Monday, June 21, 2010

The Baby Is Coming, The Baby Is Coming

Well, the time is finally here. After months of waiting and anticipation, we are finally in the last week of this pregnancy, even though my wife is a full two-and-a-half weeks shy of her due date; the baby is measuring two weeks past due and has been measuring big for the entire pregnancy. At the doctor's appointment last Friday, she was already dilating effacing like crazy, so while the plan is to induce on this coming Friday, I'm crossing my fingers for a spontaneous labor.

Maybe it is because I watch entirely too much TV and way too many movies, but the fact that our previous two children have both been born by appointment leaves me hoping for that exciting, middle-of-the-night "my water broke" moment followed by a mad-dash out of the house and into the hospital. Heck, I'd settle for it happening in the middle of the afternoon.

I have the whole exciting thing pictured in my head:

"Nathan! I'm in labor!"

Like an action hero, I spring into action. I strap on my bluetooth headset like the ones they use on Burn Notice and call our neighbor to come watch the kids until my mother-in-law can make the trip to relieve her. Then, with my hands being free on account of the bluetooth, I call my mother-in-law with the alert while simultaneously getting dressed and loading my wife's bags into the van. I grab the laptop, video camera, digital camera, and iPod loaded with relaxing baby-having music. Then, with the strength of a thousand men, I effortlessly carry my wife to our awaiting transportation.

She looks up at me as I rush her to the van and says, "You're my hero!"

Praise like this is common for an international man-of-action like myself, so I simply nod and continue on my mission. I strap her into the front seat so that stinking bell doesn't ding as I drive through our sleepy town like Jason Bourne en route to the hospital. I dial the number for the labor and delivery department as I squeal around another corner and blast through a perfectly placed vegetable stand. "We've got a hot one!" I scream to the groggy nurse on the other end of the line. "ETA: Two mikes!" That's minutes for you civilians out there.

I hang up just in time to pass dangerously through a red light without hitting any cars speeding through on the green light. Man, who knew a Chrysler Town & Country could kick this much butt.

Oh no! There is a bridge out up ahead. There is no time to detour. I push the accelerator through the floor and tell my wife to, "Hold on! We're going to see if this Stow-n-Go can fly!" We fly through the air in slow motion with A-Team music playing in my head. The van crashes down safely on the other side just as my wife goes into another contraction.

Soon, we are barreling into the hospital parking lot. I perform a perfect one-hundred-and-eighty degree braking stop at the curb to the Visitor entrance, jump out of the van, grab my wife, and toss the keys to a weary-eyed security guard and say, "Keep it close for me, Scooter!" as we run through the automated doors.

Not wanting to waste a minute waiting for the elevator, my adrenaline racing, I rush my wife effortlessly up two flights of stairs and burst through the doors, exclaiming, "We've got a baby coming, people!"

We get to our room, and I can see the baby crowning. My wife says, "I've gotta push!"

The nurses are screaming, "We need the doctor! You've gotta wait!"

I look at them with steely determination and calmly say, "There's not time. I'm going to deliver this baby." I put on a pair of rubber gloves. "I'm going in."

A few minutes later, I'm handing our sweet little baby to its mother and taking off the gloves as the nurses and other patients stand and applaud.

Yeah, I figure it will either go something like that, or the baby will wait until Friday, and everything will go nice and easy like it did the first two times. Either way, I can't wait.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Let's All Go To The Movies

My wife and I recently decided to reward our kids for their consistently good behavior over the course of a few days by taking them to the movies. As I’m sure is the case with most households containing two children under the age of six, Shrek is a huge celebrity in our home, so it was an easy choice for us when it came time to choose a movie for our outing. This post is not a review of the fourth Shrek movie, though I will say it is, for me, the weakest of the four yet still worth seeing. This post will instead be an attempt at showing non-parents what a trip to the movies is like with children.

I remember when going to the movies was a wonderful and relaxing way to spend an afternoon or evening. Whether it was a quiet night out with my wife or a group of friends going to see the latest gut-busting comedy, going to the movies was always one of my favorite outings, and it still is; it is just very, very different when you happen to bring the kids. Here are a few of the main differences I’ve noticed:

1. Movie selection- For me, the purpose of going to the movies was always to go watch a movie that I really want to see. There are very few exceptions to this rule. Occasionally, my wife will play her cards just right, and I end up sitting in a movie theatre watching some made-specifically-for-women movie that I could’ve happily lived my entire life without seeing, but this is usually balanced by movies that she doesn’t want to see but goes to with me anyway. In high school, my group of friends would take turns between the guys and girls picking which movie we watched, so sometimes I got to go see Office Space, but sometimes I had to suffer through Bring It On. Overall, though, my movie experience has always been that I hear about a movie, get excited about it, and finally get to go watch it.
With children, this all changes. Read carefully: DO NOT TAKE CHILDREN TO A MOVIE THAT YOU ACTUALLY WANT TO WATCH. That’s right, the entire purpose changes. When you get to the point that you are taking your children to the movies, it is no longer about you seeing a movie that you are interested in; it is about the kids having a good time and not getting kicked out of the theatre for life. It doesn’t matter if you like the movie or not anyway, because you aren’t going to get to watch at least half of it, which brings me to the next item on the list.

2. Refreshments- When going to the movies without children, refreshments are a pleasant little bonus feature of the whole experience. You buy some overpriced candy, a bucket of heart-attack inducing buttered popcorn, and a gallon of soda or slushy. After the initial decision making on which treats to buy, refreshments simply fade into the overall enjoyment of the experience.
With children, refreshments become one of the most nerve-wracking parts of the trip. To begin with, the decision-making process never goes smoothly when dealing with small children. If you decide to get the kids popcorn, they are going to want candy. If you decide to get them candy, they will fight over what kind of candy to get and then end up wanting popcorn anyway. As for drinks, we don’t let our kids have soda of any kind, so they are limited to a slushy or Hi-C, which makes this part a little easier. The big problem starts when we get into the theatre and distribute the treats. Even if we got both kids the exact same thing, they won’t be happy with which one they got until you switch it around so many times that they can’t even keep up the appearance of knowing the difference. The fun really begins once the movie starts and your two little angels are trying to juggle popcorn, Raisinets, and a cherry slushy in a dark movie theatre while sitting in a seat that is on the verge of folding up with them in it at any moment. The whole time the movie is playing, you are completely unaware of what is going on up on the screen because you are sitting there clutching two handfuls of napkins just waiting for the sugary Chernobyl that is sure to happen at any moment.

3. Bathroom breaks- My bathroom policy on a child-free trip to the movie theatre is that I will go to the bathroom as before the movie begins to make sure that gallon of beverage I drink during the feature will not force me to leave during the movie to relieve myself and possibly end up missing some crucial portion of the plot. I will sit and squirm in my seat during a two-plus hour movie just to make sure that I don’t have to miss anything I paid good money to see.
Once you make the decision to walk into a movie theatre with children, you have to realize that you are going to pay more money to see less movie. Children not only have small bladders, but I believe they also have situational bladders that are able to detect the moment at which you will be the most put-out by their need to urinate. Without fail, you will leave the movie theatre twice per child for bathroom breaks. Further, these breaks will come at the most important parts of the movie as best as you can tell from the few minutes you managed to take in between panic attacks over which theatre patron your child’s brightly colored drink might splash on when it hits the floor.

4. Seat choice- When I go to the movies with adults, I like to sit somewhere about three-quarters of the way from the front of the theatre and as close to the middle of the screen as possible. As you have probably gathered from the previous three items, your view of the screen is an absolute non-factor when choosing a seat with children. When you are picking a seat with children, you just need somewhere close to the exit. My suggestion, just sit in the lobby. You’ll know if the movie was any good by the looks on the faces of the non-child-bringing patrons leaving the theatre, which is exactly how you would know if the movie was any good if you had sat in the theatre with your kids anyway.

5. Showtime- When choosing a showtime with other adults, one usually simply picks a time that coordinates with a preferred dinner time. With kids, you have to consider nap times, meal times, snack times, and ultimately, bed time. From the research I’ve done, the movie theatre industry has intentionally programmed its showtimes to make it impossible for parents to have a good experience with their kids at the movies.

Early afternoon- Forget about it. The kids will either fall asleep because it is nap time and they are sitting still in a dark room watching a movie, or they will be cranky and horrible because they need a nap but don’t want to fall asleep while their favorite cartoon ogre is on-screen.

Late afternoon/Early evening- They just woke up from an invigorating nap, so they are wired for sound. Good luck getting them to sit still for a feature length movie.

Evening- Same basic problem as the early afternoon showtimes. Either the kids will fall asleep or be cranky because they aren’t asleep.

Why then, considering all of this, would my wife and I continue to take our kids to the movies? I honestly don’t know, but we do. I think it must be the same kind of thing that keeps me going back to the golf course. Sure, a majority of the balls I hit are never found, but there is always at least one good shot that makes me think there is hope. At some point on every trip to the theatre with my kids, there is a short period of time where the kids are quietly sitting on our laps or in their own seats, drinks and snacks secured and forgotten, and in the glow of screen, I can see the little smiles and looks of wonder on their faces as they experience something fun and exciting for the very first time.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Other People's Kids

Last weekend was my son's birthday. He turned three, and although we had a nice little party for him, and he got some really fun gifts, I think the highlight of his birthday weekend was his cousin getting to spend from Friday afternoon until Sunday afternoon with us. My nephew is right around six months older than my son, and since his mother (my sister-in-law) is our daycare provider, the two of them have spent a lot of time together over their three years. Simply put: They're best buddies.

I have to admit, I was also pretty excited about my nephew spending the weekend with us. For some strange reason, almost from birth, he decided that he did not want anything to do with me. He wouldn't let me hold him, showed no interest in playing with me, and generally tried to make sure that we were never within ten feet of each other. Around his second birthday, though, he started to warm up to me a little bit, not much, but enough to give me hope. Over the past year, he has gradually gotten to the point where he will run up to me when I go to pick up my kids, voluntarily give me hugs, and now seems to count me as pretty cool guy. I was looking at this weekend as a great chance to really cement our relationship as uncle and nephew.. and we did. It was great.

Having said all of that, I did come to a realization that weekend. I realized that as much as you may like or even love someone else's child, even if they are your blood relation, taking care of that child is COMPLETELY different than taking care of your own if it is not something you are doing on a regular basis. It is not that it is unpleasant; it is simply different. I'll try to explain it like this: Taking care of someone else's kid is like getting a dog that has been trained in another language. You know the dog knows all kinds of commands and tricks, and you've even seen it done, but you have no idea what you have to say to get it to do them. So it was with my nephew.

There are a few specific examples I would like to share to illustrate my point. The three kids, my two and my nephew, were all in the backyard playing in the kiddie pool. They were having a blast splashing around and going down the slide that attaches to the side. The problem was that one of them would be wanting to climb up the slide while another was wanting to go down the slide. This invariably resulted some tumbles and crying.

Now, reader, you or I would simply stop doing the thing that is getting us hurt, especially when it is so obviously an accident waiting to happen, but I realized I was dealing with small children. Their attention span for anything that isn't animated is almost non-existent. The only way to keep them from repeating this behavior was to make a rule against it. Time to do my daddy thing. I walked over, gathered the three of them, and told them the new rule was that only one person could be on the slide at a time. They all seemed happy with this rule, so I decided to seal the deal with a little breakdown, something my kids and I have been doing for years (for those of you who are unfamiliar with the term, a breakdown is when a sports team all put their hands in and shout something as they break their hands apart, usually seen in a basketball game at the end of a timeout). When I gave the cue for the breakdown, "hands in," my kids immediately knew what to do. My nephew, however, stared at me with a look on his face that I'm pretty sure translated to, "Uncle Nathan, with all due respect, are you friggin' high?" I forgot. He doesn't know that command.

That's a case of me forgetting that he hasn't been trained by me like my own children have. There is another example that comes to mind of my just speaking the wrong language. I don't remember exactly what it was I was trying to get him to do, probably put some pants on or something, but he wasn't showing any desire to do what I was asking. No problem, I do the count-to-three thing with my kids, and I know I've seen my brother do it with my nephew, so I started counting by saying, "(his name), One," no response, "(his name), Two," no response, "(his name), Three." Again, all he did was look at me as if I must be suffering from some kind of head injury. I didn't understand it, I thought I was giving the command the same way I'd heard his dad do it. Why wasn't it working?

When my brother showed up to my son's party on Sunday, I asked him if he used the counting thing with my nephew because I tried it, and it didn't work. He asked me exactly how I said it, so I told him. He kind of laughed and informed me that I made the mistake of calling him by the shortened form of his name, which to him means that we are just buddies messing around. If I want him to actually listen, I have to use his full given name. If only I'd known the language. I can't wait until the next time he comes to stay the weekend because this time, I'll be ready.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

T-Ball Observations Part II

In my last post, I wrote about the frustratingly funny task of teaching my daughter to play t-ball. I have to say, the entire experience has me wondering at what point I will become unable to accurately judge my children's ability to play sports. Right now, if the t-ball coach had to pick a starting nine, I would be shocked if my daughter were one of them. However, I know that this will not always be the case because I coach high school sports, and I know that sometime between now and her turning fifteen, I will lose my ability to see her as anything other than a varsity starter with collegiate potential.

Anyway, I promised the absurd. At our last game, I showed up in my usual t-ball gear: t-shirt, shorts, flip-flops. I have a strict "no socks in the summer unless it is absolutely necessary" rule, and I don't think coaching bases in a t-ball game necessitates wearing shoes that require socks. I quickly saw that the coaches for the other team did not have the laid back attitude that my daughter's coach has. At first I thought I was seeing things because I've checked out the other diamonds during our games, and it looks like everyone has the same approach to t-ball as our coach: just have fun and teach them a few basics. This other coach, however, had a different idea from the looks of it. He was out warming his girls up with he and his assistant wearing matching hats representing the high school's athletic program, coach's shorts, and the head coach was wearing cleats. I joked to one of our assistants that regardless of his overly professional attire, the game would still end in a tie since everyone gets to bat three times not matter what. My brother, who happened to be at the game, corrected me by saying that we would win because we had more girls.

Once the game started, it only became more fun. In our t-ball league, the coaches are allowed on the field with their team while playing defense. Every other coach I have seen, including ours, just kind of stand out there and make sure the girls are standing in the right spot, throw to first base when they get the ball, and try to get them to pay attention at least a little bit. This guy was out there saying things like, "On your toes! When that ball is hit I want to see you bouncing! You've got to be ready to pounce!" A ball got by one of his players and he loudly said, "Come on! We practice this all the time!" I should point out that I don't use exclamation points all willy-nilly like other people might. When I use exclamation points, it is because there was some exclaiming going on. This guy was yelling.

Reason number three that this guy should be locked away has to do with base-running. Now, from what I've seen, the main base-running goal for the average t-ball coach is simply to get the kids to run to the correct base at the correct time and make sure they actually touch the bases while they are doing it. For this reason, there is an unspoken gentleman's agreement among the coaches that no matter where the ball is hit or if a throw actually makes it to the base before the runner, ever batter gets to hit the ball and run to first. When the next player hits, the runner on first advances to second, and so on until the bases are loaded and then you simply start hitting runners in to score. There is no score kept and outs don't matter. Again, the goal is to teach them the very basics of the sport. Apparently, this guy missed that memo. On two occasions, one of his players hit the ball to the fence in the outfield (there are no outfielders in girls t-ball because the ball is rarely hit more than twenty feet) and he didn't stop them at first. One girl ended up with a double and the other a triple.

The greatest part of the whole thing was a little red-headed girl on his team, who happened to be wearing house slippers for whatever reason. She was on second base just singing away, and when the ball was hit only ran about halfway to third before getting bored and kind of walk/skip/dancing the rest of the way. He was coaching third and going crazy trying to get her to run the rest of the way, but she just kept singing and traveling at her own pace. Once she finally made it to third base, he proceeded to admonish her for not hustling and not doing what they had practiced, but the whole time she just looked at him and sang, "la la la la laaaa la." It was absolutely priceless.

I have to say, I'm very glad my daughter is not on this guy's team because I really don't think there is any way I would have let her continue to play after the first practice. There is a time for that kind of coaching and t-ball is not that time.

Monday, June 7, 2010

T-Ball Observations Part I

One of the most interesting aspects of the summer so far has been my daughter’s involvement in t-ball. It is her first year playing, so I knew that it would be an adventure, but I had no idea it would be this funny and frustrating at the same time. My only regret is that the entire t-ball season only lasts about six weeks from start to finish, and we are already nearly done. Oh well, allow me to fill you in on all of the wonderful things I have experienced so far.

Before I get to the funny and absurd, I want to begin with the thing that frustrates me the most. It isn’t other parents, my daughter’s coach, other coaches, or any of the usual suspects. No, my biggest frustration is my own daughter, and not in the overbearing, living-vicariously-through-my-children kind of way. It is more of a comical, the universe is hilarious kind of frustration. You see, as soon as I learned she would be playing t-ball, I immediately started trying to teach her some basics of baseball (it’s not softball until she actually starts playing with that ridiculously oversized ball). I wasn’t going crazy and trying to teach her a bunch of stuff that is way beyond what you need to play t-ball. I was simply trying to teach her to catch the ball (not even in the air), throw the ball, and hit the ball. At first, it seemed fairly hopeless because she would humor me for about five minutes and then lose interest and politely tell me I can just play by myself (she gets that from her mother), but after a little bit of persistence on my part, I was able to get her hitting decently off the tee in the backyard and throwing the ball somewhat straight and decently far. Yessir, I’m a JV baseball coach, and I know how to get players on the right track.

It did not take long for my pride to wear off. At her first t-ball practice, my daughter decides to completely forget everything we had practiced. When it was her turn to bat, she didn’t confidently stride up there and line up like we had practiced; no, she walked up and stood behind the tee, had to be picked up by her coach and positioned, and then proceeded to hack away at the tee like it was a tree that needed to come down. Eventually, she was able to make contact with the ball and made me proud by knowing to which base she was supposed to run, a feat not yet mastered by about 20% of the players in her league.

We are now a few games into the season, and hitting is no longer a problem. Also, she doesn’t spend the entire time running around trying to hug her friends either, which is good. I didn’t want to keep having the “There’s no hugging in t-ball” conversation with her. Now the problem is throwing. It is funny because she will just pick the ball up and chuck it right where she wants it to go. The only problem is that she steps with the wrong foot. Easy fix, right? Wrong. For whatever reason, as soon as I try to get her to step with her left foot instead of her right, it is like she looses the ability to control her right arm. Instead of a natural throwing motion, her arm becomes contorted behind her head with the ball somehow being dropped in the vicinity of her left ear. It never fails.

I will end this post here and bring you the absurd in my next post.

Note: The plan to sneak out of the house on report card day before my son woke up and realized he was being left behind did not work. He was screaming absolute bloody murder as I walked out the door… after my wife managed to pry his arms from around my neck.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Report Card Day

So, my summer hasn't even officially started yet, and Mr. Momhood has already posed its first dilema. A few weeks ago, my not-quite-five-year-old daughter decided that it was imperative for her to go to work with me. I simply explained that it wouldn't really work for her to be in my classroom while I was trying to teach because she is so darn cute that all my students would be wanting to pay attention to her instead of me. She then proceeded to explain to me that if the students were paying attention to her than she would just teach my class. When asked what she would teach considering I teach English and she can't even read, she stated that she would teach about painting fingernails and toenails in a way that made me feel like an idiot for even asking the question to begin with. I was eventually able to table the subject for the time being and assumed that it would fade from her consciousness as quickly as it had appeared.

It did not take long for me to realize that this was faulty thinking on my part, for it has become abundantly clear to me over the past few years of raising my children, that the mind of children under the age of (well, I'll let you know when it stops working this way) works much different that those of an adult. You see, when you tell a four year-old about something fun, they will make sure they remember by asking you about it every thirty-nine seconds (this statistic may vary depending upon your child) until said activity is completed. Expecting them to remember not to stick their tongue out at their sister or to not pull their dress over their head during church, however, is outside the realm of possibility. So, for a few days, my daughter asked me before work, after work, at dinner, during bedtime, in the middle of bedtime story, and as I was kissing her goodnight when she was going to go to work with me. Finally, I broke down and said that she could go with me on report card day to help give report cards to my homeroom students.

From that point on, report card day began to hold a special significance for my daughter, one I'm sure she will get over by the time she is the age of my homeroom students, and she has spent quite a bit of time in preparation for this glorious event. One day, while coloring pictures in her coloring book, she decided that her most recent masterpiece should be for one of my students. She asked me to name them, so I rattled off the nine students remaining in my homeroom, and she picked one at random to bestow her artwork. Upon deeper introspection, she decided it would not be fair in this or any other universe for that one, single student to have a picture of Strawberry Shortcake and for the other eight to have nothing but a boring piece of paper with grades printed on it. We then spent the next few hours picking pictures and coloring them for each of the students in my homeroom. She put a lot of thought into which pictures should be selected for distribution and asked me many questions about favorite colors and who like butterflies, etc., etc.. My job was simply to tear the pictures out and spell the names for her to write on the pictures.

Once all of the pictures were completed, it was only a matter of waiting for report card day... or so I thought. While driving home today, Report Card Day Eve, my daughter asked when report card day is. I responded that it is tomorrow, and her little girlie joy spread to informing her little brother that she was going and he was not. As you can imagine, this did not go over very well with my son. He became highly distraught that he would be left home with his mother while his big sister had the privelege of experiencing the magical joy and wonder of report card day. I thought the easiest thing to do would be to just let him go with us, so I extended the invitation. Problem solved. Wrong. My daughter then became equally disturbed that what had started as her big day with daddy had now become something she had to share with her brother. I decided to use my surefire crisis intervention plan and told them both to calm down and that we would talk about it when we got home.

This bought me about ten minutes. Luckily, for a quick-thinking superhero dad such as myself, this was all I needed. I occupied my daughter with a game of memory on my iPod Touch and sat down for a little man-to-man with my nearly three year-old son. I explained to him that report card day was something special that I had promised his sister and that he would get to spend that special time with mommy. I also explained that since his birthday is this weekend, it would soon be his turn to go to his very first St. Louis Cardinals baseball game, a tradition that we started with his big sister on her third birthday. He seemed pretty excited about getting to go to a game with me, so I reiterated that he would be staying home with mommy in the morning. It was at this point that I remembered my sons inability to keep a train of thought. He had already forgotten that this all had a connection to him not going to report card day and became upset again. I repeated this about twice before I gave up the horrible idea I had that I would be able to calmly reason with him. As of the writing of this blog, he has forgotten about report card day entirely. My plan now is to not mention it in his presence for the rest of his natural life and hope that he is still asleep when my daughter and I leave in the morning. I will post the results of this plan once they have been fully assessed.