Tag Archives: toddler life

Toddler Life, Chapter 773: Disposable Income


In case you were wondering, here’s what it takes to (in no particular order):

  • cause a truly diabolical racket when I hit the wrong light switch at 5:30 in the morning
  • cause a cardiac event in a thirty-something dad upon the aforementioned racket
  • immediately disable a newish appliance that was perfectly functional five seconds ago
  • induce stress sweats on and off throughout the day in the same dad at the thought of having to repair, rewire, and/or replace said appliance
  • cause same dad to invent previously unconceived-of words to approximate his thoughts on the matter at large

yep, to cause all that, and a fair bit of heartburn in mom besides, it takes fifty-eight cents.

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You probably didn’t know such a wide array of “benefits” could be had for such dirt-cheap prices. I certainly didn’t. But that’s only because as a more-or-less reasonable human, I never thought of using a garbage disposal to dispose of unwanted coin.

This is just one ignorance your young children will be only too happy to cure you of. (I know, I know. Don’t end with a preposition. What’s the old joke? “Fine … only too happy to cure you of, A-HOLE?”)

Coins actually fit rather nicely into a garbage disposal, as it turns out. The aural experience, though, is where it gets really exciting. They make a delightful little plinking sound as they slide down the drain. They make a sound like the end of the universe when you turn the disposal on. And then dad makes sounds like he’s dying as he fishes them out again, withdrawing his hands again and again crusted with gelatinous, vomit-inducing food waste.

Luckily, this problem, like so many household problems, is solved with a few minutes on Google and a willingness to get really unspeakably dirty. (I don’t even want to look at my hands, even hours later, for fear I’ll actually be able to see the microbes. Hand soap is great for the stuff that lives in the light, but for the gunk down in the drain, lurking in the pipes… antibacterial is not enough.)

So there’s that.

I found myself almost asking “who did this,” but when you’re a parent and you find yourself asking questions like “who put a handful of coins in the garbage disposal” or “who smeared cake frosting on the dog” or “who stacked every Lego in the house on my pillow”, you’ve already lost the fight. You just fix it and move on, lest you risk losing your mind listening to the denials.

Sidenote: Not sure how long I can continue to call this series “Toddler Life” with a straight face, given sprout #1 is six and sprout #2 will soon be four. But I am certain the series will continue, no matter the name.

 

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Toddler Life, Chapter 329: Washing Machines Are Surprisingly Effective at Destroying Books


You’re a dad. You’re forgetful. It’s only natural. Your spawn deprives you of years’ worth of sleep with their abject refusal to recognize and observe an reasonable bedtime. Dehumanizes you through endless cleaning of their bodily fluids. Abuses you with an interminable barrage of questions and demands and gibberish statements. If you didn’t love them, it could reasonably be called torture.

So you can be cut some slack when you forget what day it is, or fail to turn in that permission slip, or leave the extra change of clothes at home. And it’s probably no big deal if you don’t notice things that the sharper members of the species might pick up on: the expired milk lurking in the back of the fridge, the due date for your next oil change, the fact that your kids’ clothes don’t match. You’re a dad. You’ve got a lot going on. I feel you.

But I also have you beat.

Through absolutely no fault of my own*, I put my daughter’s favorite book through the washing machine the other day.

In a fit of cleaning house, I spirited the laundry basket downstairs, dumped it in the machine, and shuffled back upstairs to lay down in the bed for thirty seconds pretending I’m the sort of guy who can lay down for a nap in the middle of a Saturday.

Have you ever done that? You haven’t, because even if you’re a sleep-deprived, tantrum-weary guy like me, you at least know to check what’s in the laundry hamper before you dump it in the wash.

Not me.

Advance the tape an hour.

Wife: Hey, did you mean to put a book through the laundry?

Me: What? I didn’t put a book through the laundry.

Wife: Yeah, you did.

Me: I’m sure I wouldn’t.

Wife: Well, I didn’t do it. Did you put this load of clothes in?

She holds up a wad of laundry. It looks like a toddler’s papier-mache project, if the toddler chewed up the papier-mache and spit it out again before starting to sculpt it.

Me: (thinking long and hard about what I could possibly say that isn’t “yes” because I obviously did) (replaying dumping the laundry into the washing machine in my head) (seeming to recall that there may have been a “clunk” that I didn’t bother to investigate) (recalling watching my daughter drop the book into the laundry basket earlier in the day and not doing anything about it right then because for god’s sake, it’s Saturday and I just can’t) …yeah.

Wife: (nodding in a way that’s not entirely sympathetic) …So.

Me: (nodding for lack of anything useful to say) …yep.

Wife: You know that’s her favorite book, right?

Me: I did not know that.

Wife: Uh-huh.

Me: In my defense —

Wife: No.

Me: Sorry?

Wife: You’re about to say, “in my defense, what’s a book doing in the laundry basket?”

Me: Yeah, obviously.

Wife: So it’s the book’s fault?

Me: …Kind of?

Wife: Just clean it up.

When a book gets wet, it goes all soggy and wobbly and wavy as the pages try to expand but can’t, really, as they get in each other’s way. Then when it dries out, it stays kind of wobbly and wavy and, strangely, brittle, forever bearing the mark of whatever negligence caused it to become wet in the first place.

When a book goes through the washing machine, it basically explodes. Half the book — the bit nearest the binding, including much (but not all) of the cover — was intact and in soggy-book state. The rest of it looked like it had been shredded for confetti and fired out of a high pressure cannon into the washing machine at close range. Bits of pulpy paper were stuck to the inside of the basin. The clothes were saturated with the stuff, soggy paper gluing the load of clothes together like a giant, nasty hairball. Fragments of the illustrations glared at me with disembodied eyes and wings and feet. (How they stared with wings and feet isn’t my problem — I felt thoroughly glared at. Though that may have just been my wife.)

Point is, dads, we have it rough. We catch a lot of blame for things that aren’t our fault.

But at least you didn’t wash your daughter’s favorite book.

*may have been entirely my fault


Sprout Tells Me a Story


“Dad, I have to tell you about this guy.”

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“Oh, yeah?”

“His name is Rocker Baddo.”

“Wow, that’s pretty cool.”

“Um, it’s cool, but he’s not a nice guy.”

“No?”

“Well, he’s a mean guy with powers. He catches people with his magics and his powers are being mean to animals, and he makes mean animals like dragons catch him. And he makes dragons catch other people, too.”

“Really?”

“Yeah. You’re putting this on Facebook?”

“Maybe. I’m not sure yet.”

“Okay, well, you should show someone. Put their name on the website, too.”

“Maybe I’ll do that. What else can you tell me about the guy?”

“Well, he smacks people with bombs. And he sneaks up on people to catch them. And he — you remember what I said about him that he says, when he sneaks up to scare you? He says BRRRRRRAAAARRRRRRR.”

“Wow!”

“Spell that word, too. And do you need me to tell you more?”

“If you like.”

“Okay, well, the worstest part that he does is when his stomach blows up with the little blower, it goes all over the city until everybody gets dooms right in the tower. (It’s just too long for me to sit, daddy.)”

(He gets up and starts monster-stomping around.)

“That’s okay, bud. Anything else?”

“I think there’s a lot more to tell you. Guess what? The other part is when the goats come out. After he does, he gets a lot of mean animals to come out, and after the animals come out, the animals are critters and they walk around like mean monster walkers but they’re robots. And when they blast people, people fall down. And when that happens, they put fire on you and your eyes, and then you don’t wake up anymore.”

(Jesus.)

“That sounds pretty scary.”

“Yeah, very scary.”

(At this point — he was stomping around like a mean monster walker robot, and unplugged the laptop, which distracted him enough to derail the story entirely.)

Oh, to have that amount of creativity, and the total indifference to whether it makes a damned bit of sense.


Toddler Life, Chapter 148: Because It’s Hard


You don’t get much help as a parent. You can buy all the books — all the Idiot’s Guide to Parentings and How to Think Like a Toddlers you like — but when the rubber meets the road and you’re faced with the prospect of actually bringing up this fledgling human to be an actual human, you’re pretty much on your own. All that preparation goes out the window and you’re locked in with your lizard brain, fight-or-flight instincts to get through it.

Not only are you all alone at the stick, but there’s a fogbank closing all around you, the instrumentation is freaking out and giving you bad readings and it’s close to impossible to tell whether that dark shape in the distance is the runway you’re hoping to land on or a mountainside waiting to pulp your plane. Oh, and there’s a tiny person behind you who keeps screaming in your ear and placing their hands over your eyes — only they don’t fully understand how that works so it’s not so much hands over your eyes as jagged, flesh-rending fingernails thrust into your eyeballs.

It’s often hard to see what you’re doing, in other words — and doubly hard to see what sort of effects you’re having on your kid. And while most moments fly by and don’t make much of an impression, every now and then you find yourself in the midst of a Moment. A Moment that Matters. You feel the gravity of the situation fully, and somehow, through senses indecipherable, you see through time to the futures that could unfold as a consequence of your choices in this Moment.

A Moment, in other words, where you see that your choices could make or break your kid.

Such a Moment transpired last night.

The Sprout is in kindergarten, which means homework. Writing his name. Writing numbers. Practicing “sight words.” (Did they even have “sight words” when I was a kid? I have no memory of such a thing, but I don’t know if that’s because “sight words” is just a new buzzword or because education was just a leaky life raft in those days — it worked and we didn’t much care about how it looked or performed along the way as long as it got us there, which it seemed to. Also possible: my memory is less steel trap, more sleepy security guard.) Preparing for class presentations.

The teachers told us there would be homework on the order of about 10-15 minutes a night. Which is fine. But this week, it’s gusting towards an hour (10-15 minutes of handwriting practice, 20-30 of sight word practice — which feels more like two to three hours, let me tell you — and another 10-15 minutes of reading books about firefighters for a class dress-up day this week). And last night, it reached a head, and caused that Moment.

We went to a fundraiser night at a local restaurant, which had us getting home later than usual — just about 45 minutes before bedtime. And the kids have been cooped up all day, so we let them out to play in the yard for a few minutes while my wife and I take stock of the situation and figure out the plan of attack for bedtime (and if you think having a “plan of attack” for bedtime sounds a little silly, well, obviously you’re not a parent). So by the time they come in, we’ve got thirty minutes until bedtime. And in our house, much like Bruce Willis doesn’t miss his drilling depth even in an asteroid of alien construction, WE DO NOT MISS BEDTIME.

It dawns. We don’t have enough time to do Sprout’s homework. What do we cut? His handwriting is atrocious; he needs every rep he can get. And for every day we don’t work on his sight words, he forgets ninety percent of what he had learned. And the bloody firefighter presentation is tomorrow, so we can’t skip that.

We start working. He’s writing while I sit next to him, and I’m watching the clock. He’s dawdling (go figure, he’s a kid), and I’m getting frustrated. The waters are rising, threatening to close over both our heads. He goes to erase a mistake and I stop him. I stop him. “Just leave it. Let’s get finished.” He’s confused and upset — do I want him to work or do I want him to be done working? — and near tears. It’s too much. Now I’m underwater, and I’m fuming. He’s five years old, for crying out loud. We shouldn’t be dealing with having so much homework he has to stay up late at five years old. This is insane. Just let it slip.

And then, the Moment. Because, see, in addition to being a dad, I’m a teacher, too. And as a teacher, I know what’s plaguing our youth and by extension, our future; it’s a lack of gumption. That thing that sends you out into the rain for a five AM workout when you’d rather stay in your warm bed. That thing that gets teachers staying late in the evening and going in early in the morning when their neighbors are working their 9-to-5’s. That thing that gets Rocky off the mat after Creed knocks him on his keester. (Kiester? Keister? Keester? Spellcheck recognizes none of these.) The thing, in other words, that recognizes that the job is tough, the job is unpleasant, the job is painful; but at the same time, the job needs doing, and if you don’t do it, then it won’t get done.

The urge was there. The thoughts were there. He’s only five. Why is he doing all this at home anyway — aren’t they supposed to teach him in school? What’s the big deal if he doesn’t do it? Not like he’s going to flunk kindergarten!

But it’s that kind of thinking that has classrooms across the nation filled with kids who don’t know the value — not just of homework — but of WORK. Who don’t have the patience to work at anything that doesn’t come to them almost immediately.  Who aren’t interested in trying something if it doesn’t already interest them.

This is a Moment, I realize — maybe not the moment (because after all, he’s still only five), but certainly a Moment — when we teach him that homework is just a Thing You Do, that school exists outside the walls of a government building, that Mommy and Daddy support and believe in and will even enforce the things he’s getting from his education. It’s not a thing that happens to him in a vacuum, separate from us. Not a thing we hear vague whispers of across a dinner table, in disinterested mumblings around mouthfuls of mashed potatoes. (“How was your day today?” “Fine.” “School okay?” “Sure.” End scene.) Not a thing we allow to slip at the first inconvenience.

That way would be easy.

That way is too common for too many parents of too many kids.

That way is not for us.

JFK said it best … we do these things “not because they are easy, but because they are hard.”

And, okay, sure, there’s the added benefit that maybe, hopefully, these things will turn the Sprout into a decent human being one day.

So I gather him in for a hug and we back off for a few minutes and talk about doing the work and being ready for school the next day. We dry his tears. And we get back to it. I’m happy to say, we finished the homework. Then we got him down to bed a little bit late. And we talked about firefighters the next morning before we sent him off to school.

And he was smiling when he left the house.

I guess a few minutes of missed sleep didn’t hurt him. And for that matter, it didn’t hurt me, either.


Five Years a Dad


My son is five years old today.

Nothing quite drops a boulder in the stream of what you thought your life was like the birth of a child, to say nothing of adding a 26-day stint in the NICU into the mix. Having kids has forced me to grow up in ways that I never thought I would have to, has cast shadows of doubt and rays of hope across my world in ways I didn’t think possible.

I used to think I had a pretty good idea of who I was and where I fit in this world. But kids will divest you of that notion like a raccoon divesting a garbage can of its contents.

Ever since I became a dad, I feel like every day I have to reinvent myself a little, adjust the way I think a little, consider my effect upon the world just a little bit more. I have to grow up a little more every day, just to stay a few steps ahead.

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Well, maybe not that far ahead.

Happy birthday, Sprout. To quote Johnathan Coulton, you ruined everything … in the nicest way.


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