little sense to us adults, Baby Organization makes perfect sense to them, and pulls together all previous theories. Jackson needed Baby Chaos to get our things out of their original locations. He needed Baby Purpose to learn how all of the various hiding places in our house function. Putting them together with his newfound mobility, he’s finally able to do things like take our remote control and put it in the garbage can or take my slippers and put them in the hamper… and that’s just the items that we’ve actually found. There are bath toys that have been missing for weeks – and I just know that they’re eventually going to turn up somewhere crazy… like in the fireplace or on the roof of our house.

I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that he’s got an affinity for organization. After all, my wife’s idea of a fun weekend is getting everything out of all of our kitchen cabinets, cleaning them, and re-organizing them. It’s also how she ensures that I never know where anything is in our house, and can make me feel like I’m not doing enough chores (“You don’t know where the floor cleaner is? Maybe if you cleaned the floors more often!”). There’s a reason why she owns a label maker and we have a full dresser dedicated to gift wrapping, organized into separate drawers for ribbons, paper, bows, and bags. She likes things organized – and in her mind, the best way to get things organized is to make a total mess first.

My hope for Jackson’s Baby Organization is that we’re really only one step away from him actually being able to clean up after himself. As I mentioned earlier, when we play, it usually involves all of his toys at once, so being able to tidy up the room afterwards would be nice. Also, it’s going to make for some entertaining conversations someday when he learns how to talk and can explain to my why it makes logical sense to keep my deodorant in my bedside stand, or why my electric shaver should be in the bathtub. But for now, we’re left to wonder… and have fun scavenger hunts on a daily basis for items around our house.

First Birthdays. Finally this month, there’s the small matter of Jackson’s first birthday party… and by “small matter”, I mean the biggest event that my wife has ever coordinated outside of our wedding. It all started months and months ago, when she began to ask me about what “theme” we should do for his birthday. Thinking back to every party I’ve ever thrown in my adult life, the only time I remember a theme being involved, it was surrounding drinking Box Wine. But I was a kid once, and have been to my fair share of children’s birthday parties over the years. To the best of my knowledge, the only “theme” that I remember was the design of the birthday cake – some kids had dinosaurs, some had clowns, the cool ones (me) had Michael Jackson when they were three years old. But that was the extent of it – it’s not as if we ate clown cake off of clown plates served to us by a person dressed as a clown. However, the times, they are a changin’.

I mostly blame two internet institutions for this change – The Facebook and Pinterest.

The Facebook makes it far too easy for women-folk to see what their friends are doing for their own children’s birthday parties, which sparks a competitive nature to surpass their efforts. Over the years, this one-upmanship has escalated things big time.

During our discussion of themes, Kate brought up a number of websites that sold theme packages for a baby’s first birthday. You could drop $50 and have your very own monkey plates, bowls, cups, balloons, streamers, signs, hats, and party favors to ensure that everyone at your party was well aware of the theme. I’m sure back in the early days of Facebook, this was sufficient. Women would buy the party pack, decorate their house, take pictures, post them on The Facebook, and bask in the glow of the positive comments they received.

But then, some crafty mom decided that buying a pre-designed party pack was too easy. What if, instead, she created her own custom-themed plates, bowls, cups, balloons, streamers, signs, hats, and party favors? That would definitely one-up the mom next door who obviously didn’t love her child enough to hand-make everything. So she did it, posted it to The Facebook, and got even more “likes”.

However, not everyone is quite as creative or crafty. In order to come up with their own ideas, women needed a new website to share them and get inspiration from people besides their direct Facebook friends (to prevent looking like they were copying someone else).

Enter Pinterest. Pinterest provides page upon page of different ideas for decoration and themes for a baby’s first birthday party. Now, anyone could create their own party decorations with a little bit of time and a hot glue gun. After all, why would you spend $50 on pre-made decorations when instead you could spend $35 on supplies and thirty hours of your life making the decorations yourself?

Thus, this is how my house turned into Monkey Decoration Central for the weeks leading up to Jackson’s big day. Craft tables setup in the living room, paper strewn about the floor, every high ledge in our house stuffed full of party favors to prevent the cats from getting into them. Everything from the cake to the cups to the streamers were hand-made, and there was no doubt that anyone would leave our house without knowing full well that it was indeed Jackson’s first birthday and that he had a monkey theme.

Full disclosure – don’t get me wrong – the decorations were fantastic. People at the party loved them, and Kate totally got a lot of comments on Facebook, which really is the most important thing.

As for Jackson himself, he was understandably overwhelmed and afraid of all the strangers in his house, which quickly lead to a Baby Segway trip to the basement to hang out in the quiet for the first hour of the party, doing some Baby Organizing of the beer steins and shot glasses on our shelves. As predicted by me, he was not a fan of the birthday cake – but instead immediately started sucking down an avocado which he received as a gift from his Aunt Lisa and Uncle Eric. I knew we should have given him a guacamole cake! But in the end, I think he had fun playing with some other kids, got a boatload of new toys, and warmed up to the crowd. Ironically, he was probably the only person in the house who didn’t know it was a monkey themed party.

Footnote: also, here’s hoping that he isn’t suddenly the most narcissistic person in the world. Doing a quick count, there were no less than twenty pictures of him around the house for decoration – in addition to the roughly 100 that were cycling through on a digital picture from the entire time. Total number of pictures of me in the house, not involving Jackson – maybe three. I understand that it was his birthday, and maybe he’s slightly cuter than me (debatable), but if he turns into a self-absorbed diva someday, I’m blaming his mother.