Thursday, October 29, 2009

The Wonder Years

She can't help it. At least that's what the experts say. Her cerebral cortex, the section of her brain which  perceives higher reasoning, logic and consequences, is disengaged. The clearinghouse for most brain activity originates within her hypothalamus, a primitive region which instructs the body to either fight, flee or freeze. She evaluates all information and then acts based upon how it affects her and her immediate needs. Any perceived threat causes her brain to completely shut down and posture for a fight. How old do you think this human might be? Six? Three? Eighteen months?
Nope. Fourteen.
My wife and I have been taking a weekly class at the local high school about all things teenager: their social and physical development, their emotional progression, methods for parents of coping with them and listening to them.
It's been really helpful, since the one of the first lessons taught is that your teen is your ally, not your adversary. Believe me, this is a highly underrated piece of advice. It allows me to look beyond some of her recent statements, such as:

1) Teenager: "Dad, what time is The Office on tonight?"
    Me: "Nine o'clock."
    (Ten seconds elapse)
    Teenager: "Dad, what did I just ask you?"

2) Teenager: "Dad, can I drive to the store?"
     Me: "No, you're fourteen."
     Teenager: "That's not fair."
     (I don't follow up on such statements with any sort of logical inquiry as to why it's not fair.)

3) Teenager (at school, calling me while I'm at work): "Dad, I forgot my volleyball socks. Can you bring
    them to me?"
    Me: "No, I'm at work."
    Teenager: "That's not fair. Can't you go at lunchtime?"
    Me: "No, it would take me an hour-and-a-half."
    Teenager: "That's not fair."
    Me: "You've made that clear."

As I mentioned a couple of months ago, I dearly love this girl. She's smart and kind and funny. The hard part is the clashes we have in between her smart, kind, funny moments, and my struggle to keep situations from escalating. Our class instructor maintains that the best way to convey requests (orders, actually), without appearing confrontational and invoking the kid's caveman brain reflex, is to swoop in, succinctly state the information, and swoop back out. Kind of like "Whack-a-Mole." Anything to avoid a face-to-face stand-off is good, and this technique does appear to be working. Any more droning on, and I sound like Charlie Brown's teacher, and nothing gets through.
Well, time to make sure the Volleyball socks are clean.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Not raisins again!

With Halloween approaching this weekend and my family's costumes all planned out, I've been thinking a little about how we dress up for Halloween, and what it indicates about us. Oh, no, it's not just an outfit—it's a personal statement. As I rode in on the 54 this morning, my own Halloween choices over the years surfaced, and I formed a few categories:
1) The well-thought-out, personality-based costume. Most of these are created with the help of a parent (usually your mom). These are extensions of our personality traits. I have been a mouse (a rather small percentage of my psyche), a tiger (again, small percentage), hippie (large portion, worn several times), a skeleton (a manifestation of my aspirational, skinny self) and a devil (not Exorcist-level, but saturated with the brat gene nonetheless). Not to sound too much like Freud, but look around at what the kids are wearing, and it may shed some light on their ongoing struggle between id, ego and superego. And hopefully, you won't see a costume relating to the Oedipus Complex.
2) The "faddish" costume. This may work for some, but usually, too many people are wearing the same thing (please see Sarah Palin, 2008). I tried this once, dressing up as "The Fonz." It was okay, but I saw about 17 other Fonzes traipsing around my neighborhood that evening. And shortly thereafter, the guy jumped the shark, rendering himself forever passé.
3) The lame, thrown-together, last minute costume. I've only used this method as an adult, and people's reactions are as lukewarm as the effort put forth in creating the look. One year, I bought a mullet wig and wore it with a rock station t-shirt. Nobody got it. The wig didn't look enough like a mullet, and I basically resembled a bank robber. Rocker guy costume thereby aborted.
Last year, I avoided any confusion about who I was by ironing the word, "Hamburglar," onto a white t-shirt. Still lame, though.
Many adults aren't so lazy about it, especially some of my co-workers, who spend hours becoming Dale Chihuly or Richard Simmons or Ugly Betty. In my opinion, however, nothing beats that slightly clueless four-year-old whom, after you open the front door, walks right into your house in search of the candy motherload. Those kids are hilarious, especially when their faces are too hot to wear that plastic Spiderman mask any longer, and the red and blue suit has to be slit in the back to accomodate the puffy jacket.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

That's not the letter "O" on their helmets, it's a zero

Purple and gold—the two most noble colors in the spectrum. Yes, I'm a Husky, born and bred. I hail from a family of UW alumni—my brother, sister, wife and me. Whenever I mention to my wife that the Huskies are playing a crucial, must-win, do-or-die game, she'll brush it off with something like, "To you, it's important. To me, it means nothing. It's a game." So, even though she's actually a "Double Husky," with both Bachelors and Masters degrees from our fine institution, she couldn't care less about the snarling dogs of Montlake.
My brother is her polar opposite. He could view, back-to-back, Schindler's List, Terms of Endearment, Brian's Song and Love Story, and shed nary a tear. But subject him to a disappointing Husky loss and he requires a good five days to re-supply his brain's serotonin levels. Such was the case yesterday.
He and I arrived at the UW campus in high spirits. It's difficult not to be excited, arriving at a beautiful college campus on a sunny Fall afternoon, the leaves swirling around the massive, gothic structures. A pilgrimage of purple-clad supporters snaked its way through campus and down to Husky Stadium, with a smattering of green-and-yellow-adorned Oregon Duck fans infiltrating the procession. I've always felt that the object found in nature which most simulates Oregon's green is a sinus infection, and it heavily clashed with the regal purple which represents Washington.
We arrived at the stadium and found our seats just as the national anthem was being belted out by the Husky Marching Band, the opening kick-off just minutes away. The cantilevered design of Husky Stadium funnels all crowd noise directly onto the field, which can prove to be distracting and intimidating to UW opponents. As usual, the roar was deafening.
The Huskies stopped the Ducks on their first possession, forcing them to punt and giving the purple and gold faithful some rightly-deserved optimism. Without droning on about what later ensued, let's just say that was the apex our football day.
Just to give some perspective to the Oregon-Washington rivalry, it dates back to 1900, with the Huskies holding a 57-39-5 advantage. Washington dominated the series up until the 1990s, and once the tables turned, Oregon felt no compunction in running up the score on its northern rival with impunity. The games are marked by frequent scuffles, both on the field among the players, and off the field among the drunken masses of college kids. A Duck fan can feel relatively safe wearing his or her school colors to the game in Seattle, but beware the consequences of wearing purple and gold as you make your way toward Autzen Stadium for a football contest in Eugene, Oregon.
The Huskies lost yesterday, 43-19, and unfortunately, the inferiority complex deep inside a lot of Duck Nation surfaced on the way out of the stadium. I heard one guy say, "We don't even care about this game anymore. We always win." I wanted to ask him why he drove 300 miles to watch something about which he didn't care.
The day was still fun. I got to hang out with my brother and take part in a ritual that never loses its luster. And Duck fans, call me when you win a Rose Bowl.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Our top story tonight

Local news. National news. They each drive me crazy...yet I've faithfully watched each since I was old enough to comprehend that a war was going on in Vietnam. Each possesses its own brand of obnoxiousness unique to its medium. Let's begin with the local brand:

1) They love logos. Whether it's "Winter Blast 2001," or "Standoff in Tukwila," or "Fender Bender at Seventh and Olive," each report is preceded by a shiny, 3D graphic treatment, combined with an ominous soundtrack.
2) They strive to make a non-story into a dramatic event. If "Winter Blast 2001" fails to materialize, they copter up to some peak in the Yukon Territory just to display the snow accumulating in the Aqua-Netted hair of some cub reporter. Their lead statement is something like, "We're here in Skagway Alaska at the front edge of a potentially devastating Arctic blast to the Puget Sound area, a mere 1200 miles from where I stand."
3) The local news anchor is compelled to banter with the weather guy at the news desk. "Hey, Steve, I hope you deal us up some sun for the weekend...heh, heh!" Just one of these times, I wish that Steve would say, "Hey, Dennis. You know what? I don't control the weather. But you, however, do control what you're wearing from your suit coat down, which today is just a Speedo and some brown socks."
4) They don't report news. They talk about fires and puppies and drinking lots of water when it's hot outside.

On to our national coverage:
1) There's so much happening on the screen. A "crawler" along the bottom tells you news  that the person at the desk isn't saying, or maybe is. At the top left are stock prices; at the top right are astrological forecasts. I enjoy customizing my TV to display subtext for the hearing impaired just to provide maximum confusion and anxiety.
2) Experts who answer questions with questions. Often, especially on cable news shows, a so-called "senior analyst" is brought in to shed some light on a situation too complex for the viewer to comprehend. And more frequently than not, the expert leaves us even more confused. Here's an example:
News Anchor: "General Johnsssson, what do you feel should be the President's next strategic move in Afghanistan?"
General Johnsssson: "What do I feel the President should do? Should he scale down our troop levels and create a leaner and more mobile security force? Maybe. Should he use psychological tactics to win over the hearts and minds of the tribal elders? I don't know. Do I think the United States is part of Europe? No, I don't."
3) Experts who make a statement, only to completely rebuf that statement. Example:
"Yes, I think the president is making significant gains in attaining world peace. He's definitely on the right track and he has my full support. That said, I believe he's the lead horseman of the Apocolypse, and the world will soon drown in a lake of fire."

Okay, there I go again—more cynicism. Do I need to halt these negative analyses? Maybe. Will I? Probably not.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

How's your day going so far?

I try, I really do, but sometimes it's difficult. Cynicism tends to run in my family, so rather than fight an uphill battle, I've decided to embrace my cynicism, at least temporarily.
I realize that certain pleasantries are essential in keeping a civilized society functional. However, I also believe that conditions have gotten to the point where I feel compelled to analyze a few of these bromides to provide myself some clarity. Here are some examples:

What bank teller says: "So how's your day going?"
What bank teller means: "I need to know your mental state, so I can decide whether or not to access the exploding dye packs."

What guy at work says: "You look tired."
What guy at work means: "You look like you slept in a tub filled with gravel."

What woman at work says: "I love your new haircut. It's so cute."
What woman at work means: "Okay, it's going to take a little while to get used to working with Kate Gosselin."

What IT person at work says, in an email: "Thanks in advance for your cooperation in implementing the new system."
What IT person at work means, in an email: "Do this. You need to do this."

What co-worker says: "Your lunch smells great. What kind of fish is that?"
What co-worker means: "The stench of that rotten sea flesh gives me unbridled nausea."

What woman at park says: "Your son is so energetic. I love it."
What woman at park means: "Your son begs for that medication they administer as step one of three, during lethal injections."

What checker at Target says: "Have a great day."
What checker at Target means: "Mmm... ten more minutes until five-dollar footlong time."

What person you run into downtown says: "We should get together sometime."
What person you run into downtown means: "I'd rather eat roadkill."

I know that people can be, and are, sincere and genuine in their statements 99.9% of the time, and I realize these musings are a bit negative. For that I apologize in advance. Have a great day.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Guys don't carry girls' books anymore; it's all online

Some events roll into your life easily, like the familiar expectation of the chocolatey, Tootsie Roll center of a Tootsie Pop. Others take you a bit by surprise, like discovering that your pizza has corn on it (Sorry, I just find comfort in food analogies.).
The latter event proved to be the case this past Saturday evening. I had known for quite a while that my fourteen-year-old daughter was anticipating her high school homecoming dance. I had known that four of her friends were coming over to our house to eat frozen pizza and get ready beforehand. And, I had known that my girl had never before been to a mixer with boys as old as eighteen.
What I hadn't accounted for, outside the boundaries of this intellectual information, were the emotional reactions, most notably from my daughter and me.
This wasn't a shindig where a one guy asked one girl, or vice versa; no wrist corsages, no gunny sack dresses, no parking at Inspiration Point afterward. Sounded good to me. I was certain my girl would just frolic around in her safe gaggle of buddies, maybe chatting up the occasional guy, and then retreating back into the crowd for a juice box and some goldfish.
She and her four friends all crammed into our phone booth of a bathroom, equipped with flat irons, curling irons, maybe even waffle irons for all I knew. After about an hour of changing, re-changing and re-re-changing their tight tee shirts and skinny jeans, it was finally time to go. They piled out the door and into the mini-van, leaving a cloudy, greenhouse gas cocktail of Aerogel and hormones.
I felt some apprehension, but fortunately, my alma mater was battling Arizona State on TV, and, being a guy, I was easily distracted by such a shiny thing to watch.
My daughter finally arrived home around midnight, absolutely aglow. She said, and I quote, "I had the best time. I love high school. I slow-danced with (name redacted)...twice."
"That's great," I said, "I'm really glad you had fun. It's good to hear that you love high school. And how awesome that you what?"
"I slow danced with (name redacted)."
That's when I dug really deep. Time to play it cool.
"Is he a good guy?"
"Of course, otherwise I wouldn't have danced with him. (you freakin' bonehead, Dad)."
I just let it go at that point.
"All right. I'm glad you had a good time. See you tomorrow."
I really am happy for her, and I do know that this is a natural step in the coming-of-age progression. I guess the thought of an adolescent male slow-dancing with my baby just makes me feel a little...vulnerable.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Leave this stuff to the experts

A few hypothetical scenarios you might consider in pursuit of publicity, but probably shouldn't:
1) You're an amateur scientist, recently featured on the educational series, "Wife Swap." You decide to build a cool, silver balloon, prepare it for launch, attach it to the ground in your backyard, right next to the swing set, with a couple of pieces of dental floss, and then go inside to make a hot pocket. On your way into the house, you tell your three sons, between the ages of six and six-and-a-half, not to mess with the balloon, because it would be really easy to release and super fun to fly.
This is not a good publicity stunt because it can lead to serious injury or death.
2) You're a bloated, egomaniacal, narcotic-guzzling racist, with a highly inflammatory, right-wing radio show. You're wallowing in cashy goodness (rich). Your track record is littered with divisive, bigoted opinions, and the majority of Americans despise you, especially those who aren't white and male. You think to yourself, "I should purchase an NFL football team. What harm is it if 80 percent of my employees are African-American? They'll be working for me."
This is a bad idea, because it can lead to disbelief, followed by boisterous guffawing, followed by burly security guards demonstrating how your nose can actually open a large, glass door at the league office.
3) You hate your wife, and I mean with a fiery passion. You already have twin daughters. The two of you decide, since you so direly loathe each other, that she should again ingest fertility pharmaceuticals, because, hey, what are the chances of another multiple birth? And besides, if she happens to give birth to, say...sextuplets, payday is just around the corner in the form of your own TV show. And then, just a couple of years down the road, you can bag the whole thing and hook up with your wife's plastic surgeon's daughter.
This is not a good publicity gimmick, because, even though you're furnished with a lifetime supply of Ed Hardy t-shirts, the entire world bears witness to what a complete, classless tool you are.
Keep in mind, the advice I am offering is merely a courtesy, just as that picture on the cover of grape nuts, with the strawberries, toast and juice, is merely a serving suggestion.
Please follow your heart.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Always the maven

Wow, we're halfway through October. As I rode into town this morning on Bus 54 (always a good time), I spotted a couple of student-ish types in UW sweatshirts, and realized that they are now fully immersed in their second week of fall quarter at my alma mater, the good old You of Doubleyou. And once again, the shallow pond reflected.
28 years ago this month, my dad drove me into Seattle, thereby finally emptying his nest completely. He dropped me off at McMahon Hall, a behemoth of a structure, reminiscent of gray, multi-storied Soviet utilitarian high rises. In other words, warm and inviting.
Make no mistake—I had planned for this day. I bought a shiny, new pair of "Big Macs," which were basically the lower half of a pair of overalls, at the Auburn JC Penney. Those pants were a fashion staple in South King County, and for all I knew, the rest of the western world. I slipped on my tight-ish, Auburn High Jazz Ensemble t-shirt, and felt ready for the next level. Little did I know, however, that two worlds were about to collide.
As I entered my "cluster," which was a group of four rooms that shared a common living area, most of my cluster mates already had ensconced themselves. The entire suite of rooms was occupied by UW Husky swimmers—large and lanky with stiff, neon hair. They all wore the same outfits, which were Levi's and polo shirts. "You guys look really stupid," I didn't say.
The largest dude was my roommate, Matt. Upon entering our room, I noticed that he had filled up his book shelf and part of mine with canned goods, mostly ravioli and Spaghetti-O's. I remember thinking, "Cool. This guy dresses like a dork, but he can eat Spaghetti O's anytime he wants."
I staked out an area around my desk to display some select and treasured items: a picture of my girlfriend, who was a freshman at the University of Oregon (and about whom, Matt stated, "She's cute, but I doubt it will last."), my boom box and a poster of Rush (the band, not the drug-addled gas bag).
I knew none of these guys, but they all came in to introduce themselves, and they ended up being really nice. They let me into their world after we had gotten to know each other for a few weeks, and it was refreshing how comfortable they felt blindfolding me, duct-taping me to a chair, stuffing me into the elevator and hitting the buttons for all twelve floors.
But back to day one. The oldest swimmer, Scott, asked me if I wanted to go to a swimmer's party with the rest of them. Sure, why not? I've got nothing but time. Before I knew it, I was wedged in the back of Scott's Lincoln Continental, going to who-knows-where with who-knows-whom. We pulled up to an apartment building and walked into a unit filled with college people, all wearing Levi's and polo shirts. "Geez, more dorks,"  I thought. Still rocking my jazz band shirt and Big Macs, I stood in the corner, drinking from a red, plastic cup. A kindly co-ed walked up to me and said, "Hi. So you're from Auburn?"
"Yeah. How'd you know?"
"Uh, it says so on your shirt."
"Oh, uh, yeah."
"Cool." Then she walked away.
I didn't talk to anyone else the entire evening.
A couple of days later, school began, and I finally realized that the entire campus was filled with people who didn't know how to dress themselves. Oh, well, I thought. I guess I'll have to buy some Levi's, but I'm sure these guys will eventually catch up with my fashion sensibilities.
I'm still waiting.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

You're not my mom!

I flicked the light on in the bathroom. The clock displayed 5:20 AM. Time to start another day with an uninspired trip to the local YMCA gym. I surveyed my features in the mirror, noticing that familiar, vertical tuft of hair that gave the appearance of either an aging, punk rooster or a swirly, grey soft serve cone.'s far too early to succomb to any sort of vanity, far too early to wax nostalgic about when my facial stubble wasn't eighty percent silverish.
I choked down a cup of coffee and dragged my carcass out to the truck for the five minute drive (because, hey, why walk to the gym when you can drive?) to the facility.
My initial glimpse into the cardio room was no different today than any other morning—a slightly overweight, bearded man on the recumbent bike appeared to be knocking on death's door. His face contorted into an agonized grin; his breathing sounded like those foot pumps you use to blow up a pool mattress.
I walked past him and mounted the eliptical trainer. Before beginning my workout, I like to survey the immediate area. Usually, only a handful of masochists occupy the gym at this hour, and it's usually older people. Most of them—well, actually, all of them, tuck their shirts in. I hope I'm as healthy as these folks should I achieve their age someday, but I'm definitely not going to tuck in my shirt. Especially into tight, bike shorts. I know they're really proud of their bodies, as they indeed should be, but in my opinion, bagginess is a virtue.
I powered through my workout, trying to eliminate any toxins ingested the previous day. Sometimes, it feels like they've coagulated to form cheese curds in my bloodstream, but I always feel better afterwards.
Upon entering the men's locker room, I often find strange, disgusting leftovers on the floor—maybe a Band-Aid® or a Q-Tip®, or something not registered with the U.S. Patent Office. For a while, I'd been discovering toe nails on the floor by my locker, and naturally, I was really grossed out, especially when I stepped on a sharp clipping with my bare foot. A few months passed, and finally one day, I was fortunate enough to confront the culprit. He was a fifty-something guy, just trimming his hooves onto the carpet and leaving the remnants there. After about five minutes of slow burning, I finally blurted out, "I hope you're going to pick those up."
"Are you talking to me?" I guess he thought he was DeNiro.
"Yeah, I'm talking to you."
"You're not my mom." Definitely not DeNiro now. More like Pee Wee Herman.
"No, I'm not your mom. But I'll bet she would want you to clean those up." Now I was regretting ever engaging this guy.
"Too bad!" he retorted. Wow, I guess he told me.
He talked to me like a little kid, but he also responded like one, as I never again came across any nail clippings on the locker room floor.
I didn't spot anything overly offensive this morning as I shuffled into the shower, dried off and got dressed.
My morning workout routine functions as a meditative process of sorts, clearing my head and preparing me for a sometimes challenging day. And as an added bonus, it affords me the opportunity to mull over such things as blogging about nail clippings.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Did you find everything you were looking for?

Each fall weekend forces a delicate balance. If left to my own devices, I would fully immerse myself in the football culture, as expanded upon in a post from August, entitled, "Hut, hut." To assuage the demands of the familial chores, I try to accomplish at least a couple of tasks before sitting down to scream at that box in the corner of the family room. Today, I volunteered to perform the weekly grocery shopping prior to kickoff. Accompanied by one of my daughters, whose name I've agreed not to mention, we allowed a solid hour-and-a-half to navigate the aisles of Safeway. Whenever we make this trip, I have to force myself to slow down, be patient, explain things and answer questions, as this girl has an inquiring mind, especially when the subjects are people and food.
Her queries constitute a large portion of these trips, and they can't be predicted:
"Dad, if you had to eat all the mayonnaise in this row or be killed, what would you do? Because I would be killed."
"Dad, I think that old lady is a hunchback. What if she needs something from the top shelf?"
"Dad, why is that boy playing with the dog toys? I thought you said boys are monkeys."
Sometimes I answer right away, and others I ignore until they're asked again.
She's now reached the point where she knows locations for various items, and hence has become a bit of a shopping ally, rather than a finely tuned, relentless, begging apparatus.
"Do you know where the baby wash is?' I asked her.
"I think it's either by the shampoo, or in the baby section by the diapers. But why don't you just ask a worker?"
That's always my last resort, because Safeway employees must get points in heaven for personally escorting you to your item of interest. An eighty-pound checker could be lugging a side of beef back to the meat department, and if you ask her where the tuna tapénade is, she'll not only walk you to it, but load you in the Safeway van and drive you to the South Tacoma Piggly Wiggly if Safeway doesn't carry it.
The daughter and I slowly and methodically covered the shopping list. My goal is always to avoid the inefficient "double-back," where one must cover a row previously trodden. We entered the checkout line, where a good shopper must squeeze as much onto the conveyor belt as possible, and then look foolish as it advances forward, leaving your items triple-stacked with an acre of smooth conveyor belt real estate directly behind them. We slapped down the plastic divider, signaling our haul's completion, and only then could we examine what Brad and Angelina are up to.
Another successful trip, with half an hour to spare before gametime.
And by the way, I'd rather try to eat all that mayonnaise.

Friday, October 9, 2009

No such thing as a free ride

King County Metro, Route 54—West Seattle to Downtown.
It's amazing to me how many people grip the metal bars. Call me a germ freak, but those posts are a primordial crock pot for the next bird flu. On the occasion that I have no choice but to hold on to one to avoid spilling into someone's lap, I attempt the highly difficult square dance maneuver, the "elbow hook," but this has also backfired. I once whipped around the pole with such acceleration, that I butted heads with an elderly man—bulls eye into a liver spot on his forehead. I felt really bad not only that I had injured him, but also that I got close enough to recognize that he smelled of hamsters.
Every morning and evening contains the potential for a memorable experience. One may witness a drug deal, a fist fight or simply a man who has decided to liberate the encumbrances of his bladder.
A few weeks ago, I overheard a young girl conversing with her mother. The little girl was observing a rather overweight woman laboring down the aisle. "Mommy, is she going to have a baby?" the little girl asked after the woman passed by. "No, sweetie, she's just a larger woman," the mother discreetly replied.
"Well, maybe she's going to have a dog or a cat, then, mommy?"
Good stuff.
The silent majority of Metro riders are the electronically disengaged masses, those who become one with their personal data devices. Headphones, Blackberries, iPhones, all melting into lines and columns of anonymity, their heads tilted downward at a forty-degree angle. I've certainly been a member of this demographic, but lately, I've found life on the bus far more interesting when actively observing my surroundings.
And then there are the drivers. On a steel horse they drive, as Bon Jovi might say. These beaten-down folks not only deal with Seattle traffic and criminally insane passengers, but they also must face the wrath of those average worker stiffs who are just late for a meeting or having a bad day. I really have no idea why anyone wants this job, but I'm glad someone does. Hats off to you, Metro operators, but next time you pass my bus stop without pulling over, I'm lodging a formal complaint.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Does this diaper bag look too much like a purse?

I've noticed that the ushering in of new generations occurs in bunches, and right now, it's happening at my workplace. Over the past year, three new babies have been born and two more are on the way in my department alone.
I would never be so presumptuous as to evaluate pregnancy and childbirth; the issue is a slope lubricated with Otter Pops, so I won't even tackle the trials and tribulations of the expectant mother. What I can offer is a perspective unique to the neophyte male—the clueless dude who lives in denial up to and through the birth of a child.
I think the first true moment of recognition occurred as my wife, who was about six months pregnant with our first daughter, and I, exited the Kia dealership parking lot in a brand new 1995 Kia sedan. We had just traded in my two-seat Honda CRX, which was the most awesome toy I had ever owned. It was like replacing your Xbox with a the Game of Life. This car was so bland and stripped down, it didn't even have intermittant windshield wipers. It alone fostered a case of carpel-tunnel syndrome from flipping that wiper arm up every fifteen seconds.
Still, my lifestyle didn't change much until the baby was actually born, and then the hammer really dropped three months after the birth, as Terri returned to her job. I was riding the initial wave of the new Family Leave Act, so I stared down the barrel of ninety days at home with a sparkly, new baby. I vividly remember Terri leaving for work that first Monday at about 7am, and thinking,"Okay, here I am with this baby, who really doesn't do much except spew things. I've got about ten hours today to figure out what to do, and then ten hours tomorrow, and the next day..."
It didn't take long to develop some routines. The mornings were basically spent feeding, wiping, sweeping, changing and washing, with a smattering of reading or banging things together. Midday was usually devoted to a particular outside destination, like the park or a mall or any other large, open, stroller-friendly area. People-watching is interesting when you're pushing a stroller, as those who smile at your little bundle are 97% female. Most males, especially within my demographic, ignored my baby as much as they ignored my beautiful, grey Kia. And I'm here to say, there's nothing cooler than loading up a diaper bag to the point where it tips over a stroller (with baby inside) in the middle of Seward Park. Picture the Flintsone's car after the waitress delivered the dinosaur ribs.
People in passing would sometimes say, "Oh, so you're being Mr. Mom today, huh?" I grew to despise that term; it seemed so dated and ignorant. "No," I wanted to say, "I'm just being a dad, and I just happen to know how to make formula and put on Desitin cream and burp a kid (which can be very rewarding).
I look back at those days, and remember how hard I tried, how frustrating it occasionally was, and how each little developmental stage is magnified when you're with a new person 24/7. I wouldn't trade those times for anything, but I would like my Honda CRX back.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Eat an entire bag of Oreos? Easy

The first time I tried it was fourth grade. My mom gently suggested that I give it a try, that a program existed for kids. "Really, mom? They have Weight Watchers for kids?"
"Sure," she assured me. "We just need to get you a doctor's note."
"So I'm going to go on a diet?"
"It's not a diet as much as it is a new way of eating the right foods," she continued. "And we're only doing it if you really want to and are determined to give it a shot."
"Okay, let's do it."
As we kick off the month of October, we're also slowly-but-surely immersing ourselves in the yearly season of indulgence, a three month eating fest. I can normally plan to slather on an average of five pounds during this period, which, in turn, conjures up memories of weight struggles past.
I'd been agonizing over my girth the majority of my young life. From the earliest of days, I have enjoyed a love-hate relationship with my murky overlord, the cocoa bean. As I've mentioned in earlier posts, I experienced a fair amount of teasing from other kids, both friends and enemies alike. Mostly, I just didn't like the way I looked and felt, and thus began a journey, which continues to this day, with sporadic rest stops for lard, malted beverages and high fructose corn syrup.
That first stab at weight loss occurred in 1972. Weight Watchers was still in its infancy as my mom and I tentatively entered the Auburn United Methodist Church, home of the Wednesday night WW meeting. The program's basic tenets held true even then: eat lots of fish and vegetables, but weigh everything first on this scale (which just happens to be for sale right here at the sign-in table, for only $9.95).
The woman, whose name I've long since forgotten, ushered me up to the scale.
"Okay, Timothy, let's measure and weigh you. Yes, go ahead and take your shoes off, and yes, the belt, too. No, not the pants. Timothy! Please put your pants back on. They don't weigh that much anyway. Let's see, you're four feet, eight inches tall, and you weigh...let me just keep sliding this hundred and sixteen pounds. We're going to set a goal weight for you of...90 pounds. That means you only have to lose 26 pounds. Good luck, Timothy. "
I wanted to get the hell out of there. A queue of established WW patrons waited mere inches from where this woman yelled out my initial weight as if she were auctioning me off. The word, "humiliated," would pretty much cover my emotion at the time. And if she called me "Timothy" again, I resolved to bring my fancy, new, food scale right down on her skinny, little, Weight-Watcher-alumni-club cranium. I sat down in the back row of folding chairs, awaiting the motivational speaker, while my mom waited in the hallway, reading a book. As the meeting room filled up, I realized that the person closest to my age was probably the newborn baby sleeping a few rows up. Everyone was a least 30, which may as well have been 107 when witnessed from my bespectacled, ten-year-old perspective.
After sitting through that initial meeting and quite a few more weekly gatherings, I had built a little momentum and confidence with this lifestyle change. I wore that first pair of pants to every meeting, and they became ever looser, so that they almost slipped off, this time involuntarily, when standing on the scale. Of course, I couldn't have accomplished anything without my mom's steadfast adherence to the program. If I had a nickel for each cantaloupe she sliced or each chicken breast from which she personally removed the skin, I 'd have...lots of nickels. She faithfully packed my school lunches every day; the pineapple tasted good, but oh, how I lusted for the school lunches of hamburger gravy over mashed potato buds.
After having lost about 20 pounds, I had become a bit of a novelty at the meetings, which were probably 80 percent housewife types. They were incredibly nice, constantly encouraging me to lose that last five pounds, which took a lot longer than I had planned.
But I did it. We did it, my mom and I.
I remember thinking, "I should probably wait a while to ask her about fixing these beaver teeth."

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Should we just go ahead and buy Halloween candy now?

It's no wonder the place is shaped like a huge box. Its products are in huge boxes, and most of the huge boxes you purchase are placed in larger, huge boxes, to make the load easier to haul out to your boxy mini van. That's right, I'm speaking of Costco. 
Most grocery stores strategically place a few items near the check-out area—People Magazine, gum, candy—"impulse buy" merchandise. Costco, however, is about five acres of impulse buy products. You might enter the store with a shopping list of ten items, but upon leaving, you watch yourself load up your vehicle with at least 27 more things than were on said list. How did I end up with that eighteen-pack of bagel jerky? Do I really need four gallons of low-fat giblet gravy? Is there room in the house for these adjustable bar stools with vibrating "smart fingers"? I mistakenly assumed I could buy a pair of reading glasses, but naturally, they were only offered in three packs. What's the deal there? Maybe one pair for home, one for the office and one just to keep in an unmentionable body cavity if you're ever in need of them somewhere else?
Another fairly obnoxious attribute of Costco's is their packaging. You basically need to purchase a four-pack of scissors to slice open the space-age plastic container for your new solar powered pencil sharpener. And before even approaching the plastic covering, there's a ten-inch, cardboard periphery to saw through.
Of course, I can sit here and critique the shortcomings of this institution, but will that stop me from returning time and time again, orbiting the frozen food area three times just to sample the meatball bakes or the microwavable chicken, broccoli and rice? Uh...nope. Will I gaze with contempt upon the folks sitting at those little picnic tables, looking like they're rehearsing for a competitive pizza eating championship? Oh, no...I will soon be joining them.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

She's all that and a couple of pot stickers

She's my last born (and I'm positive about that fact). She loves the following:
• Fuzzy pajamas with feet included.
• Smooth, cool textures.
• Chicken teriyaki with two pot stickers, followed by a no-nuts Drumstick.
• Shia LaBeouf (in a marryin' way).
• Friday movie night after eating bullet point #2 above.
• Telling my wife and me exactly how we look every morning ("Dad, you shouldn't tuck that in. Maybe you could have pulled that off in your thirties, but think twice about it now.")
She doesn't suffer incompetence lightly, but she's the first to lend a compassionate ear, to comfort you when she feels you've been wronged. Here's an example:
"Dad, when you were nine, were you fat?"
"Yep, I sure was."
"Did kids make fun of you?"
"What did you do about it?"
"I don't know. Maybe I told them to shut up or something."
"Well, Dad, if I were with you, I'd tell those bullies that they're not inside your body where you're beautiful."
Then she'd hug me or kiss my cheek.
She has an extremely fiery temper, which I attribute to my wife's disposition, as well as any other negative traits either of my daughters may possess (just my personal theory). I don't really want to speculate as to the level of stratosphere that temper will occupy in about five years, because it's a really frightening prospect, and I'm hoping teenage boot camp will be a much more common, socially accepted practice at that point.
She's the reason I started this blog back in July when she had made a decisively blunt assessment of my wife's outfit one morning. Maybe the next time she criticizes my appearance, I'll simply state, "Remember, I was a fat, sad, little boy," and that will distract her enough for me to make a quick escape.
I think my favorite part of every day is her bedtime, when I can finally cuddle up next to her and squeeze her as hard and long as she'll allow. After she says something like, "Okay, Dad, you'll see me in about nine hours, so just chill," it never takes her very long to drift off. It's hard for me to leave her just yet, and I often find myself just watching her breathe, her grey silhouette barely visible.