Saturday, April 5, 2008

Anything But Light-Up Shoes

My son’s fifth birthday is in July, and last month I worried that I wouldn’t figure out in time what to get him.

Drums are too loud, paint sets are too messy and light-up shoes, I’m told, are dangerous to the kids wearing them and to the environment. What, then, do I get a boy with so much?

My wife told me not to stress out until at least a month before his birthday. We still had about five months to go, she said.

The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, as my mom called around that same time to ask what her grandson wanted for his birthday.

“I have no idea,” I told my mom. “Just no drums, paint sets or light-up shoes.”

“Oh, light-up shoes,” she said, “what a great idea! Why not light-up shoes?”

I told my mom that I’d heard you couldn’t throw light-up shoes in the trash because when they’re crushed they emit toxic fumes. I also told her that I’d heard the shoes have exploded on kids’ feet.

My mom laughed at me for believing such nonsense. Though I remember when she wouldn’t let me chew on the wax lips I collected while trick-or-treating on Halloween because, as she told us, the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) found a possible connection between the waxes used in the lips and Hepatitis A.

Luckily, my mom had no interest in getting the drums or paint set for my son, but she seemed very fascinated with the light-up shoes.

“He has to have light-up shoes,” my mom said.

“No he doesn’t,” I responded.

Enter my stepfather, who, when my wife and I told him “No cake,” gave our son cake.

“No, he doesn’t what?” he asked.

I knew my stepfather’s game. If I told him he couldn’t buy my son light-up shoes, he’d buy them just because I said not to buy them. But I wasn’t going to back down. My wife and I are the bosses of our child, and what we say goes. So I told both my mom and stepfather that nobody would buy the boy light-up shoes, even though I knew for a fact that my stepfather would go out of his way to buy the shoes against my wishes just to spite me.

To my surprise, both my mom and stepfather agreed that they wouldn’t buy the light-up shoes for my son’s birthday. I won that battle. I’m the boss, see?

A couple days later, some light-up shoes showed up in the mail from my parents. My son loves the shoes.

“I have light-up shoes just like my friends at school,” he told everyone.

My son stopped walking. Instead, he stomped his feet -- even when he was standing still. (The lights illuminate when the shoes hit the ground.) My wife and I took the boy to the movies, and while I was returning from the concession stand, I found it easy to spot our seats because I saw my son’s light-up shoes from a distance in the darkened theater. He was stomping his feet on his seat to see his shoes light up in the dark. He did that all through the picture. The audience loved us.

My son made a habit of walking into stationary objects because he was looking at his shoes light up instead of watching where he was going. I hate those light-up shoes.
But I found that I couldn’t hate them that much because my son loved them so much. I slowly began to like the shoes more and more.

And that’s when my son experienced a major growth spurt and outgrew the shoes. He was so sad that he couldn’t wear the shoes anymore. I was sad to see him sad, but glad because I knew what to get the boy for his birthday. So I went to the store and bought another pair of light-up shoes.

I’ve since learned that light-up shoes aren’t as dangerous as I’d heard. Those stories were false, just like the wax-lips stories my mom heard.

But, without the light-up shoes on his feet, my son was becoming more depressed than a 14-year-old girl who just broke up with her boyfriend of two weeks. I couldn’t bear seeing him so sad. So, like a weak parent, I gave my son the very shoes I was going to give him on his birthday.

My son is now a very happy little boy again. And I’m in dire need of a birthday gift idea again.

-April 2008

Don't Blame the Barber

My 4-year-old son and I got our haircuts simultaneously last weekend. He usually stays still during his haircut, but since we were both in a chair at the same time and I was rendered useless under the barber’s smock, my son decided to challenge the barber by constantly moving and bouncing all over the place. Not smart when you’ve got a moving blade on your head.

“Don’t move,” I told my son. “Do you want the barber to shave off too much hair? Or worse, do you want him to accidentally cut off your ear?”

“Please look straight ahead,” my barber instructed me.

My son obeyed me, and I obeyed my barber. We both sat still while our respective barbers cut our hair.

But it wasn’t long before my son started moving around again, excited that both he and his daddy were getting a haircut at the same time. I truly feared the barber would accidentally cut a groove into my son’s head if he moved too abruptly.

I turned to my son and said, “Please don’t move -- Ahh!” My barber nicked me with the clippers as I tried to reprimand my son. I guess my barber wasn’t expecting me to move so suddenly.

“Daddy, don’t move,” my son told me. “Do you want the barber to cut off your ear?”

The barber said he did, in fact, almost cut off my ear when I unexpectedly turned. He said he also cut my hair a little too short in one spot on the side of my head. He asked if I wanted him to cut my hair one blade closer to my scalp to hide the accident.

My barber was already giving me a short haircut. Any shorter and I’d practically be bald. But that would be better than having a funny nick on the side of my head. So I said, “Go ahead and cut it shorter.”

As my barber switched blades and began to take another layer of hair off my head, I noticed that my son was fidgeting around again and causing his barber a lot of frustration. My fears of his barber cutting him on accident began to brew in my brain.

I didn’t let those fears brew too long before I twisted in my chair to scold my son for causing his barber such a hard time. And just as I was remembering the challenge I was creating for my barber, I felt another nick on the back of my head.

“Sir, oh my goodness,” my barber said to me. “I’m so sorry but you --”

“I know, it’s my fault,” I said. “I’m sorry. How bad is it?”

“I have to take it down another layer,” he said.

“I’ll be completely bald if you take it down another layer,” I responded.

The look on my barber’s face indicated that I could either take a bald head or keep an ugly racing stripe down the back of my scalp. I opted for the bald head.

My son’s barber was just finishing up his haircut when the boy decided he wanted to jump off the chair right then to grab a lollipop.

Like electricity shooting through my body, where my legs and arms moved all on their own, I flung the smock off my body, hurled myself off my chair into the air to catch my boy in the act of leaving his chair, and tried to prevent his barber from hacking off my son’s ear . . .

And that’s the true story of how I became bald and lost my right ear. No kidding.

-March 2008

Relaxing Easter Weekend

Lately I’ve been working long hours and sleeping very little. I’m physically and mentally drained. I’m looking forward to a relaxing Easter weekend.

My wife, 4-year-old son and I will spend the holiday at my parents’ house in Sacramento. I’m planning on making this weekend a mini-vacation for myself.

But before the relaxation can begin, I’ve got to spend some serious overtime hours on Good Friday to finish up a bunch of work-related tasks. I’ll complete my work before the sun comes up Saturday morning, then I’ll sleep maybe two or three hours, pack up my family around 5 a.m., and we’ll hit the road.

The drive shouldn’t be too bad, even though I hate driving because I drive so much throughout the year. But I’ll be looking forward to a relaxing Easter weekend, so I should be able to persevere through the five-hour drive.

We should arrive at my parents’ house before noon. We’ll say hello, then jump back in the car and head on over to a Kiwanis Easter egg hunt about 30 minutes away.

My step-dad, who is president of his local Kiwanis club, is very excited to have his grandson attending the event. All the members have heard so much about my son. They can’t wait to meet him. So I’ll have to be sure to get up north in time to make the Easter egg hunt or my step-dad will be very disappointed.

The pressure is on because predicting the arrival time of a lengthy trip with a 4-year-old is extremely difficult since, as most parents know, 4-year-olds constantly have to go potty.

After the Easter egg hunt, assuming we make it up north on time, we’ll jump in the car again and head back to my parents’ house to dye our own Easter eggs and work on some Easter crafts my mom has set aside for the family. And even though I’d rather be relaxing Saturday afternoon, I have to do the traditional Easter crafts. It wouldn’t be Easter without those crafts.

My mom will host Easter dinner at her house on Saturday night since I can’t stay for dinner on Sunday night. (I have to leave early Sunday afternoon to come back home so that I can sleep before I begin work at 4 a.m. Monday.)

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let me get back to my relaxing Easter weekend. After Easter dinner on Saturday, I’ll go to sleep. But not for too long, since we’ll have to get up early, jump back in the car for a 30-minute trek to my sister’s hometown for Easter mass and Easter brunch at her house.

After Easter brunch, my sister will host the family Easter egg hunt. And even though I’d rather be relaxing, I have to participate in the family Easter egg hunt. It’s a tradition. And it wouldn’t be Easter without the family Easter egg hunt.

Following the hunt, it’ll be time to jump back in the car for a little five-hour drive back down Interstate 5 to my home, where I’ll gladly say hello to the pillow on my bed. A few hours later, I’ll wake up for another grueling day of work.

Sure, my plans for this Easter weekend might seem a little hectic, but aside from the lack of sleep, the rushing around, the pressure of making it to my parents’ house in time for the Kiwanis Easter egg hunt on Saturday, driving more than 12 hours in two days in holiday traffic, nonstop activities all weekend and the anticipation of massive work early Monday morning, it should be a relaxing Easter weekend.

I guess I can always plan to take that mini-vacation I need on the Fourth of July. Though my wife tells me that her family, which I’m told includes our family, is planning a trip to her aunt’s house in the Bay area for the Fourth.

And even though I’d rather be relaxing on the Fourth of July . . . maybe I’ll run away.

-March 2008

No Easter Bunny at Our House

My son is only 4 years old and he already doesn’t believe in the Easter Bunny anymore.

I’m a strong supporter of the imagination. As a kid, my imagination helped me in times of trouble, times of boredom and times of pain, and it heightened my times of joy. My imagination continues to assist me in life today. And I want the same for my son.

So when the boy told me that the Easter Bunny he saw at the shopping mall last weekend was really a person in a suit, I worried. I worried that he wouldn’t continue to develop his imagination and he’d have a harder life as a result. Maybe I’m being a bit extreme here, but I’m a parent, so I worry about everything and anything related to my son’s well being.

I was left with two choices. I could either tell my son that the Easter Bunny is real whether he likes it or not, and risk him never believing me again, or I could show him the Easter Bunny in person -- an Easter Bunny that doesn’t have a zipper on his back.

Did you know that bunnies aren’t good pets? According to the House Rabbit Society (a national nonprofit humane society for rabbits), kids and bunnies don’t mix. I spoke with someone at the Society who said that the high energy, rough behavior and noise level of even the gentlest kid are too stressful to a sensitive rabbit.

Another bunny expert said that the majority of rabbits purchased as Easter pets won’t even live to see their first birthday due to the stress the animal endures as a child’s pet. Bunnies don’t like to be picked up or carried, and they need lots of gentle maintenance -- or else.

My son has more energy than the tail of an excited puppy dog. He’s loud, and when he’s around any animal, he always wants to pick it up. As for the maintenance, I’m not really up for more chores around the house, and I don’t think my wife is either.

But we’re talking about my son’s imagination. So I decided to buy a bunny. I’d just take it back after the holiday, after my son became a believer again.

Now, since I’m a worrier, I worried about a couple things from the get go. I worried about my son’s energy around the bunny, which I figured I’d have to address before he saw the animal. And I worried about my son eating the bunny droppings. (Last year my wife and I placed chocolate-covered raisins disguised as Easter Bunny droppings in a path leading to the boy’s Easter basket, and he ate his way to his basket, hungry for more. I knew we couldn’t have that this year. So I’d also have to address that before the boy saw the bunny.)

I was putting a lot on my plate of things to do for this Easter, but I knew it’d be worth it.

I got the ball rolling on Monday. I told my son that the “real” Easter Bunny would visit him on Easter Sunday. He replied, “The man in the suit is coming to see me again?”

“No, no,” I said. “The ‘real’ Easter Bunny is coming.”

My son seemed very excited, but he also seemed a little skeptical. Now how does a 4-year-old become skeptical?

Well, I’d show him something that would knock his socks off.

While I was at the rabbit ranch picking up our “Easter Bunny,” my wife went online and found some pictures of real bunnies to show our son. When I called my wife to tell her I had the bunny in my possession, she said she’d shown the boy pictures of a real white “Easter Bunny.”

“Was he excited?” I asked. “No zipper on this bunny. What’d he say? Is he a believer again?”

I couldn’t wait for my son to see our Easter Bunny with its snow-white fur and fluffy cottontail. (I’d like to thank the Academy for this award for best revival of his kid’s imagination.)

And then my wife told me that my son didn’t believe that the bunny in the picture -- a real bunny just like the one I had in my car -- could possibly carry Easter baskets. “He has no hands,” my son said. “He’s not even as big as the basket.”

I didn’t speak. I hung up the phone. And then I took the bunny back to the rabbit ranch. If my son wants to be so smart, then he can lack imagination and suffer through life.

Well, he can suffer up until next Easter. I think I’ll get a zipperless Easter Bunny suit to wear. That should do the trick.

-March 2008

Things I've Learned as a Family Man

I was married in 2000, and my wife and I became parents in 2003. I feel it’s my duty to pass on my family man knowledge to new husbands and new fathers.

Words to new husbands:
-If you make a decision while alone in the forest, you’re still wrong.

-The minister at your wedding intentionally left out some very important words that will affect the rest of your marriage. These words are: “ . . . to have and to hold, and to relinquish all decision-making powers from this point on.”

-Never offer advice. She doesn’t want solutions, just sympathy.

-Your new wife might ask you to tell her the truth, but she’s really asking you to tell her what she wants to hear.

-Those benches/chairs in Ann Taylor, the Gap, Nine West and all other clothing and shoe stores weren’t put there for decoration. They were installed especially for you so that you can get to know all the other guys wasting their day while their wives and yours try on countless tops, pants and shoes that they don’t even really consider buying.

-It doesn’t matter if you scored 100 percent on your driving test, if you made CHP driving school appear to be as easy as a carriage ride through Central Park, or if one of your hobbies is stunt driving, you still need Her driving advice and criticism.

-“Sex and the City” is not just a TV show; it’s the way you spend Sunday nights from now on.

-People and Star magazines are, in fact, quality news sources.

-Truly cherish all your great stuff from bachelorhood. It now belongs in the garage. And that breakdown chart of the 454 Chevy big block engine is not the Mona Lisa you once thought it to be.

-“Duvet” is another word for “fancy bed comforter.”

-Plants in the house add atmosphere.

-A duvet with a plant pattern is “really cool.” At least that’s what you tell Her. And those matching throw pillows “really tie the room together.”

-“Yes, dear” is not a saying that’s advised, it’s a saying that’s required.

-She can never have too many pairs of shoes or too many purses.

Words to new fathers:
-Your head is the equivalent of a punching bag.

-Repetition happens. When the little one says something funny and you laugh, beware: you’ll hear the same thing over and over again, and you’ll be expected to laugh just as hard each and every time.

-Repetition happens. If you’re trying to make the little one laugh, and you perform an entire Three Stooges routine complete with a triple back flip, a crash over the couch and a wipeout onto the floor as a means to get that laugh, you’ll be expected to do it over and over, again and again until you can’t breathe anymore and your body feels and sounds like a bag of broken glass.

-Repetition happens. You’ll be forced to watch the same movies over and over, again and again.

-Repetition happens. You’ll be forced to listen to the same song over and over, again and again.

-Repetition happens. Period.

-Crayon happens. Be prepared to find crayon-drawn pirate maps on your T-shirts, and secret messages scribbled on the bathroom walls. That’s not a mess, it’s “cute.”

-Noggin is your new destination channel for entertainment on TV.

-The little ones think macaroni and cheese is a gourmet dinner. Good. Save your money. Don’t pay for actual gourmet dinners for the little ones.

Indeed, you new family men out there have much to change in your life. But men have killed themselves in search of gold. You’ve already found gold.

-March 2008

'Maybe' Isn't Good Enough

While our 4-year-old son is one little boy, and my wife and I are two grown adults, the kid is winning the energy battle here.
After a full day, he’s like the Energizer Bunny having downed a Red Bull energy drink, and we’re like the runner who just finished two back-to-back marathons in dire need of medical assistance.

That being said, my wife and I, who usually take part in most of our son’s activities together as a team, sometimes need a personal break from the daily grind. My wife recently took her personal break when she went to see a movie with one of her friends.

The other day, my son reminded me why I needed to take my break. I was driving him to school, and he was driving me nuts, determined to get me to put up the star lights that we used to project spinning stars on the walls during his last birthday party.

“Daddy, if I get a good report today, can we put up the star lights tonight?” my son asked.

“Maybe,” I replied. (My son has been very well behaved the last few weeks, but he assumes that if he’s a good boy, then my wife and I should automatically treat him to surprises. Well, my wife and I are of the opinion that he should be well behaved all the time, and not just as a means to get surprises. So that’s why my answer to him was, “Maybe.”)

My son wasn’t taking uncertainty for an answer. “But if I get a good report today, can you put up the star lights?” he asked again.

“I said, ‘Maybe.’” I replied. “‘Maybe’ means that my answer might be ‘Yes’ or it might be ‘No,’ regardless of how well you behave today.”

“But if I get a good report today, can you put up the star lights?” the boy asked again. (Note: the repeated quote from my son wasn’t a copy editing mistake, but rather my son’s salesman-like persistence.)

“I just said, ‘Maybe.’ ‘Maybe’ means that you’re not supposed to keep asking me about it, or my answer will be ‘No.’”
“Are you going to think about it?” my son asked, knowing that in this little routine of ours, which we’ve played out several times, I usually say that I’ll think about it.

“I’ll be done thinking about it, and my answer will be ‘No’ if you keep asking me about it,” I said to my son. “I already told you ‘Maybe,’ and ‘Maybe’ means that you’re not supposed to keep asking me about it. I’ll let you know after school if we can put up the star lights or not.”

My son became silent as we approached his school. And then he said, “Hey, Daddy, aren’t you proud of me for not asking you to put up the star lights?”

“Yes, but now I don’t want you to even talk about the star lights,” I said.
“Okay,” he said, and then he returned to silence. I parked the car, gathered my son and his lunch, and lead him to his classroom.

“I’m not talking about it, Daddy,” my son said, breaking the silence.

“You just talked about it right now,” I said.

“No I didn’t,” my son said. “I didn’t say . . .” and then he paused and mouthed the words “star lights” without making a sound. I shook my head.

As my son and I approached his classroom, I called my wife from my cell phone and told her that I needed my break from the daily grind as soon as possible because our son was driving me nuts. “Can I take my break tonight?” I asked, hoping that she could bring our son to his karate class by herself that evening. She told me that she was just going to call me and ask if I would take him because her boss asked her to stay late at work.

“Okay, if I go to karate, can I take my break after that?” I asked. My wife gave me a “Maybe” and said that if she did have to stay late, she might not get back home until very late.

“How am I supposed to make any plans for my break on a ‘Maybe?’ Can’t you just ask your boss when you’ll be finished?”

Just then, my son decided to chime in with, “Daddy, Mommy said ‘Maybe.’ ‘Maybe’ means that you’re not supposed to keep talking about it or Mommy’s answer will be ‘No.’”

Now what do you say to that?

-March 2008

A-park-alypse Now!

The recent warm weather was the catalyst for our adventure to the park the other day. My wife and I were happy to take our 4-year-old son there to have some fun in the sun.

There on a large parcel of land nestled within our housing development stood a fortress of play equipment colored in vivid hues, enough to put a smile on anyone’s face. My son loves the park. He loves to run. He loves to slide. He loves to swing. He loves to climb. And my wife and I love to see our son when he loves anything. And we love to participate in what he loves to do.

And so we were glad to play with him at the playground that day. I took a run down the slide following my son’s ride. Every time I go down those park slides, I always promise to never do it again due to the static electricity that the friction of the run causes when I go down, sending enough electricity through my body to start a vehicle with a dead battery.
But for some reason I always forget that promise.

The big smile that I was wearing on my face when we entered the park had turned into a big frown. I was upset that the slide electrocuted me, upset that I’d forgotten about my promise never to ride down the slide again, and upset that my wife was laughing at me for getting so upset. I was . . . well, upset!

“It’s not funny,” I said to my giggling wife.

“Stop sulking like a big baby,” my wife replied.

So my wife, in an attempt to prove that the slide couldn’t be that bad, went down the thing, and was surprised at the amount of static electricity that shot through her body. Her smiling face instantly changed. She looked as if she’d fallen into ice water -- wearing only a bikini.

I hate to say this, but my smile returned -- in a big way. I was so giddy that my fun, adventuresome spirit returned. And I decided to join my son on that spinning wheel ride -- you know, that circular wheel that you spin, then climb aboard and go round and round until you throw up.

Yeah, I don’t like to throw up, and I always hated that spinning wheel ride for such reasons, and so why I joined my son for a spin really was, and still is, a mystery.

Needless to say, my wife’s smile returned. More accurately, she was laughing hysterically at me as I displayed all sorts of facial expressions that, as she told me later, resembled the elasticity only available to animated cartoon characters. I was not happy.

The day continued in the same fashion. My son had a blast, and survived the park adventure without a nick. My wife and I, however, didn’t make out so well. My wife lost a lock of hair on the extended hanging bridge, and she scraped her knee when she fell off the play dinosaur in the sand box.

I twisted both my arms on the monkey bars while showing my son how to swing, I got the wind knocked out of me when I fell off onto my back into the sand while riding the swings at high altitudes, and I twisted my ankle on the spiral ladder in a mad dash to save my wife while her hair was being held hostage by the extended hanging bridge.

Leaving the park, feeling very defeated, my wife and I exchanged a brief dialogue about why having an only child has its drawbacks.

“We have no choice but to play on the playground equipment with him,” my wife said to me. “If we gave him a brother or a sister, the two or three of them could play together at the park, and we could sit back on the safe park benches with the rest of the parents who were smart enough to have more than one child -- and never be harmed by the playground equipment ever again.”

For a moment, I considered another child. I recalled the joy of my son being born, and re-lived through a daydream the experience of bringing him home, feeding him, cuddling him . . . changing his diapers, the endless crying, never sleeping at night. Then I said to my wife, “ How about we just encourage the boy to bring his friends to the park?”

My wife, who was also daydreaming about having more children, without hesitation agreed with me. And that was that.

-February 2008